Nigerian troops mount offensive against Islamist militants

Troops deployed in border areas to rout insurgency by Boko Haram Islamist group

A poster advertising for the search of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is pasted on a wall in Baga village on the outskirts of Maiduguri, in the north-eastern state of Borno. Photograph:  Reuters/Tim Cocks

A poster advertising for the search of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau is pasted on a wall in Baga village on the outskirts of Maiduguri, in the north-eastern state of Borno. Photograph: Reuters/Tim Cocks

 

Nigeria launched a military campaign yesterday to flush Islamist militants out of their bases in remote border areas, after President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the northeast.

Nigerian troops deployed in large numbers, part of a plan to rout an insurgency by the Boko Haram Islamist group.

“The operations, which will involve massive deployment of men and resources, are aimed at asserting the nation’s territorial integrity,” defence headquarters said.

The campaign targets semi-desert areas of the three states in which President Jonathan declared an emergency on Tuesday – Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, three of the poorest and most remote in the country.

The Islamist insurgency has cost thousands of lives and destabilised Africa’s biggest energy producer since it began in 2009, but it has mostly happened far from economic centres such as Lagos. The capital Abuja was, however, bombed in 2011 and 2012. Neither has it affected southern oil fields, which provide the bulk of government revenues .

Army trucks carrying soldiers entered Yola and Maiduguri to seek out militants from Boko Haram, whose rebellion has targeted the security forces, Christians and politicians in the mainly Muslim north.


Rising tensions
The troop deployment is likely to placate some of President Jonathan’s critics, who had accused him of not facing up to the gravity of the crisis, although some northern politicians have already voiced concerns over rising tensions.

It is unlikely that those tensions will boil over to the other parts of the country. The Islamists have a foothold across most of the north, but nothing like the power base they have established in these three states.

In December 2011, President Jonathan declared a state of emergency over some local government areas, after a church bombing blamed on Boko Haram killed 37 people.

Ayo Oritsejafor, head of the powerful Christian Association of Nigeria, said the move showed the president’s plan to offer the rebels an amnesty had been misguided, saying “no reasonable agreement can be reached with terrorists”.

A crackdown on Boko Haram in 2009 led to the deaths of 800 people, including its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, who died in police custody. Instead of crushing them, it unleashed a torrent of popular rage that only made the Islamists more deadly. – ( Reuters )