Residents of northeastern Nigeria were gripped by fear and anxiety on Tuesday after two days of bloodshed blamed on Boko Haram, pouring scorn on government claims the jihadist group was “largely defeated”.
More than 50 people were killed in a 48-hour wave of shootings and bombings in the volatile region, just days ahead of the government’s end of year deadline to stamp out what has been described as the world’s deadliest terrorist group.
In the latest attacks, two female bombers detonated their explosives in a crowded market in the town of Madagali on Monday, killing 30 people.
A spate of suicide bombings and shootings in and around Maiduguri, the capital of neighbouring Borno state, killed another 22 people in two days and injured scores more.
In Madagali, armed soldiers were patrolling the dusty streets of the agricultural town on Tuesday, searching vehicles and passengers for explosives and weapons.
– ‘People still jittery’ –
But despite the heightened security, residents were bracing for more violence.
“Security has been beefed up everywhere but people are still jittery. No one knows the next target because the bombers have no known identity,” resident Timothy Manzo told AFP.
“We try to be calm and go about our daily routine but the fear is still there, we are only suppressing it because life has to go on.”
The latest carnage highlighted Boko Haram’s continued ability to stage deadly attacks even after the Nigerian government vowed to end the group’s deadly insurgency by December 31.
“They (Boko Haram) know they are on their way out,” Information Minister Lai Mohammed told journalists in Lagos.
“They lack the capacity to launch horrendous attacks they used to do in the past.”
President Muhammadu Buhari, who took office at the helm of Africa’s most populous nation in May, had said last week that Boko Haram was “technically” defeated.
Over 17,000 people have been killed in Boko Haram’s six-year quest to create an independent Islamic state in Nigeria.
– ‘Same mistakes’ –
For Buhari, a continued Boko Haram insurgency is a potential threat to his credibility — and popularity — going into 2016.
“It is always a bad idea for the leaders of countries to declare highly active terrorist groups dead,” Max Abrahms, assistant professor of political science at Northeastern University in Boston, told AFP.
“History shows that terrorist groups are extraordinarily difficult to snuff out once they have reached a critical mass,” he said.
“The truth is that terrorism is very easy to perpetrate.”
The previous administration under Goodluck Jonathan made repeated pledges of a swift end to the conflict, all of which came and went, hurting government credibility and becoming a major factor in Jonathan’s ousting in the March election.
“A decisive victory against the sect was the cornerstone of Buhari’s election campaign, yet it increasingly appears that he is creating the same mistakes as his predecessor,” said Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst at the South Africa-based crisis management group Red 24.
While Nigeria’s military has won back swathes of territory from the jihadists in recent months, Boko Haram has expanded its network in neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
“It is evident that Boko Haram has expanded outside of Nigeria’s borders,” Cummings said, adding that the lack of regional cooperation was cause for concern.
An 8,700-strong Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) compromising troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin was supposed to be deployed earlier this year, but little has been heard about its activities.
According to the Global Terrorism Index, a report released by the New York-based Institute for Economics and Peace, Boko Haram “has become the most deadly terrorist group in the world”.
The Islamic extremists have increasingly relied on children as weapons, often deploying young girls strapped with explosives into crowded marketplaces and mosques.