BORNO, Nigeria — Boko Haram reportedly remains a strong threat in northeastern Nigeria and neighboring countries despite Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s claim that military leaders have largely met his deadline to have defeated the group by the end of 2015.
Boko Haram ended the year with suicide bombings, rocket-propelled grenades and shootings that killed at least 80 and injured nearly 100 in the Borno capital of Maiduguri and 50 miles south in Madagali, the Associated Press and others reported, putting the six-year carnage by Boko Haram at estimates between 17,000 and 20,000.
More than 200 schoolgirls remain missing nearly two years after Boko Haram kidnapped them from Chibok in April, 2014, and an estimated 2.5 million people have been displaced from their homes by Boko Haram violence.
Boko Haram remains a threat to Christians in particular in northeastern Nigeria, according to Ann Buwalda, executive director of the Jubilee Campaign for religious freedom and human rights.
“The mood of the displaced people of [northeastern] Nigeria remains fearful and tense due to the uncertainty as to where Boko Haram will next strike with a suicide bomb or other attack,” said Buwalda, whose organization communicates with a Christian ministry to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region. “This is particularly true following the Christmas/New Year attacks perpetrated by militants.”
Buhari has been more successful than his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan at battling Boko Haram, Buwalda said, but added it’s too early to claim victory.
“The Buhari administration efforts have weakened Boko Haram and pushed them out of some areas of the northeast. However, Boko Haram has shown itself as resilient in its terrorism tactics,” Buwalda said. “Although it has lost territory, it has not lost the lethality of its terrorist strikes as demonstrated by attacks during the recent holiday season.”
Buhari said in December that Boko Haram has been ‘technically defeated,’ pointing to evidence that the group has largely resorted to suicide bombings, as opposed to raids on villages where the jihadists had established caliphates — monolithic governments of strict Sharia law — before Buhari was elected. Suicide bombings will be much more difficult to prevent, Buhari has said, and are not an indication that Boko Haram will have any success in establishing caliphates.
Supporters of the BringBackOurGirls campaign to free the Chibok schoolgirls have expressed particular dismay at Buhari’s reasoning. Advocates plan to march to Buhari’s presidential villa Jan. 7 in public protest for answers to why the girls have not been recovered, the Nigerian Bulletin reported Jan. 5.
“It was utterly shocking when the president declared in a BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) interview on December 24 that the terrorists had been ‘technically defeated’ without referencing the rescue of our Chibok girls whom he had set as the benchmark for measuring such success,” the Nigerian Bulletin quoted a signed statement from BringBackOurGirls. “We are extremely disappointed that seven months after his strong promise at inauguration and six months after his pledge to the parents, Chibok community and our movement that he would rescue the 219 daughters of Nigeria, his statement was lacking in urgency and assurance of strategy for result.”
In what was billed as his first “media chat,” Buhari said on New Year’s Eve that none of the Chibok schoolgirls, estimated to number between 209 and 219, had been recovered, and that he can only negotiate for the girls’ release when a credible Boko Haram spokesperson surfaces.
“We are still keeping our options open that if a credible leadership of Boko Haram can be established, and they tell us where those girls are, we are prepared to negotiate with them without any precondition. This we have made it absolutely clear,” Buhari said in the press interview, televised and posted on Youtube.
“There is no firm intelligence for where those girls physically are and what condition they are in. But what we believe from our intelligence is they keep (relocating) them,” Buhari said. “They are not all kept in one place. And we don’t know how many divisions they made of them and where they are.”
Buhari has expressed a commitment to continuing his fight against Boko Haram, aided by a multi-national military force of nearly 9,000 soldiers from Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
Buwalda believes Buhari is committed to the fight, although Boko Haram still has access to weapons and is still able to promote propaganda.
“Buhari has made repeated public statements that he considers eradication of Boko Haram as amongst the top priorities of his administration,” she said. “He has shown resolve via improved military action. I have not detected that he has lightened up in his resolve or efforts.”
“There’s more hope now than ever before that Boko Haram will be defeated,” she said. Buwalda praised Buhari for appointing new leadership and allocating funds to help IDPs resettle in their home communities.
“There’s going to be a committee to rehabilitate the IDPs in the northeast,” she said. “The fact is Buhari is taking it seriously. One of the battles we had (under) the prior administration in Nigeria, is that nothing was done from the [federal] government standpoint to help the IDPs. The help to IDPs was coming from either state governments or churches.”
In his press chat, Buhari estimated about 2 million IDPs are living in various camps in Nigeria, mostly in Borno state, with women and children accounting for 65 to 70 percent. Many are orphaned. He subsequently announced the formation of a committee to oversee the allocation to IDPs of financial aid and assistance received from local and international sources.
Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and is ranked by the 2015 Global Terrorism Index as the deadliest terrorist group in the world, exceeding ISIS. The GTI attributed more than 6,644 deaths to Boko Haram in 2014, with most attacks occurring in northeastern Nigeria. ISIS killed 6,073 in terrorist attacks in the same year, according to the report. Terrorism in Nigeria is also fueled by a militant group of Fulani herdsmen, which the GTI blamed for 1,229 deaths in 2014. The herdsmen were blamed for 63 deaths in 2013, the GTI said.
Boko Haram originally targeted Christians but has also killed moderate Muslims, government officials and civilians.
In 2014 alone, 42 percent of all attacks by Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria were on Christian communities, while 35.4 percent targeted random civilians, according to the Jubilee Campaign 2015 Report on Nigeria. Other attacks in 2014 targeted Muslim communities (6.8 percent), the government (10.9 percent), schools (4.1 percent), and media and medical personnel (0.5 percent), the Jubilee Campaign reported.
— by Diana Chandler | BP