Nigerian Officials: Military Expects to Win Back All Boko Haram Territory This Month
Nigerian officials visiting Washington Wednesday said the army expects to regain all territory currently under control of Boko Haram by the Nigerian presidential elections on March 28.
Nigerian officials visiting Washington for an event at the Atlantic Council said Wednesday they expect the entire area controlled by Boko Haram — estimated to be about the size of Belgium — will be back under Nigerian control in just three weeks.
That would be a jaw-droppingly quick military victory in a conflict that has killed an estimated 20,000 and displaced 1.5 million more since 2009. Just three weeks ago, the two representatives said, the militants controlled 14 local governments in Nigeria’s north. Today, they control only four.
“Before March 28, no territory of Nigeria will be under control of Boko Haram,” Ambassador Ayodele Oke, the director general of Nigeria’s National Intelligence Agency, said.
The Nigerian government requested to postpone the elections in part to ensure that those displaced by violence in the north would still have the opportunity to vote.
But when Foreign Policy asked if the offensive Nigeria launched since the election’s postponement indicates the delay was a political move by incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, who has faced criticism for failing to control the insurgency, Oke defended the delay.
“It is above partisan politics when we are discussing national security, ” he said.
In an attempt to further defend the postponement, Oke pointed to a joint letter signed by the International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute, Washington-based groups that promote democracy abroad, which he claimed supported the government’s choice to delay due to the instability in the country’s north.
But retired U.S. Ambassador George Moose, who led the delegation that visited Nigeria and penned that letter, immediately disputed that claim.
“You will find nothing in that statement that justified a postponement of the election on security grounds,” Moose said. “On the contrary I think what you will find in the statements that have been [released] since then is a reflection of the concern that a postponement could actually…[due to misunderstandings] increase the risk of violence both before during and after the elections.”
Oke did not seem overly phased by that correction, only further defending himself by saying that there was no violence on Feb. 15th, the day after the election was meant to be held. “Nigerians need this democracy more than the international community does,” he said.
But what Oke did take more seriously was Boko Haram’s recent claim they are now aligned to the Islamic State, which they announced in a video posted online on Saturday. That connection, if proven real, would be especially dangerous because of the financial support ISIS could provide to Boko Haram.
Although many have dismissed the group’s announcement as mere propaganda, Oke said the Nigerian government is examining it closely.
“Never underrate what they’re planning to do or who they’re meeting,” he said. “We should deal with it rather an ignoring it and coming back to say we made an egregious error.”
Both Oke and Gabriel E. Okoi, Nigeria’s chief of defense intelligence, took turns jabbing at the American response to Nigeria’s request for military assistance, including the cancellation of an American training program for the Nigerian military in late 2014. The U.S. will not provide military equipment to the Nigerian military due to past human rights violations, but Okoi said the training program the Americans offered was meant for more modern equipment than the Nigerian army could provide.
“Our friends disappointed us,” he said. “We could not get the arms we needed, nor could we get the ammunition.”
“We begged…almost on our knees begging people to help us.”
He also claimed that even when it came to providing real-time intelligence, the United States did not act fast enough.
“We had to shout before you acted,” he said.
And his response to Americans and other politicians who claim they’ve done more than enough?
“Please, check yourselves.”
Quentin Leboucher/AFP/Getty Images