By Akanimo Sampson
Despite the ongoing victories of the military in the vulnerable North-East axis of Nigeria, there are real risks that Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP) faction of the rampaging Boko Haram will be attempting to hit back.
Intelligence sources say the insurgent group has been engaging in massive recruitment since they were driven out from their positions by troops.
Some concerned watchers say the Islamic State fighters are likely to use the election period — during which President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is preoccupied with securing his re-election — to strike hard.
But the big question troubling security chiefs is where their next target will be.
The Nigerian military has launched several successful attacks against terrorist positions in the bleeding Borno State, recapturing a number of towns from ISWAP. Those that have been cleared include: Baga, Zare, Gudumbali, Kukawa, Cross Kauwa, and Monguno.
The newly formed Nigerian Army Special Forces Command (NASFC, also known as 707 Special Forces Brigade) began a clearing operation last December 28, in those communities in northern Borno which were known to have an ISWAP presence.
With local troop morale now on the rise, the focus currently is on clearing other communities in the area, especially in ISWAP’s core territory in the Lake Chad region. The military’s success was, in part, due to their collaboration with local vigilantes and soldiers from the neighbouring country, Chad.
With the lack of air and artillery support, ISWAP is forced to use guerrilla tactics and anti-government propaganda to wage their war.
As the country presses ahead with the election next month, the risk in the troubled North-East is that the insurgents can attack with little warning in the large and sparsely populated parts of northern Borno.
To overcome this, those who know better say the army has to fully utilise their air support — which they finally appear to be doing — in addition to trying to work with local communities and intelligence from Chad.
Stakeholders say the Harmattan (desert wind) season has helped the army’s use of air power as it is now easy to spot the movement of terrorists before they reach military positions.
Fears that the elections could be postponed in the vulnerable North-East region have also dampened following the successes of the Nigerian military. With the insurgents now expelled from the main towns, it is currently much more likely that the elections will be held in the region. This is crucial if the Federal Government is to demonstrate to local communities that Borno enjoys a degree of governance.