BY FELIX ONUOH
(Reuters) – A damning verdict against efforts by the current administration to contain dreaded Islamic group, Boko Haram, came from Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, who declared that the militants are better armed and more motivated than troops of the Nigerian Armed Forces fighting them.
President Goodluck Jonathan ordered extra troops into northeast Nigeria in May to crush Boko Haram, which wants to create an Islamic state in the largely Muslim north. The military denied it was less well armed than the insurgents.
“Boko Haram are better armed and are better motivated than our own troops,” Shettima told journalists at the presidential villa after a meeting with President Jonathan.
“Given the present state of affairs, it is absolutely impossible for us to defeat Boko Haram,” Shettima said.
The death toll from Sunday’s raid on the village of Izge, near the border with Cameroon, was 106, Shettima said, up from an earlier estimate of 90. In the attack, militants sprayed homes with bullets, set off explosions and burned down dozens of houses.
Boko Haram remained able to “overrun communities and butcher innocent souls,” despite the army presence, he said.
Reacting to Shettima’s comments, defence spokesman Brigadier-General Chris Olukolade said by telephone: “That cannot be true. Yes, they carry illegal arms, but are not better armed than the Nigerian army.”
“Which country has ever defeated terrorism completely? This is a continuous effort … We know there is need for improvement but … we are improving.”
Security analysts say Nigeria’s military is fatigued and over-stretched in the vast and sparsely populated area of rocky hills where the insurgents are hiding out.
Jonathan faces an election in a year’s time, and the persistence of Boko Haram’s 4-1/2-year-old rebellion despite a costly counter-insurgency remains a serious problem.
Nigerian forces, backed by air power, initially registered some successes, but the insurgents retreated into the remote, hilly Gwoza area bordering Cameroon, from where they have mounted deadly attacks against civilians they accuse of being pro-government.
Last week, Boko Haram fighters in trucks painted in military colors killed 51 people.
Niger said on Monday it had arrested 20 militants plotting to attack a town in its territory, illustrating how Boko Haram also threatens Nigeria’s neighbours, divided by porous borders on the cusp of the Sahara.
(Writing and additional reporting by Tim Cocks in Lagos; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)