Govt lifts curfew in Maiduguri, urges residents to fight assaults
A CITY-WIDE curfew was lifted Monday in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria, following a weekend Boko Haram attack that prompted the state governor to urge residents to stay and fight any future assaults.
The restive capital of Borno State was locked down on Sunday morning, after the Islamist militants launched a dawn raid that was later repelled by the military.
Nigerian Army spokesman Colonel Sani Usman announced the lifting of the curfew from 6:00 am (0500 GMT). “People can go about their legitimate business,” he said.
The military high command in Abuja said “scores” of Boko Haram fighters were killed as soldiers using heavy weaponry with air support halted the extremists’ advance.
The attack came a day after President Goodluck Jonathan visited the city as part of his campaign for re-election next month, and again vowed to end the six-year insurgency.
But with the militants now in control of swathes of territory in Borno, fears remain high over renewed large-scale attacks on the city.
“It is not over yet,” said security analyst Abdullahi Bawa Wase, who tracks the Boko Haram conflict.
“They will certainly make another attempt. It is only a matter of when, because Maiduguri is strategic,” he told AFP.
– ‘No flight, no retreat’ –
Borno State governor Kashim Shettima also recognised the clear and present danger of another assault on Maiduguri, with the rebels now in control of the nearby town of Monguno.
But Shettima told BBC radio’s Hausa-language service: “I call on the people of Borno State not to panic. This is our land. No fear, no flight, no retreat. We should not flee.
“We have a history dating back 1,000 years and I swear by Allah we are going to beat (Boko Haram).”
Despite the success in Maiduguri and in repelling a separate attack in nearby Konduga, Monguno — which is about 125 kilometres (80 miles) north of Maiduguri — fell into rebel hands on Sunday.
Boko Haram also captured the town’s military barracks, from which it is feared it will launch a fresh strike on Maiduguri. The group was founded in Maiduguri in 2002, and was driven out in 2013.
Shettima confirmed that the situation was “bad in Monguno,” and that people had fled to Maiduguri, where the military was screening them in case any the militants had infiltrated the displaced population.
In September last year, it was estimated that more than half of Borno’s 4.1 million people were in Maiduguri, but many more have arrived since then to seek sanctuary from the violence.
Many are living in camps for internally displaced people.
– Elections and supplies –
Security analysts believe Boko Haram’s capture of Monguno — after the Lake Chad fishing hub of Baga was captured earlier this month — was driven by a need for food, fuel, medicine and other essentials.
Hundreds of people, if not more, are feared to have been killed in Baga, where Boko Haram fighters destroyed much of the town and razed at least 16 surrounding settlements.
Residents who fled Baga have said Boko Haram has enough supplies from the abandoned and looted markets to last for months, but they will eventually be forced to push south.
Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analysts at risk consultants Red24, suggested the Monguno attack was also likely prompted by the need for weapons to counter eventual offensives by regional armies.
Boko Haram violence has effectively wiped large parts of northeast Nigeria off the electoral map, making voting impossible in next month’s presidential and parliamentary poll.
Nigeria is scrambling for a solution to allow displaced people to vote, but Wase said any successful future attack on Maiduguri would “automatically disrupt the elections”.
“It means elections will not be held in Borno state because the bulk of the voters are now in Maiduguri,” he added.
Nigeria’s main opposition, which is in power in much of the northeast, has said the validity of the overall result could be questioned if hundreds of thousands of people are disenfranchised.