Nigeria’s top military officer on Monday called for a swift end to the Islamist insurgency gripping the country’s north, as he was sworn in as the new chief of defence staff.
“The security situation in the northeast must be brought to a complete stop before April 2014,” Air Marshall Alex Badeh said after his investiture ceremony in the capital, Abuja.
Badeh, whose home state Adamawa is one of three in Nigeria’s northeast to have been under emergency rule since last May, set the April deadline to avoid what he said were “constitutional problems”.
“We don’t want to go back to the (upper chamber of parliament) Senate to go and start begging and lobbying (for an extension to emergency rule),” he added.
“If we do our work cohesively, I can tell you, we will finish that thing (the counter-insurgency) in no time.”
Boko Haram have been fighting a drawn-out insurgency since 2009 in the mainly Muslim north, attacking schools teaching a “Western” curriculum and churches and claiming thousands of lives.
The group, which is considered an international terrorist organisation by the United States, wants to create an Islamic state in the north.
Badeh replaced Admiral Ola Sa’ad Ibrahim, who headed the military from 2012 and who was sacked with the three other heads of the country’s armed forces last Thursday.
Two days earlier, suspected Boko Haram insurgents detonated a car bomb in a crowded market in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, killing at least 19 and wounding scores more.
In December, Maiduguri, which is considered the group’s spiritual home, was also the scene of a daring early morning raid on military installations near the city’s airport.
President Goodluck Jonathan did not explain his reasons for replacing the top brass but there have been suggestions that he was dissatisfied with their performance.
Badeh, 57, said he was pleased that the three new army, navy and air force chiefs had already met to discuss the issue and that it would make for a joined-up approach to the threat.
“If three of you have already met even before the takeover, then we have achieved everything. I can only say that this thing is already won,” he said.
The former chief of army staff, Lt General Azubuike Ihejirika, said as he stepped down that during his tenure, Nigeria had introduced the use of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones.
“I want to say very soon, the Nigerian Army, under the able leadership of our new chief of army staff, Major General Kenneth Minimah, there will be no hiding place for terrorists,” he added.
Emergency rule has largely succeeded in pushing the militants out of towns and cities in the wider north but attacks are still frequent in more remote areas, particularly in border regions.
Boko Haram suspects late Sunday attacked a community outside Maiduguri and killed 18 people, the local head of the village said.
Ibrahim Modu said that the attackers raided the community along the Alau Dam-Alau Ngawo Fate road in Jere municipality around 10:00 pm (2100 GMT).
“We lost 18 people at the end of the attack. We also lost about 100 houses, shops and grains stores to the attack,” he said.
Army sopkesman in the area, Colonel Mohammad Dole, confirmed the attack took place without giving details.