HARD NEWS

Nigeria Postpones Election; Stage Set For Boko Haram Confrontation

Nigeria’s electoral commission will postpone Feb. 14 presidential and legislative elections for six weeks to give a new multinational force time to secure northeastern areas under the sway of Boko Haram, an official close to the commission told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Millions could be disenfranchised if the voting went ahead while the Islamic extremists hold a large swath of the northeast and commit mayhem that has driven 1.5 million people from their homes.

Boko Haram again attacks outside Nigera, this time in Niger
Boko Haram again attacks outside Nigera, this time in Niger
A small protest started Saturday by civil rights groups opposed to any postponement. Police prevented them from entering the electoral commission headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. Armed police began deploying to block roads leading to the building.

The Nigerian official, who is knowledgeable of the discussions, said the Independent National Electoral Commission will announce the postponement later Saturday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The United States has been urging Nigeria to press ahead with the voting. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria two weeks ago and said that “one of the best ways to fight back against Boko Haram” was by holding credible and peaceful elections, on time.

“It’s imperative that these elections happen on time as scheduled,” Kerry said.

Officials in President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration have been calling for a postponement.

Any delay is opposed by an opposition coalition fielding former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, though the opposition stands to take most votes in the northeast.

Supporters of both sides are threatening violence if their candidate does not win. Some 800 people were killed in riots in the mainly Muslim north after Buhari, a Muslim, lost 2011 elections to Jonathan, a Christian from the south.

Chadian soldiers gather near the Nigerian town of Gamboru, just across the border from Cameroon on Feb. 1, 2015. In a deserted Gamboru, Chadian forces carried out cleanup operations after entering the town and retaking it from Boko Haram, which seized control months ago.

A photo taken Feb. 4, 2015, shows motorcycles left by Boko Haram Islamist militants in Gamboru, after Chadian soldiers took control of the Nigerian border town.
Analysts say the vote is too close to call, the most tightly contested election since decades of military dictatorship ended in 1999.

Jonathan’s party has won every election since then but the failure of the military to curb the 5-year Islamic uprising, growing corruption and an economy hit by halved oil prices have hurt the president of Africa’s biggest oil producer and most populous nation of about 170 million.

Confronting Boko Haram

A major offensive with warplanes and ground troops from Chad and Nigeria already has forced the insurgents from a dozen towns and villages in the past 10 days. Even greater military strikes by more countries are planned.

Nigeria and its four bordering countries announced plans Saturday to deploy an 8,750-strong force by next month to combat the growing regional threat posed by Boko Haram.

Details of the proposed deployment were revealed at the end of a three-day meeting in Cameroon in a statement read out by officials, including Issaka Souare, African Union adviser for Mali and the Sahel.

The plans call for Chad and Nigeria to contribute 3,500 troops each, while Cameroon and Niger would contribute 750 each and Benin would contribute 250. The force would be headquartered in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena.

Satellite images show devastation in Nigerian towns attacked by Boko Haram
Satellite images show devastation in Nigerian towns attacked by Boko Haram
Nigeria’s conflict with Boko Haram has taken on an increasingly regional dimension in recent months, with the extremists staging attacks in Cameroon and Niger in the last week alone.

Nearly 100 people were killed and some 500 wounded in an attack on the town of Fotokol in Cameroon on Wednesday and Thursday that saw Boko Haram fighters raze mosques and churches and use civilians as human shields, Cameroon officials said.

On Friday, Boko Haram attacked two towns in Niger, killing four soldiers and wounding 17. Niger’s defense minister said 109 Boko Haram fighters were killed after Chad and Niger troops responded to that assault, though the figure could not be independently verified.
Earlier this month, AU heads of state announced plans for a 7,500-member force to fight Boko Haram. Officials said Saturday that the number was increased to 8,750 to allow for the inclusion of police and humanitarian officials.

Saturday’s statement said $4 million was urgently needed for the deployment, though it was unclear where this and other funding would come from.

Jacqueline Seck Diouf, who represented the U.N. at the talks in Cameroon, said the U.N. had promised logistical support for now but added that the AU was requesting funding. Further assistance would need to be approved by the U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, she said.

Cameroon Defense Minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo’o declined to discuss proposed operational details for the force.

Associated Press

Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune

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