ABUJA — The Nigerian army has deployed hundreds of troops to combat what it calls “ethnic militia groups” in central Nigeria. Meanwhile, much of northern Nigeria remains in a state of emergency and the army said it has killed more than 150 insurgents and destroyed at least camps of radical Islamist group Boko Haram.
Nassarawa State in central Nigeria is not under emergency rule, but the Nigerian Army said the state is increasingly under threat from militant groups.
”Due to the heightened security situation in Nassarawa State, the federal government has ordered the deployment of [Nigerian Army] troops in aid to civil authority in order to prevent further escalation of the violence and its spread to other parts of the state,” said Army spokesperson Brigadier General Ibrahim Attahiru.
These troops, he said, are not battling the Islamist militant group called Boko Haram, but lesser-known groups known locally as “cults” or “gangs.”
But the fight in the north against Boko Haram, which has been blamed for thousands of deaths since 2009, is not over, Attahiru added.
Three northeastern Nigerian states have been in a state of emergency since last May, when President Goodluck Jonathan deployed thousands of soldiers to battle Boko Haram.
Both local and international human rights groups have warned that Nigerian soldiers have a tendency to shoot suspects rather than arresting them, and other abuses.
Nigerian security forces strongly deny these charges.
Attahiru said that in recent weeks the army has attacked eight militant camps, destroying six, and has killed more than 150 insurgents, including Abba Goroma, a man they say is a Boko Haram commander who had a $61,000 bounty on his head.
All these efforts are aimed at denying the terrorists the freedom of action. By and large military operation within the 7 Division Area of Responsibility has been largely successful,” Attahiru stated.
The Nigerian army also denies reports that 40 soldiers were killed and 65 went missing after a Boko Haram ambush late last week. The army says 15 soldiers and one officer were killed that week, but it was the military attacking the insurgents, not the other way around.
Casualty numbers in Nigeria vary wildly depending on who is issuing the report, and with many roads and communications networks blocked and no independent observers on the ground, most information coming from the northeastern Nigerian battles is currently impossible to verify.