Boko Haram Attacks Nigerian City Before Vice President Visit

Updated on
  • Militants battled soldiers in northeastern state capital
  • Attack comes as government starts $25-million food aid program

Suspected Boko Haram militants killed at least 15 people in attacks around the Nigerian city of Maiduguri just hours before a visit by the vice president, the most serious assault by the Islamist group on the hunger-stricken northeast in more than a year.

Fighters tried to enter the capital of Borno state at dusk on Wednesday, spurring a gun battle with soldiers that raged for about two hours and sent people fleeing further into the city for safety, according to witnesses.

Three further attacks around Maiduguri by women carrying explosives killed at least 15 people, as well as the bombers, and injured 24 that night, Borno police commissioner Damian Chukwu told reporters in the city on Thursday. Authorities didn’t mention any casualties from the firefight.

Yemi Osinbajo, the deputy leader who’s in charge of the country while President Muhammadu Buhari is in the U.K. for medical treatment, visited Maiduguri as planned on Thursday. He’s there to introduce an 8-billion naira ($25-million) government program that seeks to feed 1.8 million displaced people in the northeast.

Boko Haram has waged an eight-year war in a bid to impose its version of Islamic law in Africa’s most populous country, leaving tens of thousands dead and forcing millions to flee their homes in Nigeria’s northeast. Aid agencies estimate as many as 1.4 million people are now facing an emergency food shortage in the region, with 44,000 close to starvation.

Sporadic Attacks

Nigerian troops have recovered territory from Boko Haram’s fighters, reducing their ability to wage war mainly to sporadic suicide bombings. Wednesday’s attack was the first significant one involving government forces since a suicide bomber targeted Dalori village on the outskirts of Maiduguri in January 2016.

“The war against Boko Haram in Nigeria is won,” Jared Jeffery, an analyst at Paarl, South Africa-based NKC African Economics, said in an emailed note. “However, the group has in the past shown itself to be extremely adaptable and it may be some time yet before peace and stability can be established in the region.”

Army spokesman Kingsley Samuel said late Wednesday the situation in the city was under control. “There were bullets flying everywhere and all of us were in panic,” said Janet Ibrahim, a resident of Maiduguri’s Jiddari Polo neighborhood.

Osinbajo said in a statement before the attack that 40,000 metric tons of food including rice, corn, sorghum and soya beans will be distributed to people who’ve fled their homes.

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