Islamic militants’ deadly resurgence threatens Nigeria polls


MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Baba Inuwa was pleased to move back to his vegetable farm in Nigeria’s northeast, encouraged by the military’s offensive against Boko Haram, the country’s homegrown Islamic extremist rebels and by President Muhammadu Buhari’s claim that the insurgency had been crushed.

“We thought all was over and Boko Haram can never return,” Inuwa said. He joined thousands of others in leaving displacement camps to return to their homes.

But then last month the extremists rolled into Inuwa’s hometown, Baga, firing into the air, hoisting flags and claiming it as their own. Suddenly residents were on the move again, fleeing with little more than the clothes on their backs. On a punishing two-day march through the arid Sahel, some pregnant women miscarried and other elderly people died.

Nigeria’s government now acknowledges an extremist resurgence, this time by a Boko Haram offshoot, the Islamic State West Africa Province, the IS group’s largest presence outside the Middle East, estimated to have more than 3,000 fighters. Their near-daily attacks have many traumatized Nigerians questioning whether they can vote for Buhari as he seeks a second term.

Others question how the elections can be held in the troubled northeast region. The National Assembly has approved a record $147 million for election security but some polling workers in remote areas have rejected their posts in fear of being attacked. The opposition objects that voting will be held in government-controlled camps, which in “liberated” communities are the safest locations.

Buhari, a former military dictator, returned to power in 2015 with an election victory in which he promised to tackle insecurity, corruption and the economy in Africa’s most populous country with 190 million people. While he still has support in most states of his native north, enthusiasm has dimmed as it becomes clear that the decade-old extremist insurgency — killing more than 27,000, abducting hundreds of schoolgirls, displacing millions — is far from over.

Up against Atiku Abubakar, a fellow northern Muslim and former vice-president, Buhari could end up like former President Goodluck Jonathan, who lost in 2015 after his failure to stop extremism.

At first, Nigeria’s military appeared to deliver on Buhari’s inaugural vow to eliminate Boko Haram, pushing fighters out of many communities. Residents were urged to return home.

But late last year the Islamic State-linked extremists roared back, attacking military bases, resupplying and causing a rare government admission of dozens of soldier deaths. Shaken, officials said the extremists had begun using drones, indicating links with ISIS fighters fleeing collapsing strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

“ISIS now has a strong foothold in West Africa, with Nigeria in the forefront of the battle,” Information Minister Lai Mohammed declared last week. The fighters are more worrying than Boko Haram and at least triple its size, the U.S. Africa Command chief has said.

Some 59,000 people have fled attacks since November, the U.N. migration agency says. The now-deserted border town of Rann was hit twice last month, with humanitarian centres vandalized or burned. Aid workers fled. Five hid in a septic tank and survived.

As many as 39 …read more

Source:: Nationalpost – News

      

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