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Jonathan in Boko Haram heartland

President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday made a surprise visit to the troubled northeast, which is in the grip of escalating Boko Haram violence that threatens next month’s election.

An AFP reporter in the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, said the president arrived in the city shortly before 3:00 pm (1400 GMT) and was met at the airport by the state governor Kashim Shettima.

He was accompanied by the chief of defence staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, military top brass and the national security advisor as well as about 200 soldiers.

The visit — Jonathan’s first to Maiduguri since March 2013 — was shrouded in secrecy and came after a previous trip to the restive region in May last year was cancelled.

Jonathan had planned to visit the remote town of Chibok, also in Borno, after Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 girls from their school in a crime that shocked the world.

The cancellation, reportedly for security reasons, dealt Jonathan a further blow in his perceived woeful handling of the kidnapping crisis.

Boko Haram was founded in Maiduguri in 2002 and was largely peaceful until a police and military crackdown against its then-leader Mohammed Yusuf and his followers in 2009.

Jonathan’s last visit came before a state of emergency was declared in Borno and neighbouring Yobe and Adamawa states in May 2013.

The special measures initially saw the Islamists forced from urban centres but violence has steadily increased, particularly in the last six months, and led to towns and villages overrun.

On January 3, Boko Haram attacked the Borno town of Baga, killing hundreds, if not more, in what is feared could be its worst atrocity in a six-year campaign to create a separate Islamic state.


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