Nigeria army repels Boko Haram as new president starts term
Nigeria’s military on Saturday repelled a Boko Haram attack on the key northeastern city of Maiduguri, a day after President Muhammadu Buhari took office vowing to crush the group, witnesses and security sources said.
The overnight attack on the Borno state capital saw rocket-propelled grenades fired into homes in a bombardment that reportedly lasted several hours.
In his inaugural speech after taking the oath of office on Friday, Buhari announced plans to reinforce Maiduguri with a new command and control centre to better coordinate the counter-insurgency effort.
Shortly after midnight (2300 GMT Friday), residents in the Dala suburb south of Maiduguri woke to the sound of RPGs being fired in succession, resident Modu Karumi said, in an account supported by several others.
Witnesses said hundreds of Islamist gunmen were trying to advance on the city, which is now home to hundreds of thousands of people displaced by unrest in other parts of Borno state.
An AFP reporter who lives in the area said he heard what sounded like armoured personnel carriers deploying to the southern edge of the city to face the rebel advance.
Dala resident Alhaji Bukar said he saw at least one RPG fall into a home and that several dead bodies may have been evacuated, but he was unable to confirm any loss of life.
Locals reported other residential homes being hit, but state emergency workers were not immediately available to discuss casualty figures.
Three senior security sources in Maiduguri who were not authorised to speak publicly said the attack had been repelled.
“All is under control. There is no cause for alarm,” one of those sources told AFP.
The sound of RPGs and gunfire has also eased, residents and an AFP reporter said.
Nighttime movement in Maiduguri is restricted by a 10:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew.
Experts doubt that Boko Haram currently has the capacity to seize Maiduguri, but a major attack inside the city would likely be disastrous for civilians.
The Islamist rebels have been flushed out of several Borno state towns they controlled in an offensive launched in February by Nigeria with backing from neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
But there are signs of the militants regrouping, particularly in the remote parts of eastern Borno near the Cameroon border.
Buhari in his inaugural address on Friday vowed to intensify the fight against Boko Haram, notably by shifting operational command from the capital Abuja to Maiduguri.
His predecessor Goodluck Jonathan’s performance against the militants was heavily criticised, with the conflict killing more than 15,000 people since 2009 and forcing another 1.5 million from their homes.
Buhari, a former army general, insists the uprising can be defeated and has placed the Boko Haram effort at the top of his administration’s agenda.