B’Haram calls for elections boycott, Jonathan seeks US help

B’Haram calls for elections boycott, Jonathan seeks
US help

image

BY AFP
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan appealed for
more US help in fighting Boko Haram, as the
Islamists struck again on Saturday and called for a
boycott of upcoming general elections.
Jonathan, for the first time, claimed direct links
between the Sunni radicals who have been waging a
six-year insurgency in Nigeria and the Islamic State
group in Syria and Iraq.
He told the Wall Street Journal in an interview: “Are
they (the United States) not fighting ISIS? Why can’t
they come to Nigeria?
“They are our friends. If Nigeria has a problem, then
I expect the US to come and assist us.”
But Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby
said there are no plans to send US troops to Nigeria.
“I can tell you that there are no plans as I speak here
to send unilaterally, to send or to add US troops into
Nigeria. There are no US troops operating in Nigeria,”
he told reporters.
Kirby said the United States was in the early phases
of helping establish a multi-national task force of
African nations to help Nigeria defeat Boko Haram.
Jonathan’s comments were published as hundreds of
Islamist fighters invaded the northeastern city of
Gombe, firing heavy guns and throwing leaflets
calling for locals to shun the elections.
The attack, which began at about 9:00 am (0800
GMT), saw residents flee and the authorities impose
a 24-hour lock-down in the city, which Boko Haram
has repeatedly targeted.
Boko Haram has opened up two new fronts in its
campaign to create a hardline Islamic state in
northeast Nigeria, pushing into neighbouring Niger
last week and for the first time on Friday, Chad.
It has also increased the frequency and intensity of
its attacks on northern Cameroon. The increasing
regional threat has led to the deployment of troops
from all three countries, reflecting security fears.
Jonathan and his government have long sought to
portray, the insurgency as being fuelled by outside
forces and he has previously called Boko Haram “Al-
Qaeda in west Africa”.
Critics have interpreted his attempt to blame
foreigners for the violence that has left more than
13,000 dead and displaced more than one million
since 2009 as a diversion from national failings.
Boko Haram, which loosely translates from the
Hausa language widely spoken in northern Nigeria as
“Western education is forbidden”, started out in 2002
as a largely peaceful Islamist movement.
But it has been transformed in the last six years
from a rag-tag group of guerrilla fighters into a
conventional army, seizing territory and dozens of
towns in three northeast Nigerian states.
The group has generally not been thought to have
any direct operational links with overseas jihadis,
although some fighters may have received training
from Al-Qaeda-linked militants in north Africa.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has previously
mentioned IS group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in
videos but has not pledged allegiance to the outfit.
The Nigerian group’s tactics of extreme violence and
mass casualty hit-and-run raids, bombings and
suicide attacks also predated those carried out by
the IS group.
But Jonathan told the US newspaper that Nigeria had
intelligence reports that Boko Haram was receiving
“training and funds” from IS militants.
Any direct US military intervention would constitute a
marked shift in Nigeria’s attitude towards the
conflict. It has repeatedly insisted that it can take on
the militants alone.
The United States has provided surveillance and
intelligence specialists, as well as aerial drones, to
help in the high-profile hunt for 219 schoolgirls
kidnapped by Boko Haram last April.
But bilateral ties have since been fraught over
Washington’s refusal to provide military hardware
because of concerns about human rights abuses in
the Nigerian army.
The latest attack in Gombe, south of Boko Haram’s
centre of operations, coincided with the original date
for presidential elections, at which Jonathan is
seeking a second four-year term.
The vote was postponed last Saturday after the
electoral commission was advised that regional
forces needed more time to tackle the insurgents and
would not be able to provide security on polling day.
But the six-week deadline to effectively secure and
stabilise the northeast and allow hundreds of
thousands of people displaced by the violence to vote
has been seen as unrealistic.
Jonathan on Friday maintained that postponing the
elections until March 28 would give the security
agencies time to “clean up” the three states worst hit
by the insurgency for voting to take place.

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