MAIDUGURI, NIGERIA - Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari urged troops to show more commitment in fighting Boko Haram despite scores of losses in a recent assault as he visited the key northeastern city of Maiduguri on Wednesday.
The visit came a day before Buhari heads to N’Djamena for talks on the conflict with his regional counterparts in a fighting force against the jihadis.
Addressing delegates at an army conference in Maiduguri, the epicenter of the jihadi insurgency, Buhari acknowledged the military had done a lot to secure the volatile region.
“There has been a remarkable improvement in the security situation in the northeast since 2015 when this administration came to power and you are part of it,” he said.
But defeating Boko Haram was “a must-win war,” insisted the 75-year-old retired general who will seek a second four-year term in February’s elections and who has previously said the Islamist militants were “technically defeated.
“Our troops must not be distracted. They should be committed to the task of eliminating Boko Haram from the face of the Earth.”
The conference had initially been due to take place in Benin City in the south, but it was moved to Maiduguri to honor the soldiers who were killed 10 days ago in an attack on a nearby military base, he said.
There has been an upsurge in deadly attacks on both military and civilian targets in recent months, prompting fears of a resurgence and further attacks as elections approach.
AFP has reported at least 17 attempts to overrun army bases since July. Many have been claimed by Boko Haram faction the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
In the latest attack on Nov. 18, at least 43 soldiers were killed in Metele, although troops who survived put the death toll at more than 100.
IS said it had killed 118 troops in five operations in its self-styled West Africa province — Nigeria and Chad — between Nov. 15 and 21, without specifying the exact locations.
Buhari praised the fallen soldiers for their “heroic sacrifices” and pledged to work with partners in the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) to end the conflict.
The MNJTF comprising Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin was set up to fight the Islamists in the Lake Chad region at the height of the conflict in 2014.
At the time, Boko Haram had captured swaths of territory in northeast Nigeria and also launched cross-border attacks into Niger, Chad and Cameroon, whose borders meet on Lake Chad.
Buhari’s office said Central African Republic had also been invited to the one-day meeting, which would “review the security situation” in affected areas.
It would also “adopt measures to enhance the capacity of the Multinational Joint Task Force to meet the challenges of securing the areas,” it said.
Nigerian Defense Minister Mansur Dan-Ali flew to Chad and Niger this week for talks on Boko Haram amid concern about the effectiveness of the coalition.
Security analysts tracking the conflict have indicated a renewed focus on Nigeria by from IS-affiliated groups as well as persistent coordination problems within the MNJTF.
Dan-Ali said the task force would address the circumstances leading to the Metele attack and come up with “new ideas and strategies” to prevent a recurrence.
Security analysts say there must be a change of tactics if the fight against the jihadis is to succeed.
They believe Nigeria’s regional partners are not doing enough to secure their common frontiers against the insurgents.
The nine-year Boko Haram jihadi rebellion has claimed more than 27,000 lives and forced at least 1.8 million to flee their homes, sparking a dire humanitarian crisis in the region.