MAIDUGURI, NIGERIA — 2013 was supposed to be the year that ended Boko Haram, an Islamist insurgent group that has been terrorizing northern Nigeria for four years. Thousands of troops were sent to three northeastern states to battle insurgents, but the violence continues and the region remains under emergency rule.
At the beginning of the year, war in Mali dominated the news from West Africa.
But in May, Nigeria's President, Goodluck Jonathan said insurgency in Nigeria was escalating. Boko Haram had captured territories. Ongoing attacks, assassinations and kidnappings amounted to a declaration of war. Jonathan declared a state of emergency in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, directing his military chief of staff to immediately deploy more troops to those areas.
It was Nigeria’s largest offensive against Boko Haram. In the first six months of the state of emergency, the military secured northern cities, but attacks continued in the countryside.
Army spokesperson Colonel Muhammad Dole told reporters his troops had cut off basic supplies to Boko Haram.
“We were also able to cut most of their supplies so the attack on villages so the attack on villages is a desperation so they can survive. They do not have food. They do not have water," said Dole who added that he believed some insurgents had fled to neighboring countries.
In November, the United States declared Boko Haram and splinter group Ansaru foreign terrorist organizations. Emergency rule was extended for another six months.
Two weeks later, residents of Maiduguri, the original home of the insurgency, said they felt safe for the first time in years.
“Since then, we did not hear of any insurgents, any cheating around. So we can say life is better now," said Dauda Tatally, who owns a small computer supply shop in Maiduguri..
But in early December, the feeling of safety in Maiduguri vanished after militants attacked the air force, the army and the police.
The military imposed a 24-hour curfew for the first time in years. The attack left an army and a police base destroyed and dozens of cars and oil trucks burnt out. Air force soldiers refused journalists entry to their base.
Fighting takes a heavy toll
Human Rights Watch says Boko Haram has killed thousands of people in the past four years and heavy-handed tactics by security forces have killed hundreds more.
Researcher Eric Guttschuss says inter-community violence has also killed thousands of people in past four years and that the government’s failure to prosecute offenders is feeding the Boko Haram crisis.
“One of reasons to that they have used to justify these attacks is to say ‘When Muslims were attacked in Plateau State, for example, those who carried out the attacks, nothing happened to them and the government turned a blind eye," he said.
More violence between religious, political and tribal groups is expected next year before Nigeria’s 2015 presidential elections.
The Nigerian military says it continues to battle the group, killing Boko Haram fighters in shootouts and air raids.
But in the countryside, locals say people are still being killed, homes are still being burned and they still live in constant fear.