The Nigerian military under President Muhammadu Buhari once again claimed to have defeated Boko Haram this week, only to have the group resurface and continue to carry out deadly attacks amid the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Buhari has been periodically claiming victory over the group since 2015.
Echoing a victory lap over the Borno state-based Boko Haram in February, the Buhari administration maintains the military is now mainly focused on combating the international criminal gang known as Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), which allegedly broke away from Boko Haram in 2016 over leadership but consists of many of the same individuals.
Referring to Tukur Buratai, the chief of staff of the Nigerian Army, Premium Times reported on Thursday:
He explained that what is currently playing out in the North-east is the metamorphosis of ISWAP which is an attempt by a group of international criminal organizations to explore the loopholes created by the breakdown of law and order in some neighboring countries to perpetrate criminality in the West African sub-region.
[He] declared that just as Boko Haram was pursued out of the North-east, the current band of international criminals gangs operating under the guise of ISWAP will also be chased and hunted down.
”I never give up. Never retreat and never surrender is one of the secrets of my success. You must work hard, and hard work eventually pays.
Citing the International Crisis Organization, a widely cited non-governmental organization that monitors violent conflicts, the United Nations revealed on May 18 that ‘“an estimated 3,500-5,000” ISWAP jihadis “overshadow” Boko Haram, “which has roughly 1,500-2,000, and appears to have gained the military upper hand over the latter.”
Unlike Boko Haram, the Islamic State branch has “made inroads among Muslim civilians by treating them better than its parent organization and by filling gaps in governance and service delivery.”
Like its parent group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISWAP jihadis, who are primarily targeting Nigerian troops, are employing their growing power and influence to establish “a proto-state in northern Nigeria.”
Referring to the ISIS-West Africa branch, the Premium Times noted:
It has also caused real pain to the Nigerian military, its primary target, overrunning dozens of army bases and killing hundreds of soldiers since August 2018. As its name suggests, ISWAP is affiliated with the faded Islamic State, or ISIS, caliphate in Iraq and Syria, whose remnants count ISWAP victories as their own.
ISWAP appears to be working hard to gain greater favor from its namesake organization, and it has obtained some support already, notably in the form of training, though it is not clear how significant a boost this will afford.
Since launching its insurgency in 2009, Boko Haram, mainly based in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno state, also tried to establish a sharia-compliant Islamic emirate in Nigeria, to no avail.
According to several independent and U.S. government assessments, many of the jihadis who fought alongside ISIS in Iraq and Syria fled to Africa and Afghanistan following the complete demise of their so-called caliphate at the hands of U.S.-backed local forces.
Thousands of ISIS jihadis remain in Iraq, Syria, and beyond.
The NGO’s warnings about the rise of Islamic State-West Africa came as Nigerian lawmakers urged “Buhari to reverse the Executive Order revoking all gun certificates and licenses throughout the federation,” Premium Times reported Thursday.
Opponents of the executive order argue that it “strips innocent people of the right to life and self-defense” against jihadi groups like Boko Haram and others, citing the rise of insecurity across the country where Muslim Fulani herders are also causing havoc.
Lawmaker Nnenna Ukeje, who is proposing the changes to the gun restrictions, noted “that there was an increase in the number of deaths resulting from terrorism, kidnapping and banditry; as well as other violent crimes in the country,” the Premium Times said, adding:
Ms. Ukeje said that in response to the local and international outcry, the president signed an executive order to remove, revoke, and banish all gun certificates and licenses throughout the federation.
She said that the order was targeted at legal gun owners while there appeared to be no institutional actionable policy or plan to mop up small arms and light weapons in the country.
Ukeje acknowledged that most crimes are carried out with illegally obtained guns.