KANO, Nigeria: Nigeria’s military on Sunday (Monday in Manila) repelled a Boko Haram assault on the key city of Maiduguri as violence raged across the country’s northeast just two weeks before national elections.
The hours-long attack on the strategic capital of Borno state was the Islamists’ second attempt to take Maiduguri in a week.
As government forces were holding them off, the airforce of neighboring Chad was pounding the militants’ positions in Gamboru, a town on Nigeria’s border with Cameroon 140 kilometers (87 miles) to the northeast.
With near-relentless violence plaguing much of the northeast, and Boko Haram still in control of large swathes of the region, fears are mounting over the prospect of organizing polls on February 14.
The opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), which claims to be gaining momentum in the campaign against President Goodluck Jonathan, has rejected calls for the vote to be postponed.
But hundreds of thousands of voters in the northeast, an APC stronghold, could be disenfranchised by the unrest if the election goes ahead in two weeks.
‘Massive’ insurgent casualties
Heavily-armed gunmen attacked the southern edge of Maiduguri at about 3:00 am (02:00 a.m. Sunday Manila time), setting off explosives as they tried to enter the city, several residents said.
Repelled in the south by troops backed by vigilantes, they regrouped and tried to take the city from the east, where they again met stiff resistance.
As the gunbattles raged, “the whole city [was]in fear,” said resident Adam Krenuwa.
Defense ministry spokesman Chris Olukolade said the assault on the town, where the extremist group was founded more than a decade ago, was “contained” and that “the terrorists incurred massive casualties.”
“The situation is calm as mopping up operation in the affected area is ongoing,” he wrote in a text message, a claim consistent with witness reports.
Despite being under fire in recent months, Maiduguri has become a place of refuge for people forced to flee other areas in Borno that have been taken over by the Islamist rebels.
In other attacks in the northeast Sunday, a suicide bomber killed seven people in Potiskum, the economic capital of Yobe state, while two blasts killed five people in Gombe city to the south.
The bomber in Potiskum blew himself up shortly after midday outside the home of Sabo Garbu, who is running for a seat in the lower house of parliament on behalf of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Seven people died in the blast and seven were wounded, a police officer at the scene who requested anonymity said in an account supported by three witnesses.
Garbu and those attending his campaign meeting reportedly escaped unhurt.
It was not immediately clear if the attack was the work of Boko Haram.