Boko Haram Attacks Test Nigerian Government’s Security Assurances

The Islamic extremist group affiliated with Daesh, Boko Haram, has recently conducted a spate of attacks that has tested the Nigerian government’s security guarantees. Boko Haram is based in north-eastern Nigeria and is also active in northern Cameroon, Chad and Niger. They have killed over 17,000 people in a six year insurgency, which has left two million people homeless.

100 people were killed in a series of coordinated bombings on Sunday, September 20th, in northern Nigeria. This has challenged Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s claims that that the group will be defeated by December. However recent mass arrests and surrenders indicate that progress is being made toward peace.

Boko Haram increased their attacks in the aftermath of Buhari’s election and this has resulted in the deaths of more than 700 people since May. The attacks occurred near the airport in Maiduguri, the epicentre of the insurgency and capital of Borno State. Four explosions were detonated within 25 minutes in Gommari targeting a mosque, railway crossing and a market where Muslims were buying provisions for the Eid al-Adha holiday. Again, on September 22nd, two women carried out a botched coordinated suicide attack in Gouzoudou that injured two farmers.

These attacks have reignited concerns regarding Buhari’s empty security promises. However the government has achieved some successes against the group. A Nigerian army offensive decreased the frequency of attacks in Borno- the worst affected area of the insurrection. The joint multinational regional task force comprising of armies from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria have decreased their regional influence. The Nigerian army recently raided two camps controlled by the group and freed 241 women and children who are currently being screened to determine if they were kidnapped.  They arrested 43 militants, including a local leader and ‘emir’ of the village of Bulakuri in Bulama Modu. An army spokesperson Col. Sani Usman noted that the raids destroyed both camps and that the military “confiscated weapons, some of which had been buried by militants who appeared to be abandoning their posts during the raids”. A suspected militant named terrorists that staged an attack in northern Cameroon earlier this year. On September 25th, 200 militants surrendered at Banki. They will undergo a de-radicalization programme, followed by an official charge against them regarding offenses they committed.  The military also imposed tight movement restrictions during the Eid al-Adha holiday due to the terrorist’s tendencies to assault ‘soft’ targets.

These successes may be partially attributed to Buhari’s change of policy following his election. He previously dismissed any suggestions of negotiating with the group. However his spokesperson Femi Adesina recently stated that if Boko Haram “opt for negotiation, the government will not be adverse to it”, whilst alluding to America’s past negotiations with the Taliban.  It is possible that these comments were designed to divide the group between those who were committed and those who were battle weary. Another possibility could be Buhari’s determination in believing that the prospects of militarily defeating the group are low  especially since he himself narrowly survived an assassination attempt. Regardless, Buhari’s Defence Headquarters have been quick to respond to claims that the government is being ‘soft’ on the militants. They strongly condemned the tape released by Boko Haram’s allegedly deceased leader, Abudbakar Shekau, in an attempt to reassure the public about the government’s counterinsurgency operations. These recent attacks and Nigeria’s unwillingness to attend the United Nations talks on countering violent extremism throw doubt upon the credibility of these claims. Therefore, the Nigerian government will need to maintain substantial gains while defeating the group in order to reassure the citizens and the international community about Buhari’s commitment to the group’s defeat.