There is a steady drumbeat of Nigerian military claims of success against Boko Haram. Military spokesmen claim that large numbers of Boko Haram operatives are surrendering. They also cite military capture of Boko Haram arms, food, and even narcotics. On the other hand, Boko Haram terrorism continues, as documented by the Council on Foreign Relations’ Nigeria Security Tracker.
While Boko Haram no longer captures and holds territory, it increasingly embraces the use of new tactics such as employing female suicide bombers. On September 10, for the first time, it attacked a camp for internally displaced persons (IDP’s), near Yola in Adamawa state. There are even reports that Boko Harm has recently made use of horses in its attacks. The group continues to show flexibility in its tactics. Though most of its operations continue to be in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states, military spokesmen claim to have arrested Boko Haram operatives in Katsina (in the far north) and Lagos (in the far south), neither of which have been significant venues of Boko Haram activity. If these military reports are confirmed, and if those arrested were, indeed, Boko Haram, it would be an indication that the movement’s geographic spread is increasing even if its numbers are declining.
Military claims of success must be viewed with caution if not skepticism. Throughout the struggle between Boko Haram and the Nigerian state, beginning with the former’s re-emergence in 2011, security service spokesmen have made exaggerated claims of success. Further, last month President Muhammadu Buhari charged his new service chiefs with defeating Boko Haram within three months. This has placed a premium on military action and results. President Buhari visited Paris the week of September 14 in part to coordinate the fight against Boko Haram. (Chad, Niger, and Cameroon, all partners with Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram, have close ties with Paris.)
The credibility of security service statements is not high. It is hard to confirm the Nigerian military’s claims of success as it is difficult for foreigners, including the diplomatic community and the media, to access the areas where Boko Haram traditionally operates in Nigeria. Nevertheless, it is to be hoped that the claimed progress against Boko Haram is real.