Nigeria claims Boko Haram 'defeated' after 10-year insurgency

A UN panel of experts warned this week of a growing terrorist threat in the Sahel and West Africa

Smoldering ashes are seen on the ground in Budu near Maiduguri on July 28, 2019, after the latest attack this weekend by Boko Haram fighters on a funeral in northeast Nigeria has left 65 people dead.  / AFP / Audu Marte
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Nigeria’s presidency claimed that a 10-year insurgency by extremist group Boko Haram has been defeated, even as it acknowledged the growing threat posed by international militants.

"The position of the Nigerian government is that the Boko Haram terrorism has been degraded and defeated,” the presidency said in a statement on Tuesday. “The real Boko Haram we know is defeated."

The announcement came in the same week that a United Nations report warned of a growing threat from terrorist groups in the Sahel and West Africa.

A panel of experts told the Security Council this week that "the most striking international developments" during the first six months of 2019 include "the growing ambition and reach of terrorist groups in the Sahel and West Africa," where fighters from ISIS and Al Qaida are collaborating to undermine fragile countries. "The number of regional states threatened with contagion from insurgencies in the Sahel and Nigeria has increased," said the experts, who monitor UN sanctions against both extremist groups.

This week marked 10 years since Boko Haram’s founding leader Mohammed Yusuf was extra-judicially killed in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, an action credited with radicalising the group and encouraging it to launch a full-blown insurgency.

Since then the group’s insurgency has spread from to neighouring Lake Chad basin countries, with a splinter group, The Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) pledging allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi in 2015. More than 27,000 people have been killed and two million displaced by the conflict, which has prompted a US military response.

The Nigerian presidency said the country was now facing "a mixture" of Boko Haram remnants, criminal groups and Islamist militants from the Maghreb and West Africa fuelled by turmoil in Libya and the collapse of the ISIS caliphate in the Middle East.

"As a consequence of these international gangs, we have seen an increase of trans-border crimes and the proliferation of small arms in the Lake Chad Basin area," the statement said.

President Muhammadu Buhari, a former general who vowed to crush Boko Haram when he became president in 2015 for his first term in office, has previously said the group were "beaten".

The uprising began in northeast Nigeria in July 2009 when fighting between the hardline group and government forces left hundreds of militants dead, including founder Yusuf.

In 2015, the Nigerian army forced the militants out of major towns but they remain at large in remote strongholds.

Fighters still launch persistent attacks and ISWAP has ratcheted up assaults against the military since last year.

Over the weekend an attack by the Boko Haram group headed by long-time leader Abubakar Shekau killed 65 villagers close to the regional capital Maiduguri.

The army has often been criticised for failing to safeguard local communities, with vigilante groups stepping into the void left by the authorities.

But the presidency said it was looking to bolster its military capacity and expected the long-awaited delivery of Super Tucano turbo-prop warplanes from the United States "beginning next year".

The 2009 killing of Yusuf “demonstrates the inefficacy of removing the leadership of an extremist group, if the root causes of violent extremism are not addressed,” wrote Nnamdi Obasi, a senior adviser on Nigeria to the International Crisis Group.

Boko Haram's continuing violence, including its recent attacks, “underscore insurgents’ resilience,” he said.