ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria is losing its war against Islamic extremists, warned the governor of the northeastern state hardest hit by the country’s uprising, as the death toll from the latest attack by militants rose to more than 150, a U.N. agency said Tuesday.
“Given the present state of affairs, it is absolutely impossible for us to defeat Boko Haram,” said Gov. Kashim Shettima of Borno state.
The U.N. Office for the High Commissioner “condemned in the strongest terms” weekend attacks on eight villages in Borno and Adamawa states that it said left more than 150 people dead. It called for the government to protect civilians, especially in areas prone to attacks.
The president of the Nigerian Catholic bishops’ conference, Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, told the Catholic Fides news service that he was not surprised by “the latest massacre” because “the authorities have so far failed to fulfill their task of ensuring peace and security to Nigerians.”
Gov. Shettima met with President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja, the capital, on Monday.
“I made it emphatically clear to Mr. President that the Boko Haram are better armed and better motivated … they have a very smooth sail overrunning communities, killing people,” Shettima told reporters afterward.
He said he did not blame the military but “our failure in leadership.” Shettima said he had asked the president to deploy more troops and resources.
On Tuesday, an AP reporter watched a convoy of trucks hauling tanks and other heavy weapons on the road leading to Borno.
Shettima called for leaders to “stop playing the ostrich,” reflecting a general perception in the southern, mainly Christian part of Nigeria that the conflict in the faraway northeast is not their concern.
The Defense Ministry countered Shettima’s assertion and said that security forces have captured some suspects responsible for attacks that have killed scores of civilians this month.
Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade said a campaign of ramped up air bombardments and ground patrols have militants of the Boko Haram terrorist network in the northeast on the run, “escaping from the onslaught against their makeshift hideouts” along the borders with Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
Nigeria’s 4-year-old Islamic uprising already has spread to neighboring states. The head of Niger’s army, Gen. Seini Garba, said Monday that an untold number of Nigerian militants had been killed in the border town of Diffa as security forces foiled a planned attack on Niger. The extremists also are believed to have a presence in Cameroon and Chad.
The United States on Monday promised to work with the federal and state governments to improve security. U.S. Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Linda Thomas Greenfield, also promised support for economic and social programs to combat under-development that is encouraging extremism in the northern and mainly Muslim part of Nigeria. Thomas Greenfield spoke on a visit to the largest northern city, Kano.
The United States last week issued a statement of condolence after hundreds of suspected Islamic extremists attacked the town of Konduga on Feb. 11, killing at least 39 people and razing a mosque and more than 1,000 homes. On Monday, the European Union condemned the “heinous acts” that killed scores in the village of Izghe on Saturday.
The foreign messages of sympathy were a stark contrast to the silence from Jonathan’s office, which rarely comments on the regular attacks.
Jonathan was in Kano on Sunday and assured the emir of Kano, a revered traditional leader, that he was working around the clock to ensure the security of lives and property across the West African nation that is Africa’s largest oil producer.
Kano is not under a state of emergency covering three northeastern states and one-sixth of the country that Jonathan declared in May 2012.
Local government chairman Maina Ularamu told The Associated Press that more than 10,000 people have fled since then across the Borno state border into Adamawa state.
Associated Press writers Ibrahim Garba in Kano, Nigeria, and Ibrahim Abdulaziz in Yola, Nigeria, contributed to this report. Faul reported from Lagos, Nigeria.