Boko Haram attacks spike as Nigeria vote looms

2015-02-02 14:38
Aid workers evacuate a man injured in a suicide blast in the northeastern Nigerian city of Potiskum. (Aminu Abubakar, AFP)

Aid workers evacuate a man injured in a suicide blast in the northeastern Nigerian city of Potiskum. (Aminu Abubakar, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Lagos - Nigeria on Monday braced for fresh Boko Haram attacks ahead of this month's elections, with the key city of Maiduguri in the firing line and forces from Chad and Cameroon joining the regional fight.

A weekend of violence saw the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, hit for the second Sunday in a row, but Nigerian Army soldiers, helped by civilian vigilantes, managed to keep the militants at bay.

The border town of Gamboru, on Borno's eastern fringe, meanwhile was pounded by artillery fire and from the air by Chadian jets, as troops massed in Cameroon for a possible ground offensive.

The increase in both militant and military activity reflects growing fears over the Islamists' threat to regional security and crucial elections scheduled for 14 February.

Security analysts believe Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram, will likely be hit again before polling day, given its symbolism for the group and because it would undermine the vote, which it sees as "un-Islamic".

"The insurgents had long denounced elections as a pagan practice incompatible with the Islamic state and they had vowed they would never allow democracy to thrive in the region," said Nnamdi Obasi, from the International Crisis Group.

"So, it was predictable they would step up attacks to pre-empt the coming elections, particularly in Maiduguri, and we may not have seen the end yet," he told AFP.

Regional force

Boko Haram was founded in 2002 in Maiduguri, which is currently home to hundreds of thousands of people displaced by violence elsewhere in Nigeria's far northeast in the last six years.

The militants are in control of most of the state and have effectively surrounded the city, which is seen as one of the few places left in Borno where voting could feasibly still take place.

Turn-out could be affected if large numbers desert the city, which with other areas in the northeast is a main opposition stronghold.

Capturing Maiduguri would not only be a morale-booster for the rebels but also likely sink President Goodluck Jonathan's re-election bid once and for all, said Obasi.

Chad's offensive comes after the African Union and United Nations last week backed a new 7 500-strong, five-nation force to tackle Boko Haram.

Nigeria's military maintains that N'Djamena's involvement is part of the existing agreement with Chad and Niger for their troops to assist in the counter-insurgency.

Chad and Niger had withdrawn their troops from the multi-national base at Baga, in northern Borno, last year, leaving only Nigerian soldiers to defend the town when it was attacked on 3 January.

That led some to assume the existing force was dead in the water but the devastating strike on Baga, in which hundreds or more were feared killed, appears to have jolted it into action.

Chadian jets last week bombed the Boko Haram-controlled town of Malam Fatori, near the border with Niger.

Two fronts

Jonathan, who has been criticised for failing to end the violence, could be hoping for a political bounce from any military successes in the tight election campaign, even at this late stage.

But Mark Schroeder, from security and political analysts Stratfor, believes that allowing foreign forces to operate on Nigerian soil would be counter-productive to him and the country.

"This is essentially absolving Nigeria of its long-standing geopolitical strength as the region's hegemon able to assist internal and pan-West African security stability," he said.

Schroeder, the group's vice-president for Africa analysis, also considered Nigerian Army operations no more than "forays", adding that a sustained effort was needed to claw back territory.

Boko Haram's attacks on Maiduguri may be designed to draw the Nigerian Army to defend the city, allowing the group to mount strikes elsewhere in the northeast and defend eastern positions.

Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst at risk consultants Red24, suggested the last two strikes may have been preliminary tests of the city's defences.

"Boko Haram is currently in its most advantageous tactical position to launch a large-scale offensive on Maiduguri, with the intent of actually capturing the city," he said.

"This could be the preamble to such a push. I still remain sceptical as to whether Boko Haram has the resources to either capture or hold a city the size of Maiduguri.

"But the sect may well be planning to give it a go."

Read more on:    nigeria  |  west africa  |  security

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.