After several arrests and reported victories against Boko Haram militants, the Nigerian military says it is "moving closer"’ to rescuing the more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped in April. But critics are skeptical, saying the government is under enormous pressure to demonstrate action and that military might alone will not end the insurgency.
If fighting insurgents was a sport, the Nigerian government would appear to be on a winning streak.
Nigeria's military says in recent days its fight against Boko Haram insurgents has gained momentum, after forces “completely rooted out” militants from some forest areas in the northeast.
Young men described as foreign fighters are seen after being captured by the Nigerian military during an operation in Balmo forest. (Nigerian Ministry of Defense)
Nigeria National Information Center Coordinator Mike Omeri says President Goodluck Jonathan is doing everything he can to save the kidnapped girls, and recent arrests have brought the military closer to a rescue.
“He is working seriously to ensure the rescue and safety of those children. He is also working hard to ensure that peace returns to all parts of this country,” he said.
The military reports arresting, among others, one of the masterminds of the abduction, recruiters for the newly-identified female wing of Boko Haram, and two foreign mercenaries. The military also reports killing at least 97 terrorists and losing 12 soldiers, including an officer.
Omeri says vigilante groups and average citizens are partially responsible for the recent success.
“Citizens have joined in the call from the president to intensify effort at finding a solution to the issue of insecurity in the northeast, particularly with reference to the rescue of our girls,” he said.
But in the past week, the U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations reports insurgents have killed at least 134 people. Also, more than 60 women, who were kidnapped in mid-June, escaped Boko Haram on their own.
Critics say the wave of reported military activity could simply be posturing in response to local and international pressure to show they are doing what they can to save the girls.
Ammunition seized by the Nigerian military during an operation in Balmo forest. (Nigerian Ministry of Defense)
“Government are only beating about the bush," said
Pastor Yohanna Buru, who heads the Peace Revival and Reconciliation Foundation of Nigeria. "I know why I am saying this, because they tried it the other way wrong and now we are seeing the repercussion.”
Buru calls for peace talks, saying battling Boko Haram with military power alone simply increases the body count without addressing the problem. He says northeastern Nigeria, where the insurgency began five years ago, is a region packed with unemployed, impoverished angry young people who feel their government has long abandoned them.
Ultimately, Buru says, neither the government nor the insurgents will ever truly "win" the fight. With thousands of people killed this year alone, northeastern Nigeria’s economy and infrastructure in shambles, and hundreds of schoolchildren missing and hundreds more dead - in the end, he says, everyone loses.