Nigeria’s military on Saturday acknowledged a major attack against it by Islamic extremists after opposition lawmakers said 44 soldiers were killed, while public pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari grew over the failure of his pledge to defeat Boko Haram.
The military statement issued overnight didn’t say how many are dead after the Nov. 18 attack in Metele in the northeast, but it dismissed media reports citing even higher tolls and said the situation was under control. Nigeria is often reluctant to expose the number of casualties after such attacks by Boko Haram extremists and fighters linked to the Islamic State group.
As Buhari faces growing pressure over insecurity ahead of next year’s presidential election, an aide said the president had summoned military chiefs and sent the defense minister to neighboring Chad for an “urgent meeting” with President Idriss Deby. A multinational force combating Boko Haram is based in Chad.
Nigeria’s leader is “worried by Boko Haram’s renewed attacks on military bases,” aide Bashir Ahmad said in a post on Twitter.
Nigerians are increasingly concerned about reports of growing casualties among troops fighting extremists.
Buhari, who made the defeat of the Nigeria-based Boko Haram a major goal of his presidency when he was elected in 2015, “is preoccupied with re-election campaigns” while many homes are filled with mourners, human rights activist Okechukwu Nwanguma said in a statement on Saturday.
The government under Buhari has claimed in the past that Boko Haram has been “crushed” but the extremists continue to carry out deadly suicide bombings and abductions in the northeast and wider Lake Chad region.
In an interview with The Associated Press last month, Nigeria’s information minister Lai Mohammed said that “today not a single inch of our territory is occupied by Boko Haram” and that peace had largely returned to the northeast.
While the army has retaken most of the territory the militants once controlled, they are still able to carry out deadly attacks.
In a statement, released on Friday evening, the army admits that it is operating in “trying times”, which is a rare if veiled admission that the military is experiencing serious setbacks in the fight against the jihadists, says BBC Africa editor Will Ross.
It added that “false casualty figures” and the sharing of inaccurate videos boost the “propaganda intent of the terrorists”.
Reports of the deaths at the camp vary.
Reuters news agency quoted an army officer as saying earlier this week: “The insurgents took us unawares. We lost about 100 soldiers. It is a huge loss.”
On Monday, a Boko Haram faction loyal to the Islamic State group, known as the Islamic State West Africa Province, said it had carried out the attack and put the death toll at at least 40.
President Buhari’s political opponents in the Senate said 44 soldiers had died.
– Politicoscope / BBC / AP