Nigeria has begun the “final onslaught” against Boko Haram, the coordinator, National Information Centre, Mike Omeri, said on Tuesday, after the militants were dislodged from the strategic town of Bama, Borno State.
On a visit to London, Omeri told AFP that “significant strategic military successes and gains” had been made against the Islamists in recent weeks.
“Bama (the second biggest town in Borno state) was retaken yesterday (Monday) and we have Abadam, Gwoza and Askira as part of the remaining areas where we still have this presence”, he said.
Abadam, Gwoza and Askira are also in Borno, which has been worst hit by six years of violence and was under emergency rule from May 2013 to November last year with neighbouring Yobe and Adamawa.
The military announced that Adawama was “cleared” last Friday and that Yobe was retaken on Monday from Boko Haram, whose pledge of allegiance was recently accepted by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
The successes recorded by the Nigerian military followed the deployment last month of troops from Cameroon, Chad and Niger, as well as foreign mercenaries.
The ongoing counter-insurgency operation not only aims at reducing the regional threat from the militants, after several cross-border attacks in recent months, but also to secure the northeast for general elections to be held.
The elections were initially scheduled for February 14 but had to be rescheduled by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to March 28 because of the counter-offensive on the grounds that soldiers would not be available to provide security on polling day.
Although President Goodluck Jonathan, who is seeking re-election, had said in several interviews that the northeast region of Nigeria would be free of insurgents before elections, Omeri refused to be drawn into the debate on when the insurgency would be declared over.
“As for the other three areas (Abadam, Gwoza and Askira), help is coming”, said Omeri, who announced last week that 36 towns had been recaptured from Boko Haram.
“Soldiers are still out there working hard and we’re en route to the final onslaught because it has started already from Bama”.
The insurgency has left more than 13,000 people dead since 2009 and forced some 1.5 million others to flee their homes.
But Omeri said that once the affected communities were free, “they will be advised to return home and continue with their lives”. (AFP)