AFRICANGLOBE – The Nigerian army said on Tuesday it had repelled Boko Haram from all but three local government districts in the northeast, claiming victory for its offensive against the Islamist insurgents less than two weeks before a presidential election.
At the start of this year, Boko Haram controlled around 20 local government areas, a territory the size of Belgium, in its bloody six-year-old campaign to carve out an Islamic state in religiously mixed Nigeria.
But a concerted push by Nigeria’s military and neighbours Chad, Cameroon and Niger has regained considerable ground. At the weekend, Nigerian government forces recaptured the city of Bama, the second biggest in northeasterly Borno state.
“We have three local governments remaining, Abadam, Kalabaldi and Gwoza, and we are optimistic that with time we will liberate those,” Lieutenant-General Tobiah Minimah, the army chief of staff, told reporters.
President Goodluck Jonathan, who is running for re-election, had been criticised for not doing enough to tackle the insurgency. His challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, has been campaigning on his reputation for being tough on security matters when he was military ruler of Nigeria in the 1980s.
It is not clear how much impact the military advances will boost Jonathan’s election chances in the tightly fought race.
The militants were progressively chased out of Adamawa and Yobe states since the start of the year, and cornered into an ever shrinking area of Borno, the heartland of their insurgency.
The elections were postponed in February until March 28, with the military citing Boko Haram as warranting the delay. The electoral commission plans to set up polling booths in camps for the more than a million Nigerians displaced by the fighting, but there are fears that potentially millions of people may be unable to vote in areas affected by the violence.
Asked whether the vote could hold in the recaptured areas, Minimah said that would be up to the electoral commission. “The areas have been liberated, but structures of governance … will need to be reinstated so citizens can go back to their areas and (vote). How soon? I don’t know.”
Boko Haram’s worsening atrocities against civilians hit international headlines in April last year, when the militants kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from the village of Chibok, triggering a search for them that has been fruitless thus far.
Minimah said there was no news on the whereabouts of the Chibok girls for now, but that the military was optimistic they would be able to get more information on it soon.
Other News: Nigerian Air Force Operating Gazelle Helicopters
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) is flying Gazelle helicopters as it bolsters its fleet to combat Boko Haram insurgents.
A recent Channels Television video clip showed images of the helicopters at a Nigerian Air Force installation in Lagos. It is not clear how many helicopters have been acquired or where they came from, although it appears they entered service last month. Several photos have circulated showing the helicopters, which are possibly flown by private military contractors.
The Channels Television video also showed one of the NAF’s recently refurbished AS332M1 Super Puma helicopters carrying a new 22-tube rocket pod on one of its stub wings. On February 15, Chief of the Air Staff Air Marshal Adesola Amosun told Radio Nigeria Network news that new aircraft weaponry was being tested and calibrated at the Owode weapons range.
The Nigerian Air Force has been acquiring new equipment recently, such as three Beechcraft King Air 350i light transport aircraft in August last year, two AgustaWestland AW101 VIP transport helicopters and refurbished Alpha Jets and C-130s. The NAF is also acquiring six Mi-35M attack helicopters and 12 armed Mi-171Sh helicopters which were ordered in August 2014.