Former US Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, has said that talks of victories by Nigerian troops against Boko Haram, must be taken with caution, even skepticism, especially with the difficulty in accessing the conflict zone by the media and members of the diplomatic community.
The diplomat also noted that in response to the military action, the sect has displayed an ability to evolve new strategies of warfare such as using young girls as suicide bombers.
“The credibility of security service statements is not high. It is hard to confirm the Nigerian military’s claims of success as it is difficult for foreigners, including the diplomatic community and the media, to access the areas where Boko Haram traditionally operates in Nigeria,” Campbell stated.
Campbel observed that the military had in the past made exaggerated claims about its victories over the insurgency group.
“Military claims of success must be viewed with caution if not skepticism. Throughout the struggle between Boko Haram and the Nigerian state, beginning with the former’s re-emergence in 2011, security service spokesmen have made exaggerated claims of success.”
Recently, the military said several members of the sect have surrendered but Campbell, writing in the blog Africa in Transition, said the recent bomb attack at the Malkohi internally displaced person camp in Yola, Adamawa state, showed that Boko Haram still poses serious security risk, despite its inability to take control of any territory again.
“Military spokesmen claim that large numbers of Boko Haram operatives are surrendering. They also cite military capture of Boko Haram arms, food, and even narcotics. On the other hand, Boko Haram terrorism continues, as documented by the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker,” the former ambassador wrote.
Since President Muhammadu Buhari gave a marching order to service chiefs to end Boko Haram in three months, the military has frequently churned out statements of victories recorded against the group and the only information available even to the media comes from the defence spokespersons, with no way of verifying such claims.
The American diplomat also said the recent report of arrest of Boko Haram suspects in Katsina, Lagos and Enugu states, if confirmed, showed that notwithstanding the group’s dwindling membership, its determination to spread beyond its primary locations of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa cannot be underestimated.
President Buhari has made tackling insecurity a top priority and most of his foreign trips since coming to power have been to this end, with the President expected back to the country today from France, where he got President Francois Hollande’s promise of military assistance in tackling Boko Haram.
By Samuel Malik