Voice of America (Washington, DC)

29 May 2014

Nigeria's Leader Orders Full-Scale Assault on Boko Haram

Photo: Amanda Voisard/UN
President Goodluck Jonathan

Nigeria's president said on Thursday he had ordered “a full-scale operation” against Boko Haram Islamist militants.

Speaking on Nigeria's Democracy Day, Goodluck Jonathan said he had authorized security forces to use any means necessary under the law to ensure that Boko Haram, which operates in the country's northeast, is defeated.

“I am determined to protect our democracy, our national unity and our political stability, by waging a total war against terrorism,” Jonathan said in a TV speech.

It was not immediately clear what such an offensive could entail given that the northeast of the country has been under a state of emergency and a full scale military operation for a year. Nigerian forces are also hugely overstretched.

He also vowed on Thursday to “do everything possible to bring our daughters home,” referring to the mass abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls, and said Boko Haram, the Islamic extremists responsible, threaten the country's democratic gains.

"It is a sad fact that as I address you today, all the gains of the past 15 years of democratic governance in our country are threatened by the presence of international terrorism on our shores,” Jonathan said in a speech marking Nigeria's transformation from decades of military dictatorship.

“I assure you ... that these thugs will be driven away. It will not happen overnight, but we will spare no effort to achieve this goal,” he said.

No details on military efforts

Jonathan gave no details of what is being done to rescue the girls who the military claimed this week it has located. But the military chief said he fears using force to rescue them could instead get them killed.

On April 14 Boko Haram militants surrounded a secondary school in the remote northeastern village of Chibok and took away 276 girls who had been taking exams in trucks, according to official figures from an audit this week.

Nigeria's Borno state, which is at epicenter of the insurgency, said on Wednesday a total of 57 of the kidnapped girls had escaped. But 219 others were still missing and assumed held by the militants, who say they are fighting for an Islamic state in Nigeria and have killed thousands over the years.

“With the support of Nigerians, our neighbors and the international community, we will reinforce our defense, free our girls and rid Nigeria of terrorists,” Jonathan said.

“I share the deep pain and anxiety of their parents,” he added.

The mass abduction thrust the Islamist insurgency into the international spotlight like never before, with a #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign drawing support from U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and others.

"Extremist foreign elements"

Capitalizing on this, Jonathan has sought to paint Boko Haram as part of a broader global jihadist movement being directed from abroad, the first time he has taken this line.

“Extremist foreign elements, collaborating with some of our misguided citizens,” was one phrase he used to describe them.

“What we are witnessing in Nigeria today is a manifestation of the same warped and ferocious world view that brought down the Twin Towers in New York (and) killed innocent persons in Boston,” Jonathan said, referring, respectively, to the September 11, 2001 attacks and the April 2013 marathon bombing.

Scores have been killed in Nigerian bombings in the past month, including two bombings in the capital Abuja.

Chief of Defense Staff Air Marshal Alex Badeh said on Tuesday the military knew where the abducted girls were but ruled out a rescue by force for fear of endangering them. The military was criticized for its slow response to the crisis, but Jonathan has accepted international help.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AP.

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