Can Nigeria's army contain Boko Haram in 6 weeks?
Army said it needed 6 weeks to stabilize north before elections
Nigeria's electoral commission has defended its controversial decision to postpone the country's general election, saying it was based on the recommendations of security agencies.
"When the security agencies have advised against it, we feel it would be unconscionable for the commission to proceed with the election as scheduled," Independent National Electoral Commission Chairman Attahiru Jega told a press conference late Sunday.
"Security services say they need at least six weeks for operation [i.e., election preparations] in the northeast," he said, going on to officially postpone the polls from Feb. 14 to March 28.
But the announcement left many experts wondering what exactly the Nigerian military could do in six weeks to defeat a seemingly emboldened Boko Haram.
"If for years they were not able to contain the insurgency, I don't know what miracle… they have to do it in six weeks," Yinusa Yau, a pro-democracy activist, told The Anadolu Agency.
For the last five years, Nigeria has battled a fierce Boko Haram insurgency that has ravaged the country's volatile northeast and claimed thousands of lives.
Citing the need to crush the militants, Nigeria in 2013 declared a state of emergency in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe – three northeastern states hardest-hit by the insurgency.
The military repeatedly issued public deadlines for crushing the militants and restoring normalcy.
Analysts believe the violence continued on account of emergency rule, which gave troops maximum powers to operate.
In fact, 2014 proved to be the insurgency's bloodiest year yet, with increasingly frequent attacks, higher death tolls and a deluge of displaced persons.
In recent months, Boko Haram has graduated from simple hit-and-run tactics to capturing entire towns in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno, where it has declared a self-styled "Islamic caliphate."
The violence displaced well over 1.5 million people in 2014, according to a recent report by the Borno State government.
Since the beginning of 2015, the militant group has stepped up its attacks inside neighboring countries as well.
Four people were killed on Friday in a Boko Haram attack on the Nigerien town of Bosso on the border with Nigeria – the group's first such attack in Niger.
The attack came only days after militants had briefly captured Fotokol, a border town in northern Cameroon, where they killed scores of civilians.
The militants were eventually flushed out by a joint Cameroonian-Chadian force, which reportedly killed hundreds of insurgents.
In recent months, Boko Haram has stepped up attacks on Cameroonian troops and civilians, especially in Cameroon's Extreme North region.
Baba Kazeem, a retired Nigerian army colonel, insists that the Nigerian military has the manpower necessary to fight the insurgency.
"The military has taken delivery of aircraft with the capacity to spy, listen to discreet conversations, and do reconnaissance – this means we are getting close," he told AA.
"Depending on institutional resolve, I think the army can flush these characters out of their strongholds in a matter of weeks," said Kazeem.
"But we should not expect their total annihilation within a short period," he was quick to added.
But Gideon Abam, a retired air commodore, believes it is impossible to end the crisis in only six weeks.
"If they really want to, I think our men can restore appreciable normalcy in the areas within that period, especially with the new cooperation of our neighbors – who until now just paid lip service to the dangers posed by Boko Haram," he told AA.
"If they [our neighbors] continue to cooperate with us, and we deploy fully against the militants, we can achieve great things within six weeks," Abam said.
"But I'm not telling you we will end it," he added.
Abam said Nigeria appeared not to have fully understood the root cause of the insurgency.
"If it is a crisis that truly took off ideologically, then we need to address the root, while treating the symptoms – which is the group's violence," he asserted.
He added: "I'm not sure we have full understanding of this."
Boko Haram, originally a peaceful organization that had preached against government corruption, suddenly turned violent in 2009 following the murder of group leader Mohamed Yusuf while in police custody.
Although it claims to want an Islamist government in the region, Nigerian Muslims – most of whom reject Boko Haram as un-Islamic – have also been targeted by the militant group.
Yau, the pro-democracy activist, said the vote delay would appear to substantiate a widely-held theory that the government itself was behind the Boko Haram crisis.
"All along, people have been saying that the military is refusing to contain the insurgency because it serves a political purpose," he told AA. "Now this has been confirmed."
Yau insisted that, in any democracy, the military should not be dictating to politicians when to hold elections.
"This is just a military coup against constitutionalism," he said. "There is collusion between the presidency and military to hurt democracy in this country."
The activist suspects that the army will "fail" to rein the militants within six weeks and a new narrative will emerge to justify postponing the ballot further.
"They should then be dismissed," Yau asserted. "Elections must go on after these six weeks."
Abubakar Usman, a researcher on Boko Haram, believes the military is being used to serve political interests.
"You cannot rule out the possibility that this so-called security report, which warranted the election delay, came at the behest of the ruling party," he told AA.
Usman, a university teacher, said the military authorities "appear to be deferring dangerously to political authorities with not so patriotic partisan interest."
But Kazeem, the retired army colonel, believes the military has been the victim of "political insincerity," which, he said, had initially dogged the national response to terrorism.
"At a point when the army was supposed to understand the crisis, the political class was playing politics and refused to equip the military with the necessary infrastructure to counter the terrorists," he said.
Army spokesman Chris Olukolade did not respond to AA's requests for comment.
Last Modified: 2015-02-10 08:16:04
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