In December 2015, Nigeria’s government announced a “technical defeat” of extremist group Boko Haram. The claim of victory in the six-year-old conflict was based on alleged expulsion of Boko Haram by government forces from territory it previously held in the northeast.
But for the people of Dalori, a “technical defeat” meant nothing when Boko Haram firebombed their town on January 30, 2016. More than 86 people died, according to news reports, including young children, and 62 others were seriously injured as insurgents cruelly lobbed fire bombs into homes and other buildings. New satellite imagery recorded on the morning of February 2, analyzed by Human Rights Watch, shows widespread devastation: At least 40 percent of the village’s surface area was completely destroyed.
Dalori is 10 kilometers from Maiduguri, the Nigerian military’s headquarters in the northeast region, and spiritual home of Boko Haram. Soldiers in Maiduguri turned back villagers fleeing the horrific attack, according to a media report. Local sources confirmed to me they had heard similar stories and that soldiers feared Boko Haram might be using the attack to sneak suicide bombers into the heavily fortified city.
A few days before the Dalori attack, a Boko Haram suicide bomber killed 25 people in Chibok, a town already devastated by the 219 schoolgirls still missing, of the 276 abducted, in April 2014. It was followed by another suicide bomb in Gombi on January 29, 2016, which killed 10 people.
Is this what a “technical defeat” looks like?
The government has said the attacks were in retaliation for military successes against Boko Haram, but that is little consolation for victims and their families. Those who live in the northeast say they do not see Boko Haram as defeated.
Boko Haram may no longer ‘hold’ key towns, but it continues to commit crimes against civilians. The desire of the government to return the northeast to normalcy cannot be an excuse to press civilians to return to their home areas when they feel these are not safe.
Greater efforts to prevent deadly crimes against civilians in the northeast should be the focus of the government, not just the recovery of territory.