Nigeria At War With Boko Haram-Presidency
LAGOS (AFP) – Nigeria's presidency on Friday said the country was at war
with Boko Haram, apparently backing off previous claims that the Islamist
rebels were on the run and desperate.
President Goodluck Jonathan's administration has been fiercely criticised
over its handling of the conflict, both for its inability to stop massive
attacks on defenceless civilians and for what some have described as mixed
and contradictory messages on the severity of the crisis.
Jonathan has termed the ongoing military offensive in Boko Haram's
northeastern stronghold a success and maintained that normality will be
restored to the embattled region by May.
On Friday, presidency spokesman Doyin Okupe told the private Channels
television station that the Boko Haram conflict was a “war situation”.
“We are dealing with a very, very serious enemy,” he said.
“We are engaged in a war that has been internationalised,” he added in an
apparent reference to Boko Haram's reported but unconfirmed presence in
neighbouring countries like Cameroon.
The conflict has killed thousands since 2009 but many argue the plight of
civilians in the northeast has worsened since the military began its
operation in May.
Since then, nearly 300,000 people have been displaced in the region,
according to the UN, and more than 1,500 people killed, according to the
UN and figures compiled by AFP.
“It is very difficult, very costly in terms of lives lost. But we will
overcome,” Okupe said. “We are in the dying phase of this insurgency.”
The defence ministry on Thursday said the insurgents were “desperate” to
escape Nigeria because of military pressure and would be “degraded towards
Lawyer and human rights campaigner Jiti Ogunye criticised the government
for putting out mixed messages.
“The inconsistency and empty boastfulness of the government's timeline for
defeating Boko Haram is dispiriting and psychologically disorienting” for
those caught up in the violence, he told AFP.
Ogunye also condemned an unrealistic pledge made in January by Air Marshal
Alex Badeh after he was named chief of defence staff that Boko Haram would
be defeated by April.
The defence ministry later said Badeh's comment should not be interpreted
as a literal deadline.
“There is a big gap between the increasing carnage and the futile empty
assurances that are being given,” Ogunye said.
Boko Haram, declared a terrorist organisation by Nigeria and the United
States, has said it is fighting to create an Islamic state in Nigeria's
mainly Muslim north.