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Nigerian Army Claims Progress Against Boko Haram Despite Attacks

  • Peter Clottey

File - This screengrab taken from a video shows Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau delivering a speech.

File - This screengrab taken from a video shows Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau delivering a speech.

Nigeria’s army is making significant strides in the fight against Islamist militant group Boko Haram in the Sambisa forest and its environs, according to military spokesman Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman.

Usman said the military operation against the militants -- formerly named Zaman Lafiya in the Hausa language, which translates to "peace" -- has now been renamed Zaman Lafiya Dole, which translates into "peace is a must."

He said soldiers are not deterred by the latest attacks orchestrated by the militants. Twin bomb blasts killed at least 37 people in the northern city of Gombe on Thursday.

Assailants have killed hundreds of civilians since President Muhammadu Buhari took office at the end of May -- this, despite statements by the president and army that efforts are being redoubled to defeat the Islamist extremist group.

“Apart from gains towards the Sambisa forest, there was a new directive from the new chief of army staff who opened roads hitherto being held by insurgents," said Usman. "The roads were laden with improvised explosive devices [IEDs]. We are now doing the clearance to make sure that we make the roads safe and also to maintain constant alert to ensure the safety of commuters."

He said troops are moving gradually into the fringes of the Sambisa Forest to make sure what he calls the remnants of the Boko Haram terrorists are eliminated.

Residents in parts of northern Nigeria have expressed concern that the army is slow to react to attacks by the militants. They urged the army to step up its offensive against Boko Haram.

Usman says the army will continue to pressure the Islamist extremist group.

“The areas were fortified by bombs or [IEDs] so it’s a kind of painstaking effort to make sure that such IEDs are found, detonated and of course, make the place safe. So the advancing towards the site of the Sambisa forest is a gradual thing, because of the planted IEDS... But gradually we are making tremendous progress,” said Usman.

He said the army is attempting to deepen its relationship with residents of the areas often attacked by the militants to gather useful intelligence.

Meanwhile, Usman warned of imposters defrauding citizens with promises of recruiting them into the army. He also said other paramilitary agencies have not been spared in the scam. Usman said Nigerians should be aware that there are no fees charged to join the army.

“There was a syndicate and they take undue advantage of people especially through the social media deceiving members of the public, saying that they were members of the Nigerian army and that they should be given some money to be recruited into the army,” said Usman.

“We were able to arrest someone who was cloning the website of the ministry of defense as well as customs. But, eventually we were able to trace him on the 17th of this month and he has been handed over to the police for prosecution.”