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Analysts: Chibok Raid Only Part of Larger Boko Haram Advance

Chibok, Nigeria
Chibok, Nigeria

Boko Haram's brief occupation of Chibok last week showed that no part of northeastern Nigerian is safe from the insurgency — not even the town where the militants kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls earlier this year.

Analysts say the violent Islamist radicals are making gains along Nigeria's border with Cameroon, and that the military has been unable to stop them.

For many Chibok residents, the sight of militants entering their town with guns blazing on Friday only added insult to injury.

After the group's five year campaign of violence across the country's northeast, which has resulted in the murder of thousands, the shuttering of schools and torching of markets, Chibok has become synonymous with its most brazen atrocity: the April 2014 mass kidnapping of more than 200 local schoolgirls.

While the military has been criticized for not doing enough to prevent the kidnappings, Nigeria’s armed forces have since retaken the town.

But one local elder, Ayuba Chibok, said the government could do more to stop Boko Haram from seizing territory.

“Truly speaking, if government wanted Boko Haram to be stopped, they will do it," he said. "I don’t know why if Boko Haram visited places, the soldiers will be fleeing. Even though they have been complaining that they don’t have sufficient or enough weapons that they are able to combat Boko Haram with.”

Boko Haram’s assault on the town fits in with the group’s larger campaign of seizing territory across the northeast, according to Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst at red24, a South Africa-based crisis-management firm.

“It’s always been their motivation and goal to create a — I wouldn’t necessarily call it its own caliphate — but to create a state within Nigeria which is completely devoid from the government of Nigeria’s secular federal administration, and which is in totality ruled under Sharia law," he said. "And obviously the capture of Chibok, in addition to various other urban centers within the region, is obviously congruent with them trying to form this independent Islamist state.”

Bawa Abdullahi Wase, a security analyst and executive associate at Nigeria-based Network for Justice, said Boko Haram is divided between different groups with different aims, but the attack on Chibok is an attempt to present themselves as a united and powerful front.

"They are trying to prove to the authorities that they are still powerful," he said. "They are trying to prove to the world that they [have] not dispersed and taken off as the authorities seem to be claiming. So if at all anybody would want to believe that they are no longer any much of relevance, they are now of relevance."

The group is thought to have taken over several local government areas in Borno, one of three northeastern states the government placed under emergency rule last year. The government announced Tuesday that it intends to continue that emergency status for another six months.

But while Chibok might be the most famous town in Borno State, it’s not necessarily the most important, said Cummings.

“It’s garnered this international attention, and that’s why everyone is focused on Boko Haram’s capturing of the town," he said. "There are various other urban centers and settlements in northeastern Nigeria, which — probably from a strategic perspective, but also in terms of the number of people residing within those communities and their economic and administrative importance in the northeast — [are] probably more notable than Chibok.”

Many of Boko Haram’s strongholds lie along Nigeria’s border with Cameroon. Cummings notes without pressure on both sides of the border, neither Chibok nor the rest of northeastern Nigeria will be rid of the insurgents anytime soon.