On the eve of a national election the Nigerian Military are claiming that they have finally eliminated the large scale threat of Boko Haram. The Nigerian Military announced that they have seized control of Gwoza, the last major town still in the hands of the Islamist radical militia.
The announcement of the capture of Gwoza was greeted with great cheer by many Nigerians, but with scepticism from many others. There has not as of yet been clear photographic proof that the Nigerian troops had captured the town. The timing of the news also appears a little suspect, the day before the close-fought election, appears more than a little suspicious. There are no journalists or other independent sources in Gwoza to verify the claim either so as of now we must accept the Nigerian army’s claims.
If the claims do turn out to be true it will mark a major blow against Boko Haram. For those out of the loop Boko Haram is a terrorist organisation that had taken over some of the major cities, not all that dissimilar to ISIS, the extremist group has killed at least 13,000 Nigerians in recent years. If this conquest can be confirmed it would also show that the Nigerian forces were still making gains across an area that has been controlled by Boko Haram for the better part of a year.
Although it will be a major blow if this turns out to be true, it is unlikely to be the death knell for the extremist organisation. Analysts say that the Boko Haram fighters may have slipped away with little resistance to the military offensive, preferring to regroup in the remote forests and mountains near Gwoza. The intentions of the group may well have turned towards a more guerrilla style of warfare which has proved successful against large forces before. Most estimates suggest that the group has 6,000 to 10,000 fighters, making it still a dangerous force.
Just two days prior, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan had promised that Gwoza would be captured by Friday. With the announcement made on Friday, on election eve no less, many observers said it didn’t seem to be a coincidence, since Boko Haram has been a key election issue.
The Nigerian military however remained triumphant, “The gallant troops of the Nigerian military, in concerted and well-co-ordinated land and air operations, have liberated Gwoza,” said a statement by Major-General Chris Olukolade, the military spokesman, after an earlier series of tweets announcing the news.
The statement also went on to say, “Several of the terrorists have died and many of them captured in the process,” The statement would continue in regards to the aftermath saying, “A lot of arms and ammunition have been recovered and the administrative headquarters completely destroyed. A massive cordon and search has commenced to locate any of the fleeing terrorists or hostages in their custody.”
The spokesperson however was not done here, he continued by saying that the opposition fighters were fleeing to the border and that the Nigerian forces had captured, “virtually all the enclaves and hideouts where the terrorists were marauding”.
Despite this great victory there was no news on the notorious leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, nor was there any news of the 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by the group late last year.
Ryan Cummings, a security analyst who studies Boko Haram, and is vocally questioning these claims stated, “There is little evidence to suggest that Gwoza functions as any administrative, logical or operational hub for Boko Haram operations. We know too little about Boko Haram’s command structure to assume this.” Based on the timing Cummings stated, “It may well be that Nigeria liberated the town and repelled Boko Haram forces, or this could well be a case of pre-election window dressing,”
In regards to the photos that were released alongside the statement Cummings said that there was not “anything in the pictures released to definitively confirm the status of the town.”
We shall learn more in the coming days but for now we can hope that the people of Nigeria are at least a little bit safer than they had been until recently.