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Tough times for Boko Haram under Buhari: Experts

Boko Haram's activities have ebbed in recent days

Tough times for Boko Haram under Buhari: Experts

By Rafiu Ajakaye


President-elect Muhammadu Buhari's standing in Nigeria's restive north, the birthplace of the Boko Haram insurgency, along with his experience as a retired army general, will help him in the fight against the insurgents and in other security-related crises, experts believe.

"I think he will help curb their activities," Otive Igbuzor, executive director of the African Center for Leadership, Strategy and Development, told The Anadolu Agency.

"I expect the next government to be tougher in terms of dealing with the militants," he said.

In his acceptance speech on Wednesday, Buhari vowed to battle the Boko Haram militant group and government corruption.

"I assure you that Boko Haram will soon know the strength of our collective will and commitment to ridding this nation of terror and bringing back peace and normalcy to all affected areas," he said.

"We shall spare no effort until we defeat terrorism," added the president-elect.

Igbuzor believes Buhari's assumption of the presidency will take a toll on the six-year-old insurgency.

"That is the expectation of every Nigerian; I think that he should be able to fix it," he told AA.

"You recall that recently when Boko Haram wanted to negotiate, they named him as negotiator on their behalf," Igbuzor noted.

In 2013, the notorious militant group named Buhari its preferred negotiator – an offer he flatly rejected.

Known for his fierce criticism of Boko Haram, the former military ruler was targeted in 2014 in what was described by the group as an assassination attempt.

During the presidential campaign, Buhari promised that, as commander-in-chief, he would lead from the front and not from behind from the comfort of Aso Rock, the seat of the presidency in capital Abuja.

Nigeria is fighting a six-year Boko Haram insurgency that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and displaced over one million people from the country's northeast, where the militants have been the most ruthless.

The military recently announced that all territory earlier captured by the insurgents in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states had all since been "liberated" by the army.

Boko Haram's activities have ebbed in recent days.


Experts believe Buhari's history as a retired army general will help him in the fight against the insurgents.

"There is no basis to compare Buhari with the outgoing president in terms of handling operations involving the military," retired Colonel Tahiru Alayande, a military expert, told AA.

"I expect that he will raise troops' morale by paying all their dues at the right time and by truly equipping the military," he said.

"And I expect that, as a former commander himself, he won't tolerate his commanders waiting for Boko Haram to attack before defending, which has been the case [until now]," Alayande asserted.

"We should wipe these guys off the map. Hard stances must be taken against any community that harbors militants under any guise," he insisted.

Born in 1942, Buhari was commissioned by the army as a second lieutenant in 1963.

He has since served in different capacities as an army officer, including a stint as military governor of Nigeria's restive northeastern region.

The major-general served as military head-of-state between 1983 and 1985, following the ouster of the country's civilian regime.

"Buhari was a tough army commander who led the battle against Maitatsine, which was similar to Boko Haram," Alayande told AA.

"By all standards, he has all the edges, and he must use them against Boko Haram," he said.

Maitatsine – a religious group whose name literally means the "one who damns" – waged a similar insurgency against the Nigerian state in the 1970s.

The group was decimated after its leader Mohammed Marwa, nicknamed Maitatsine, died in 1980.

The sect had claimed to seek "religious purity," portraying anyone opposed to its ideology as "un-Islamic."

Many people who follow Boko Haram see it as a reincarnation of the Maitatsine group.

Igbuzor, the analyst, noted that Buhai had promised to pay special attention to the welfare of the armed forces and their families, as well as fallen soldiers and their families.

"He promised to boost the morale of the men and women of the armed forces," he told AA.

"One hopes that… the government will act swiftly and decisively on actionable intelligence to help bring back our girls," added Igbuzor.

One year ago, Boko Haram militants made international headlines after abducting 276 schoolgirls from their dormitory in Borno State. All but 57 of the girls still remain in captivity.

"The expectations of Nigerians from the Buhari administration are very high; it is hoped he won't let the people down," Igbuzor said.

Yinusa Yau, a prominent Nigerian rights activist, expects a change in the approach to the fight against Boko Haram under Buhari, himself a Sunni Muslim.

"In terms of security, we should expect the president-elect to quickly get down to business," he told AA.

Yau expects Buhari to involve all relevant stakeholders – governors, interest groups and elders in the northeast – in the fight against Boko Haram.

"[The aim will be] to develop a collective agenda and responsive strategy to deal with the insurgency," said Yau, who at one time served on government committees on the Boko Haram crisis.

Buhari, a Hausa Fulani Muslim from Nigeria's northwestern Katsina State, is particularly admired in the north for his Spartan lifestyle and personal discipline as an elder statesman.

He won all but one of the six states (Taraba) in the northeast, considered the heartland of the Boko Haram insurgency.

Buhari won 473,543 out of 515,008 votes cast in Borno; 446,265 out of 491,767 in Yobe; and 374,701 out of 661,210 in Adamawa – the three states most affected by the insurgency.

Following his election victory, celebrations swept across Nigeria's restive northern region.

Convoys of trucks and four-wheel-drive vehicles carrying thousands of people drove through Boko Haram's heartland, shouting that "the end has come" for Boko Haram.

Some youths drove around Maiduguri, Borno's provincial capital, with loudspeakers, singing victory songs for Buhari in local languages.

Others carried placards bearing slogans, such as "Sai Buhari; No more Boko Haram."

-Who are Boko Haram?-

Boko Haram, which recently pledged allegiance to the Daesh militant group, links the perceived rot in Nigerian society to "corrupt western values," calls for a return to "true Islam," and rejects modern notions of democracy.

Its popular name – "Boko Haram" – is derived from its claim that "Boko" (translated as "western education") is "Haram," the Arab-Hausa word for "religiously proscribed."

The group's official name is Jama'at Ahlus-Sunnah Li-Da'awah Wal-Jihaad, roughly translated as "Congregation of the People of Sunnah for Proselytism and Jihad."

Reportedly founded in 2001, it was led in its initial years by Mohamed Yusuf, who was killed in police custody in 2009 after being captured in the northeastern Bauchi State following an attempted jailbreak.

Boko Haram has no clear organizational structure. It is said to employ "cells" and is sometimes accused of fostering conflicting beliefs.

The group has never revealed the number of its members, nor have Nigerian security agencies ever provided any estimates.

But videos seen by AA – coupled with the prevalence and intensity of Boko Haram's attacks – suggest the group must have thousands of fighters.

Boko Haram's recruitment style, meanwhile, appears to vary from case to case.

Some group members – due to gullibility, ignorance, or frustration with a system that has left them with little to hope for – appear to have bought into the group's violent ideology.

On the one hand, there are those who are lured into the group by its promises of three daily food rations. Others, however, have reportedly been "forcibly conscripted" into the group.

Boko Haram doesn't have a particular dress code, allowing its members to mingle with civilian populations without being detected.

In some instances, group commanders and fighters have been seen in videos wearing hoods. At other times, they've been spotted in military fatigues.

No clear funding sources have been linked to the militant group.

Claims that the group is self-sustaining seem far-fetched, meanwhile, given the unimpressive socioeconomic profile of some of its members and leaders, including late Yusuf.

The group's reputation for harboring petty criminals, however, isn't in line with its apparent sophistication as reflected by the formidability of its arsenal – which has been known to include rocket launchers and anti-aircraft missiles.

Military sources believe the group has engaged in armed robbery and other criminal activities in order to fund its ongoing insurgency.

The funding issue has raised serious questions about Boko Haram and its backers, with many observers suggesting that local politicians could be covertly supporting the group.

It is the opinion of some that Boko Haram has become a "franchise" under which criminal elements conceal their activities.

Western intelligence officials have linked Boko Haram with terrorist groups operating outside Nigeria, including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Others, however, insist there is no concrete evidence to substantiate these claims.

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