Nigerian Islamic extremist group Boko Haram has grown from a group of bloodthirsty vandals to a real possibility for the new face of Nigeria over the course of this year. After seizing Bama, a town of about 5,000 people, a few days ago, residents are now fleeing the north-east state capital of Maiduguri as Boko Haram closes in, reported The Guardian.
Refugees have been accumulating as they flee from town to town, trying to escape the Boko Haram’s reign of terror over Nigeria. Around 26,500 citizens ran to Maiduguri after Bama was taken earlier this week, bringing the total number of displaced Nigerians to 650,000, according to the United Nation’s refugee agency. Human rights workers believe that 1.5 million have abandoned their homes, including those who are currently living with other Nigerians, reported The Guardian.
Maiduguri, with a population of around one million, could signify the greatest boon yet for Boko Haram. The Economist reported the recent string of attacks gives the appearance that Boko Haram is no longer just attacking villages to take young men and women for slaves and converts — they are actively trying to make strategic gains on Nigerian territory in order put the country under sharia law. Much like ISIS in Iraq, the organization’s goals appear to be complete domination of the area.
Last Sunday, Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau released a nearly hour-long video boasting of the group’s advances.
“Thanks to Allah who gave victory to our brethren in [the town of] Gwoza and made it part of the Islamic Caliphate.”
International authorities have openly doubted the Nigerian army’s ability to get the conflict under control, despite posturing from the armed forces who attempt to reassure Nigerians that the situation is under control. Eight months ago, Chief of Defense Alex Badeh took his position with the vow that Boko Haram was on its way out, reported News 24.
“If we do our work cohesively, I can tell you we will finish that thing [the counter-insurgency] in no time.”
In contrast to Badeh’s assurances, the Nigerian army appears to actually be losing strength. Many soldiers have defected despite a nearly $30 billion budget for the armed forces and 80,000 personnel on active duty, with 86,000 paramilitaries. Boko Haram’s membership is currently estimated between 6,000 and 8,000. A former military officer who was actively a part of the January 1966 coup d’état expressed shock at the weak response.
“This is not the military that we used to know… How can a rag-tag group of dissidents overpower trained Nigerian soldiers? It is shameful. Our military are just wallowing in self-denial.”
Nigerians sensing the losing battle that the country is fighting against Boko Haram have begun to exit the country altogether. Cameroon gained at least 9,000 refugees over a 10-day period in the last two weeks alone. Niger also added another 2,000 to the 50,000 refugees they have had to take in after Boko Haram’s violent campaign began gaining speed just over a year ago, reported The Economist.
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