Scores killed in Buhari’s first week in office
The death toll from two blasts in northeast Nigeria rose to 35 on Friday, raising the total number killed in suspected Boko Haram attacks to 82 during President Muhammadu Buhari’s first week in office.
Rescue officials in the Adamawa state’s capital Yola said 31 people had been confirmed dead in the explosion that ripped through a market on Thursday, with another 38 wounded.
The Yola blast followed a suspected suicide bombing in Maiduguri, capital of neighbouring Borno state, that killed at least four people when a truck carrying firewood rammed into a checkpoint outside a military barracks.
The violence on Thursday came as Buhari ended his first foreign trip since taking office.
He visited Chad and Niger, which with Cameroon are Nigeria’s key allies in the battle against an Islamist uprising blamed for 15,000 deaths since 2009.
Buhari urged closer regional security cooperation, thanking troops from Nigeria’s neighbours for their efforts to date while demanding more action from a multi-national force battling the insurgents on the frontline.
He vowed to crush the Islamists when he was sworn in one week ago but the spate of bombings through his first week in office highlighted the severity of the challenge.
Boko Haram has been weakened by a four-nation offensive launched in February but the extremists have proved resilient in the past.
A new video released by the group — its first for several months and first under the banner of the “Islamic State in West Africa” — insisted the rebels were still to be reckoned with.
– Toll rises –
Yola had been seen as a relative safe haven in Nigeria’s embattled northeast, with no confirmed Islamist attacks in several years.
The fresh explosion hit the popular Jimeta Main Market at about 7:40 pm (1840 GMT), as traders were finishing business.
“So far, we have 31 dead victims and 38 people in hospital receiving treatment”, the National Emergency Management Agency’s coordinator in the city Sa’ad Bello told AFP.
An inital toll from the Adamawa state police said two people were killed.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the blast bore the hallmarks of Boko Haram who have frequently targeted crowded markets.
The Maiduguri explosion outside the Maimalari Barracks at about 5:00 pm killed four people and also resembled past strikes by the insurgents, who have made suicide attacks the military a key feature of their uprising.
– Regional cooperation –
Buhari was on Thursday in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, for talks with his counterpart Idriss Deby after visiting Niger on Wednesday.
“Your troops have stood shoulder to shoulder and fought gallantly with ours in the fight against the forces of evil,” the 72-year-old former military ruler told Deby.
Deby for his part “reaffirmed Chad’s involvement and availability” to work with Nigeria, according to a statement from his office.
Anglophone Nigeria has typically viewed its Francophone neighbours with suspicion, which has been blamed for the lack of a joined-up approach in tackling the militants.
On Wednesday, the military in Abuja announced that a Nigerian officer had taken charge of the new African Union-backed Multi-National Joint Task Force based in N’Djamena.
The 8,700-strong unit, made up of military personnel, police and civilians from Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, had been due to be deployed last November.
Buhari said “sustained and robust” regional cooperation was essential because of the cross-border threat posed by Boko Haram.
– Deadly week –
Buhari has ordered the military’s command centre be moved from the capital, Abuja, to Maiduguri, where Boko Haram was founded in 2002 and which is regarded as its spiritual home.
The army has since been tested with two rocket attacks on the city, as well as an explosion opposite a military facility on Wednesday, which left at least 18 dead.
There were also two suicide bomb attacks — one at a mosque on Saturday that killed 26 and another on Tuesday at a cattle market, in which 13 people died.
While Maiduguri residents have come to expect relentless bombings, a surge of violence in Yola will create new challenges for Buhari as he strives to pacify the northeast.
The city has been home to hundreds of thousands of people displaced by fighting elsewhere in the region.
Hundreds of women and children kidnapped by Boko Haram have also been brought to camps in the city after they were rescued during recent military operations in the rebels’ Sambisa Forest stronghold in Borno.