11:19 am - Thursday September 24, 2020

Nigeria’s fight against extremist Islamic militants including Boko Haram questioned after school bombing

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Security analysts are questioning the Nigerian government’s commitment to confronting extremist Islamic militants, following a suicide bombing in the Nigerian town of Potiskum overnight.

A suicide bomber dressed as a student killed at least 50 people, most of them students, and injured 80 others, detonating an explosive device as children gathered for a morning assembly at a school in the country’s north-east.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack but it occurred near the stronghold of Boko Haram militants, who kidnapped 200 schoolgirls earlier this year.

Nearby residents of Potiskum rushed to the scene after the blast.

“We saw a lot of scattered bodies that cannot be identified, a lot of casualties, so a lot of people came to rescue the wounded,” local resident Abu-bakar Dada said.

In a sign of continuing tensions, angry locals blocked access to the school and an adjoining hospital preventing security forces from getting close to the site of the blast.

Police later explained the villagers did not want a repeat of what happened in another recent incident when a bomb killed nearly 30 people and security forces fired at locals in the immediate confusion after the blast.

Andrew Noakes, coordinator of the Nigeria Security Network, told Al Jazeera the explosion in Potiskum is only the latest atrocity targeting Nigerian students in the past two years.

“The trouble is when you’ve got hundreds, even thousands of schools across these three states, it’s very difficult to deploy the resources necessary to protect all the schools and indeed all the community,” Mr Noakes said.

“The Nigerian government has about 20,000 soldiers in north-east Nigeria at the moment, and that’s not nearly enough to protect all those places.”

Government blamed for lack of protection

Boko Haram has intensified its attacks since the Nigerian government announced a ceasefire agreement last month as well as the imminent release of the 200 kidnapped schoolgirls.

Boko Haram’s leader denied a ceasefire deal had been reached, and the schoolgirls have not been freed.

Clement Nwankwo, director of the policy and legal advocacy centre, told the BBC the lack of protection for schools was a clear failure of government.

“This is a battle the Nigerian state is losing,” Mr Nwankwo said.

“This is a state under emergency rule so one expects that the military should be very prepared, have a standby force to respond as quickly as possible and indeed anticipate these attacks but we don’t see that.”

Mr Nwankwo said the government should apply the same determination that stopped the spread of the Ebola virus to the fight against Boko Haram.

“The military has no political backing, has no military equipment, has no government support to go all out to end this war,” he said.

“Why is the government not spending defence budget on equipping the military? Where is the monies that are budgeted for defence? Why is there no political will to bring this to an end?”

Nigerian police force spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said that counter-insurgency measures against Boko Haram were progressing well.

“Our mandate is to ensure civilian security of all Nigerian residents alike… we’ll get them before they get us. By and large we are making good successes,” Mr Ojukwu said.

Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful” in the local Hausa language, has targeted schools, abducted students and killed thousands in its campaign to carve out an Islamist state.

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