In Depth

Is Muhammadu Buhari winning the war against Boko Haram?

Nigerian army frees more women and children held captive by the Islamist group, but the fight is far from over

The Nigerian military says it has rescued more than 178 captives from Boko Haram camps in the north of the country, the majority of them women and children.

A Boko Haram commander was also detained and several militant camps were captured during the mission near the town of Bama, according to an army spokesperson.

President Muhammadu Buhari, a former military leader, was elected earlier this year after criticising his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan's response to the crisis and vowing to crush the Islamist insurgency.

Despite having the largest army in West Africa, Nigeria's military has struggled to push back the militants in recent years. Successful rescue missions carried out this year suggest it might be turning a corner, but the fight against extremism is far from over.

Is Buhari's army winning?

The Nigerian army has claimed a number of significant victories in the past few months, reclaiming several towns in the north-east previously held my militants and freeing hundreds of captives. Buhari argues that the formation of a stronger regional coalition with Cameroon, Chad and Niger will lead to the elimination of Boko Haram. However, Reuters points out that the multinational task force has been "dogged by a lack of funding and political will" and suffered numerous delays.

Despite these successes, there has been no let-up in the terrorist attacks targeting civilians, particularly suicide bombings and guns attacks on soft targets like market places, churches and schools. Troops have also been unable to locate the hundreds of schoolgirls captured in Chibok last year and abductions still occur.

The group's leadership also remains intact, which means Boko Haram "may continue to possess the acumen to replenish, regroup, and rearm both within and outside of Nigeria's borders," warned Ryan Cummings, Chief Africa Analyst for the risk management firm Red24.  

What next?

Buhari has not ruled out the option of entering into peace talks with the militants. "If Boko Haram opts for negotiation the government will not be averse to it," his spokesperson told Bloomberg last month. But he added that the administration would "not be negotiating from a position of weakness, but that of strength". 

Analysts also point out that the battle against the insurgents is not simply a military one. "Until factors like poverty, unemployment and lack of education can be addressed, local populations will remain vulnerable to extremist ideology," says the BBC.

Max Siollun, a Nigerian historian and author, also highlights the urgent need for the rescued women and children – many of whom have fathered children by the militants – to be given rehabilitation and support once they return to their communities. "The conflict is entering a phase where it needs to be fought not just with bombs and guns, but also by addressing the consequences of the insurgency," he writes in The Guardian.  

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