In Abuja, Nigeria after receiving new weapons from China, Russia and the Czech Republic, and strengthened by training from foreign advisers, Nigeria’s military is forcing Boko Haram extremists from a string of northeastern towns as the country’s prepares for elections the insurgents are threatening to disrupt.
The military offensive caused a six-week postponement of critical presidential elections now being held Saturday, a delay that should allow voting by some of the more than 1.5 million people forced from their homes by the Islamic uprising. But many refugees are reluctant to return home, doubting whether Nigeria’s military can maintain control over territory it recaptured from the insurgents.
In just two months, Nigeria’s military with help from troops from Chad, Niger and Cameroon has reclaimed about 30 towns and “liberated” the northeastern states of Adamawa and Yobe, leaving only 3 of 27 local government areas in Borno state under the sway of Boko Haram, according to the government spokesman on the insurgency, Mike Omeri.
Even so, there are no plans to set up polling stations in newly recaptured areas, said local electoral commission spokeswoman Rifkatu Duku in Yola, capital of Adamawa state.“We are not going to risk the lives of our staff,” she said. “Preparations are in top gear for the elections” at scores of temporary polling stations set up by the commission in Yola, a city of 300,000 people that now holds as many refugees.
For months Nigerian troops had been on the retreat, fleeing Boko Haram attacks as the insurgents seized territory the size of Belgium and declared an Islamic caliphate on the lines of the Islamic State group to which it recently pledged allegiance. Troops were being sent into battle with just 30 rounds of ammunition, often fleeing because they ran out of bullets, according to John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria now with the Council on Foreign Relations.
Omeri attributed the new successes to the acquisition of arms after many difficulties.At a news conference on Thursday, presidential candidate Muhammadu Buhari, a former military dictator, said he was worried the government might use the military for purposes “which put their political neutrality and credibility at risk.”
Despite the military muscle, many of those who fled Boko Haram attacks are reluctant to return home.“The military were on ground when Boko Haram came and took over our town. The same military has recaptured our land now, but we aren’t sure that the insurgents won’t come back,” said Zira Yohanna, an elderly man at a refugee camp in Yola.
Only refugees displaced within their own state will be able to vote. Thousands of others who have moved across state lines cannot vote, along with hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled across Nigeria’s borders. Analysts say the election is expected to be extremely close between front-runners President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the mainly Christian south who’s party has governed since 1999, and Buhari, a Muslim from the predominantly Muslim north.