In the last month, 30 villages in northeastern Nigeria have been reclaimed from Boko Haram, an indication that West African forces are pushing away the violent group that has engaged in guerrilla warfare across the northern part of the country.
This serves as encouraging news to villagers who have been displaced. It means, after years of little resistance, Boko Haram will not be allowed free run over others’ territory any longer. Nigeria announced on February 7 it would delay the presidential election until the end of March, the idea being to give its military time to stop the insurgency.
Since then, Boko Haram has been battled—and has retreated, according to published reports. Considering how long the news in the region has been about Boko Haram going on violent rampages and committing kidnappings virtually without opposition, the news is stunning.
The army’s work comes at an ideal time for the Nigerian government, which faced the prospect of defeat before the election was postponed, mostly because it would have been difficult to provide security for voters.
Many wondered why it has taken so long for the military to fight back against Boko, which had ravaged villages with impunity. An army spokesperson said more modern arms are now in its possession. Many are said to have come from Russia after the United States blocked the sale of sophisticated weapons, such as attack helicopters, because of human-rights abuses by Nigerian soldiers, according to the Economist magazine.
New tactics are helping, too. Demoralized battalions have been replaced and new generals have taken command on the front line, says Mike Omeri, an army spokesman. British-trained units have been praised for advances in Adamawa, one of the three most afflicted states.
Additionally, the army also cites better co-operation with neighboring countries, which are gathering an 8,700-strong force to fight the rebels. Troops stationed along the borders with Cameroon and Niger are trying to block escape routes. Chadian forces, which entered Nigeria in January, have reclaimed territory. They helped defeat fighters linked to al-Qaeda in Mali in 2013.
But regional relations are still tense, however. Chad does not take part in joint operations with Nigeria, whose government, the magazine said, wants to claim victories.
All this and Boko Haram is far from being defeated. It has responded with a string of suicide-bombings and attacks on countries that have joined the fray. One of its recent videos shows two victims being beheaded.