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Tuesday, November 3

Boko Haram: Ghosts of militants, haunt "liberated" areas in Nigeria's northeast

Life seems to be returning to normal in this northern Nigerian town a year after the army expelled the Islamist fighters of Boko Haram - shops bustle with customers and vendors hawk their wares in the pot-holed streets.

President Muhammadu Buhari has vowed to crush Boko Haram by December and the army has recaptured much of the territory the jihadists seized in their six-year-old campaign to carve out an Islamic state in Nigeria's remote north east.

But a recent surge of suicide bombings and hit-and-run attacks makes residents doubt there is any end in sight to an insurgency that has killed thousands and displaced 2.1 million. Boko Haram has killed more than 1,000 people since Buhari was elected in May on a promise to crush the group.
"We are afraid that they might come back," said Abubakar Idi, 60, a farmer who fled with his two wives and 16 children when Boko Haram captured Mubi in October last year.

"Anybody who has seen such a terrible thing must be afraid," he said, sitting in front of his single-storey house and recalling how Boko Haram fighters fired volleys of gunshots at random as they took over the town.

The insurgency is the biggest security challenge facing Africa's top oil producer, already grappling with a severe economic crisis due to a plunge in oil revenues.
Like thousands of other residents, Idi returned to Mubi, which lies close to the border with Cameroon, when the army started a counter-offensive which has accelerated in recent months.

Signs of fighting can still be seen, despite the buzz in the main market. Banks remain closed having been robbed by Boko Haram, while electricity is almost non-existent.

Schools have reopened in the town but many are still shut in the countryside as the jihadists burned the buildings and killed the teachers. Boko Haram, whose name means Western education is sinful, abhors secular learning.


Diplomats say the army's performance has improved since Buhari took office pledging to "fix" Nigeria's legendary corruption and mismanagement.
The former military ruler has appointed a new army leadership and moved its anti-Boko Haram command centre to Borno state, where the jihadists started their revolt.

Residents say Buhari's anti-corruption drive has had an effect as army commanders are now less inclined to steal resources intended for the security forces, though it remains to be seen how long this trend will last.

Better cooperation with neighbouring Chad has helped the Nigerian government to regain several villages, although along-planned regional cross-border force is still not operational.

Residents say the soldiers no longer run away when Boko Haram arrive in their pickup trucks. "The difference is that back then if there was a report of an attack we all ran with the security men," said 55-year-old Mohamed Joda, who makes a living repairing bicycles in Mubi.

"But now they respond to reports of an attack proactively," he said. "The level of security is better than what it was."

Boko Haram, which never responds to the media except to deliver jihadist videos to local journalists, is trying to set up a state based on Islamic law. In March it pledged allegiance to Islamic State, which controls much of Syria and Iraq.

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