ABUJA— Violence has surged in northeastern Nigeria less than a week after new military leaders declared they would end a four-year-old insurgency by April. Some analysts say the attacks signify that a fresh military approach alone will not end the fighting.
Last week, Nigeria’s new chief of defense staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, said the Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria would be over by April, before the state of emergency in three states expires. The war, he said, is “already won.”
Then, on Sunday and Monday, more than 70 people were killed in two brutal attacks.
Haruna Musa Ahmed, a bystander on one street in Kaduna, a northern city that has been the scene of many Boko Haram attacks, says when the government threatens Boko Haram, the militant group fights harder.
“That is why they take that attack on the weekend. To tell him that they cannot deliver so let him go and change to another strategy,” he said.
The recent attacks, on a market in Borno state and a Catholic church in Adamawa, have prompted renewed calls for peace talks. Shehu Sani, the president of the Civil Rights Congress of Nigeria, says insurgents have adapted to military rule, making them difficult to defeat.
“They were able to survive it. Now they have reorganized themselves and are launching attacks from different places. So now we have to find another way of solving the problem,” Sani said.
Last year, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan created a “dialogue committee” to set up peace talks with Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group that has killed thousands of people in the past few years in attacks on churches, mosques, schools, market places, villages and on the government.
Sani says a lasting solution to the crisis must include development in the region, where the economy is in shambles and most people have barely enough food, shelter and health care to survive.
He adds that peace talks have not yet been successful.
“The dialogue committee made claims of meeting with the insurgents and the dialogue committee made claims of arriving at a ceasefire with the insurgents,which has been consistently dismissed by the insurgents," Sani said.
Critics say any peace talks with Boko Haram are bound to fail because it is a fractured group without a clear leadership structure. Even if one part of the group agrees to a ceasefire, they say, another part may fight on.
Boko Haram says it wants to impose its harsh version of Islamic law on Nigeria but observers say many of the fighters are unemployed young men with no other income.
Political consultant Fabian Ihekweme says the president is developing a new strategy to end the insurgency, which included replacing the entire military leadership earlier this month.
“He is coming up with a different security approach to tackle the menace. And it is also good that he uses different men in doing that,” Ihekweme said.
But on the streets of Kaduna, some locals say it is not different men that are needed, but more men.
“The number of police we have are too small," aid worker Idris Inuwa said. "The number of security we have are too small. They are not up to the number we are supposed to have in this country.”
Human Rights Groups have criticized the Nigerian military, saying it has killed hundreds of people in operations against Boko Haram and arrested hundreds more without charges.
The Nigerian military denies these accusations, saying the Boko Haram war is constantly changing and while they work hard to adapt, no country in the world to date has been entirely successful at ending terrorism.
Ibrahima Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna