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Boko Haram 'Nigeria's problem' for now, say analysts

12 November 2013, 20:28

Lagos - Nigeria requires more regional help to tackle Boko Haram militants in its restive northeast but the country is likely to have to shoulder most of the burden on its own for now, according to analysts.

A senior Nigerian military official last week urged neighbouring Cameroon to do more to help tackle the Islamist insurgency, which has claimed thousands of lives since 2009 and caused international concern over its potential to spread.

The multi-national force enforcing emergency rule in Nigeria's extreme northeast and tasked with hunting down militants is currently made up of Nigerian troops, assisted by soldiers from Chad and Niger.

"Cameroon has not contributed troops. Cameroon ought to be on board and it is seen as the weak link in the fight against Boko Haram," said Kyari Mohammed, a Boko Haram specialist at the Modibbo Adama University in Yola, Adamawa state.

"If Cameroon decides to close its borders, it would help," Mohammed, who is director of the university's Centre for Peace Studies, told AFP.

Emergency rule, backed for extension by lawmakers in Nigeria's upper house of parliament last week, has largely pushed Boko Haram fighters from urban areas into the countryside over the last six months but attacks have continued unabated.

The three states under special measures -- Yobe, Borno and Adamawa -- share frontiers with Niger, Chad and Cameroon and the military has said that insurgents have struck in Nigeria then fled across the porous borders.

As such, regional co-operation was vital to tackle the issue, said Marc-Antoine Perouse de Montclos, a Nigeria specialist at the Institute of Development Research (IRD) in Paris.

Elizabeth Donnelly, assistant head of the Africa programme at the Chatham House international affairs think-tank in London, agreed but both said that more help was unlikely to be forthcoming.

"Cameroon, Niger and Chad... have competing pressures. Niger and Chad are very concerned about the fall-out from (the conflicts in) Mali and Libya. They certainly don't want another problem from another border," said Donnelly.

Relations between Abuja and Yaounde have also been strained because of a drawn-out border dispute over the territory of Bakassi, which was only formally resolved in August when Cameroon took complete sovereignty of the area, which is thought to have major untapped oil reserves.

Cameroon's reluctance can further be explained because it also wants to avoid Boko Haram attacks within its own borders, said Mohammed.

"It (the fight against Boko Haram) needs a regional resolution of the problem," said Perouse de Montclos.

"It's not the first time that Nigeria has asked for the help of its neighbours. But there's a problem of capacity."

"Nigeria is the biggest regional power," added Donnelly. "The expectation will be that Nigeria resolves its own problem."

As a result attention will focus on the effectiveness of six more months of emergency rule, given that civilian deaths remain high -- both from Boko Haram strikes and military action -- and the frequency of bloody violence.

A 'wild,dangerous beast'

Donnelly said improving civilian protection was key in the coming months, as was better intelligence to find active Boko Haram members, while suspects needed to be put on trial in court to enforce the rule of law.

Perouse de Montclos, who likened Boko Haram to a "wild, dangerous beast trying to bite everyone", said it was vital to ensure that members of civilian vigilante groups, encouraged by the military, did not become disaffected.

Previous experience had shown that to do so would make them ripe for recruitment by the likes of Boko Haram, he added.

But Mohammed suggested that the Nigerian government needed to identify moderate elements within the militant group who are willing to talk.

"Emergency rule has not worked... Boko Haram have boxed the government into a situation where they are like Boko Haram," carrying out indiscriminate attacks that have caused scores of civilian deaths.

"We have to open a window of opportunity," he added. "We need some people to break ranks."




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