Outgoing Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan isn't acting like a lame duck when it comes to going after Boko Haram, the murderous Islamist army that has terrorized the northern part of Africa’s most populous country.
In recent weeks, government forces have taken the fight to the terrorist army, rescuing hundreds of women and girls held captive in Boko Haram’s forest stronghold in Borno state. Amid the cheers for Jonathan, who lost his bid for re-election to Muhammadu Buhari on March 31, some critics are wondering what took so long. As welcome as the new offensive is, some say it reeks of last-minute legacy gilding.
“Boko Haram is the big blemish on Jonathan's legacy, so it's understandable that he'd want to crack down and score some successes on his way out to improve his record.”
- Ryan Mauro, Clarion Project,
“Boko Haram is the big blemish on Jonathan's legacy, so it's understandable that he'd want to crack down and score some successes on his way out to improve his record,” Ryan Mauro, a national security analyst with the Clarion Project, told FoxNews.com.
In the last year, Boko Haram has abducted an estimated 2,000 mostly Christian women and young girls, selling some into sexual slavery and killing others. In the past week alone, the Nigerian military, along with coalition forces from neighboring countries Chad and Cameroon, has advanced on Boko Haram strongholds and rescued nearly 700 of the captives. According to reports, more than 200 of the rescued women were pregnant.
What the government forces have found as they fought their way deep into the Sambisa forest where Boko Haram is based, is a force that could have been reckoned with long ago. Some captured militants even said they lacked guns and ammunition, and were often reduced to fighting with sticks.
The recent offensive, as well as the tragic plight of women held in horrendous conditions for months, has left some in the international community wondering why these actions couldn't have been taken sooner.
It was just over a year ago when Boko Haram garnered international infamy after kidnapping 276 schoolgirls in the Borno State town of Chibok. International condemnation, social media campaigns demanding the victims' safe return and tepid advances by Jonathan's forces proved powerless to stop the rampaging terrorist army. The issue undoubtedly contributed to Jonathan's loss to Buhari, who takes office May 29.
“Just before the election, we met with some members of the [Nigerian] military and they had told us how the president had not given them a single order to go and rescue the Chibok girls,” Pastor Laolu Akande, of the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans (CANAN), recently told FoxNews.com. “President [Jonathan] was never really committed until the election was at stake.”
Buhari is expected to continue Jonathan's newfound aggression against the terrorist group. A career military man, Buhari led a coup in 1983 and ran the nation for two years after the overthrow of President Shehu Shagari. Prior to that, he was also crucial in developing the Borno State in the 1970s. In the recent election, Buhari trounced Jonathan in Nigeria's north, where Boko Haram is strongest.
“The military has great respect for him,” Akande said to FoxNews.com. “He’s highly respected for getting the job done.”
With only two percent of Nigerian Muslims viewing Boko Haram favorably, according to a Pew Research poll, Mauro says Buhari has a mandate to crush it.
“The new Nigerian president will have to fight Boko Haram because the group cannot be dealt with any other way,” Mauro said. “Boko Haram has even alienated fellow Islamists who believe in Sharia governance. That doesn't mean that these Islamists opposed to Boko Haram are moderates; just that they are less ferocious than Boko Haram.”
Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @perrych