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July 16, 2011

Nigerian Elders Forum Demands Replacement of Force Fighting Radical Islamists

by Peter Clottey

In Nigeria, a leading member of the “Elders Forum” in northern Borno State has expressed concern about a government-backed unit formed to stop violence by the Islamic sect Boko Haram.

According to the Nigeria Tribune newspaper, the federal government recently set up the Special Joint Military Task Force with its headquarters in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State.

The group includes elements of the army, navy, air force, state security and police.

Spokesman Bulama Mali Gubio said the force is ineffective. His group wants it replaced by what he described as seasoned and well-trained police officers. Nigeria’s military makes up most of the task force.

“We are not satisfied with the way and manner they are conducting the operation they are carrying out,” said Gubio. “Instead of calming down the situation and bringing it under control, the conflict has escalated.  People are fleeing the city and becoming refugees.”

“So many people have died,” he continued, “so, if they are not going to bring any solution to the situation, we want them to leave, so that they can be replaced by experienced well trained police officers who have been to peacekeeping in other countries of the world.”

Major General Jack Nwaogbo, the head of the joint task force, denies his group is to blame. He said soldiers from the unit have been defending themselves from intensified Boko Haram bomb attacks aimed at them.

Gubio said the tactics deployed by the joint task force seem to have been targeting ordinary civilians instead of the violent Islamic sect, Boko Haram. He said the Elders Forum has informed President Goodluck Jonathan about their concerns.

“Mr. President is very much aware of what is happening. Our lawmakers; our senators, members of the House of Representatives and other senior personnel of the state have gone to see him and… what the elders have discussed has also been communicated to Mr. President,” said Gubio.

Boko Haram is blamed for a series of deadly bomb attacks and ambushes that have caused an exodus from the capital of Borno State in recent days.

The University of Maiduguri shut down last Monday, and officials say it will remain closed until the security situation improves. They say the university received a letter from the Boko Haram sect threatening to attack the campus.

Residents say thousands of people are piling into cars and trucks to leave the city.

Boko Haram wants to impose strict Islamic law across the north, and it rejects Nigeria's constitution and federal government.