According to various media outlets, a suicide bomb attack on June 16 in Damboa, Borno, left at least forty dead and an additional forty wounded. Observers suspect Boko Haram, but thus far, no group has claimed responsibility. The attack occurred on the same day that the Nigerian chief of army staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, publicly said that Boko Haram is no longer a threat and urged internally displaced persons to return home. According to the army, two-thousand internally displaced had already returned to their homes.
The Damboa attack followed a familiar pattern. Two female suicide bombers detonated their explosives in two different Damboa neighborhoods as people were returning home after celebrating the end of Ramadan. After crowds gathered following the explosions, the perpetrators fired rocket-propelled grenades into their midst, increasing the number of casualties. What was also familiar about the attack was the confusion surrounding the number of victims. Officials initially said twenty were killed as residents said they counted thirty-eight bodies, and that at least forty more were injured. Officials later revised the number of those killed to forty-three. This incident has been the worst in Nigeria since May 1, when Boko Haram killed eighty-six people in a similar operation in the northeast.
This episode demonstrates yet again that, despite official claims to the contrary, Boko Haram continues to have the capacity to wreak havoc in parts of northeast Nigeria. The use of rocket-propelled grenades indicate that the group still has access to relatively sophisticated weaponry. Indeed, the Nigerian army has launched another offensive against Boko Haram, Operation Last Hold. The country director of Solidarities International in Nigeria, a French non-governmental organization, noted that thousands more internally displaced persons, mostly women and children, have arrived in their camps since the operation began in May. The UN estimates that around 1.7 million people have been forced from their homes over the nine-year conflict against Boko Haram. The continued fighting in northeast Nigeria takes place against the backdrop of the run-up to national elections in February 2019. Incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari is running for re-election; in 2015, he campaigned successfully on a ticket of destroying Boko Haram and vigorously fighting corruption. Continued Boko Haram operations are bound to be an embarrassment; however, it is not clear that it will have significant electoral impact. For most of Nigeria, Borno state is far away and there is greater concern about the economy than terrorism. Nevertheless, there must be concern that the government push for the internally displaced to return home is not premature.
For more on Nigeria, Matthew Page and I provide an overview of its politics, history, and culture, including the threat of Boko Haram and religious conflicts in our new book, Nigeria: What Everyone Needs to Know, which will be published by Oxford University Press in July.