On Jan. 25 the Nigerian armed group Boko Haram launched a major offensive on Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, and two other towns. The attack, which left more than 200 combatants dead, was repulsed by the Nigerian military, but it shook the security of the government and people of Borno.
“This is the most serious attack yet,” Kashim Shettima, the governor of Borno, told reporters. “We faced a really existential threat.”
The attack on Maiduguri, the second since December 2013, underscores the grave challenge that Boko Haram poses to Nigeria and the country’s weak and slow response to this threat. The Nigerian government needs to review its faltering counterstrategy and strengthen the political, military and diplomatic elements crucial to reversing this dangerous tide.
The latest offensive is part of Boko Haram’s ongoing efforts to establish a caliphate in Nigeria and possibly beyond. The insurgents seized the town of Monguno and its large army barracks, the second military base captured this month, forcing 1,400 soldiers to seek cover in the bush.
The battle lines are unsteady, but Boko Haram now controls an estimated area of 30,000 square kilometers, including nearly half of Borno and parts of neighboring Adamawa and Yobe states. It is making frequent incursions into Cameroon and has threatened to expand attacks in Chad and Niger.
Boko Haram’s gains have cost Nigeria severely. Since 2010, the group’s attacks have caused more than 13,000 deaths, 60 percent of them in the last year. After its abduction of almost 300 Chibok schoolgirls last April, Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds more, forcing the men and boys to join its ranks and selling or sharing the girls and women as “wives” or sex slaves. The violence has displaced more than 1 million people, driving at least 170,000 into Niger, Chad and Cameroon. It is aggravating food shortages across the region: Three million people will be unable to meet their basic food needs by July 2015, according to USAID’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network.