Adam Nossiter wrote an article featured in the February 19 issue of the New York Times titled “In Nigeria, Boko Haram Loses Ground to Chadians.” While Nossiter says that it is too early to tell, others have declared that the Chadians have somehow “turned the tide” against Boko Haram. While the Nigerian federal government has remained relatively silent about the Chadians, they too have recaptured terroritory and claimed victories over Boko Haram.
Despite these territorial gains and favorable headlines, there are critical questions to ask about the situation developing in northeast Nigeria.
First, how meaningful is it for the Chadians or the Nigerians to dislodge Boko Haram from towns or villages? Though Boko Haram has declared the establishment of a caliphate, the group seems uninterested in state building or administration. Instead, it raids, wrecks mayhem, and then moves on from any location that requires significant administration. By doing this, Boko Haram is more fluid and difficult to defeat on the battlefield. Indeed, despite Chad and Nigeria’s victories, Boko Haram has continued its campaign of terror – it killed at least thirty-eight people in two separate suicide attacks on February 17. The face of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, also issued a new video vowing to disrupt the Nigerian elections, now scheduled for March 28, and threatening violence against those participating:
Second, who are the Chadians? The relationship between the central government in N’Djamena and the clans on the Chadian side of the Chad-Nigeria border is complex and obscure. Given its decentralized structure of governance, it is difficult to determine to what extent the Chadian central government controls Chadians fighting Boko Haram in northern Nigeria. While Chad’s forces have been hailed due to their victorious intervention in Mali, troops in Mali were under the command and control of the French and owe much of their success to French leadership. The Chadians fighting in Nigeria are in a vastly different situation from those that fought in Mali. Adding to the complexity are the nebulous ties among some Chadians, some northern Nigerian politicians, and perhaps even some elements of Boko Haram. These relationships are a veritable house of mirrors.
As for the Nigerian government, it now must face the reality that there are armed Chadians operating in northern Nigeria beyond the control of Abuja. This would have been unimaginable even five years ago.