The Nigerian government is claiming that it has kept its promise to eradicate Boko Haram by the end of December, though the group has staged suicide bombings this week that have killed dozens.
The result has been a significant backlash against President Muhammadu Buhari for stating in a BBC Hausa interview that the Islamic State-affiliated terrorist group “has been reduced to fighting with improvised explosive devices (IED) and remains a force only in its heartland of Borno State” and that the Nigerian military has “technically won the war” against Boko Haram.
Buhari’s statement surfaces three months after he made a vow to eradicate the group entirely by the end of December, relocating the military’s headquarters to northeastern Borno state to follow Boko Haram’s activity more closely.
A week after President Buhari’s declaration, a group of female suicide bombers struck Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and hometown of the Boko Haram terrorist group, and the surrounding area in northeastern Nigeria. The suicide bombers detonated themselves while jihadists shot at fleeing civilians from a truck; in one instance, a female suicide bomber waited for others to act, pretended to have been a victim of a bombing, and detonated herself once civilians came to her rescue. An estimated 80 people were killed.
What followed was an extended assault that France24 notes lasted more than two days. Fifty people were reportedly killed in that string of shootings and bombings.
The timing of Buhari’s statement, so close to the latest string of attacks, has triggered a wave of criticism. Few appear to believe that Boko Haram has been destroyed for good.
“We try to be calm and go about our daily routine but the fear is still there, we are only suppressing it because life has to go on,” Timothy Manzo, a resident of Maiduguri, told AFP.
Politicians have been less reserved about their concerns with Buhari’s Boko Haram strategy. “In other countries, the government would have taken responsibility for deceiving and misleading the people and apologised,” Ayodele Fayose, the governor of Ekiti state, said this week in a statement criticizing Buhari and his administration. “If Boko Haram had indeed been technically defeated … what do we call the Sunday and Monday attacks in Maiduguri, Borno State capital and Madagali, Adamawa State?” Fayose asked.
The administration preceding Buhari’s has also begun to speak up against the military’s insistence that Boko Haram has been defeated. In a statement sent to the Nigerian outlet Naij, Dr. Abubakar Suleiman relayed a message from former President Goodluck Jonathan. “The President should, in an attempt to build this country, make such pronouncements that would further unite us as a people than … those that would divide us,” Jonathan allegedly said, defending his own reputation by noting, “President Jonathan sworn [sic] to defend Nigeria sovereignty and territorial integrity and he did everything possible to achieve that height in the fight against the insurgents.”
Reports surfacing in the aftermath of the latest Boko Haram campaign within Nigeria indicate that the group has managed to keep itself relevant, despite having many of its jihadists killed in recent months through the abduction of women. Female suicide bombers, both women and girls, have become a Boko Haram staple. Police have managed to capture at least one would-be female suicide bomber, who told police she and five other women were abducted from a village in the northeast and were driven towards Maiduguri, where terrorists planned to use her in a bombing.
Boko Haram rose to international prominence in April 2014 when they kidnapped more than 200 girls from a secondary school in Chibok, Borno State. Most of those girls remain in captivity, and reports repeatedly indicate that Abuja is willing to negotiate for their freedom. “We are prepared to negotiate with them without any preconditions,” Buhari said of Boko Haram this week, discussing the desired release of the Chibok girls. His statement follows months of reports that the Nigerian government was at least considering negotiating, including a statement by Buhari adviser Femi Adesina in July in which he refused to “rule out” negotiating with the group.