Nigeria announced the re-opening of the international airport in the northeastern city of Maiduguri that’s been at the epicenter of Boko Haram violence, as the new government seeks to show gains against the Islamist militants.
While citing improved security in the city where Boko Haram was formed, Borno state Deputy Governor Alhaji Zannah Mustafa didn’t say Tuesday when flights would resume. The airport has been closed since December 2013 when Boko Haram fighters destroyed three military helicopters at a nearby airbase.
The airport announcement followed the start of the transfer of the military’s command center to Maiduguri from the capital, Abuja, ordered by President Muhammadu Buhari after his inauguration on May 29. An offensive this year by Nigerian forces backed by troops from neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger has forced Boko Haram to relinquish some of the control it claimed over a “caliphate” stretching across the north of Africa’s biggest economy.
“There will be change now and Nigerians should expect tremendous improvement in our fight against insurgents and terrorists,” Chief of Army Staff General Kenneth Minimah told reporters after arriving Tuesday in Maiduguri. “The time we’ve lost, we’re closing up.”
Mustafa said Nigerian carrier Med-View Airlines plans to start flights from Maiduguri to destinations including Abuja and the Saudi city of Jeddah. Calls to Med-View’s Lagos office didn’t connect and an e-mailed request for comment wasn’t immediately answered.
The offensive has forced Boko Haram to abandon its grip on territory and focus on more traditional guerrilla attacks, including car bombs and suicide attacks. Buhari, a 72-year-old a former general and military ruler who’s pledged to crush the insurgency, defeated incumbent Goodluck Jonathan in a March vote.
Boko Haram, which has carried out a violent campaign to impose its version of Shariah, or Islamic law, on Nigeria, has killed at least 5,500 civilians since the start of last year, London-based Amnesty International said in April.
“There has been an upsurge in Boko Haram-related attacks since the inauguration of Buhari, who has vowed to intensify government offensives and revamp counterinsurgency strategy,” Drum Cussac, the security consultancy based in Poole, UK, said Wednesday in e-mailed comments.
The insurgents killed 15 people on Monday in an attack on the northeastern village of Huyum, according to witnesses.
Buhari returned to Nigeria on Tuesday after meeting leaders of the Group of Seven nations in Germany.
The world leaders recognized that Buhari faces handicaps in fighting Boko Haram “including the lack of resources, leaving him with a government over-stretched in capacity, itself riddled with mismanagement,” Garba Shehu, a presidential spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday. “They noted that the country’s army lacked training and equipment with little or no will to engage.”
For more, read this QuickTake: Nigeria's Latest Jihad