Boko Haram Latest: Islamists seize another Nigerian Town and Military Base

JANUARY 5, 2015

Nigeria’s militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, reportedly seized a town and a key multinational military base in north-eastern Nigeria, according to local officials and eyewitnesses.

A senator in Nigeria’s Borno State said troops had abandoned the base in the town of Baga after it came under attack on Saturday.

Residents of Baga, who fled by boat to neighbouring Chad, said many people had been killed and the town set ablaze.

Baga, which was the scene of an alleged Nigerian army massacre in 2013, was the last government-controlled town in the Borno North area.

It hosted the base of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF), made up of troops from Nigeria, Chad and Niger. Set up in 1998 to fight trans-border crime in the Lake Chad region, the force had recently taken on Boko Haram.

The Boko Haram menace

Boko Haram, which when loosely translated means Western education is forbidden, attacks Nigerian towns and villages on an almost daily basis, abducting people including young boys and girls, according to BBC Africa analyst, Mary Harper.

The military, which includes Western advisers and surveillance, has so far seemed incapable of dealing with the jihadists who were designated a terrorist organisation by the United States in November 2013.

In December, a Nigerian military court sentenced 54 soldiers to death after they were convicted of mutiny. The soldiers had allegedly refused to help recapture three towns taken over by Boko Haram.

Those charged were attached to the 7 Division, Nigerian Army.

In September, 12 soldiers from the same division were also sentenced to death following charges that they mutinied and attempted to murder their commanding officer. They were also tasked with fighting Boko Haram.

In a July video, Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, paid tribute to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who in late June declared himself “the caliph” and “leader of Muslims everywhere”.

A month later, Shekau declared that he would rule the land annexed by Boko Haram as a caliphate - mirroring the tact employed by the ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Heavy gunfire

Residents who fled to Chad said they had woken to heavy gunfire as militants stormed Baga early on Saturday, attacking from all directions.

They said they had decided to flee when they saw the multi-national troops running away.

Maina Maaji Lawan, senator for Borno North, told the BBC’s World Service that civilians had run "helter skelter" - "some into the forest, some into the desert".

Communications with the town were cut off and exact information about casualty numbers could not be confirmed, he said.

"We are very dispirited," the senator added.

Confirming that the military had abandoned the base, he said people's frustration knew "no bounds" over the apparent fact that the military had not fought back.

"There is definitely something wrong that makes our military abandon their posts each time there is an attack from Boko Haram," the senator said.

False ceasefire

Early in 2014, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan announced that his government had struck a ceasefire deal with Boko Haram to secure the release of 219 schoolgirls, whose kidnapping by the group had in April had prompted global outrage, and gave birth to the Twitter hashtag #bringbackourgirls.

Days before the Saturday attack on Baga, suspected Boko Haram militants kidnapped about 40 boys and young men in a raid on the remote Borno village of Malari.