President Muhammadu Buhari will this week make his first foreign trip since taking office, travelling to Chad and Niger for talks on Boko Haram, his spokesman said on Monday. Shehu Garba said the two-day trip starting on Wednesday will focus on “matters of security”, with the cooperation of Nigeria’s neighbours seen as crucial to ending the Islamist uprising which has claimed more than 15,000 lives since 2009.
But Boko Haram attacked some 12 hours after the new president took the oath of office, hitting homes in the key northeast city of Maiduguri with rocket-propelled grenades overnight on Saturday.
Later, a suicide attack at a mosque in the city, which is the Borno state capital, killed at least 26 people. Suspicion immediately fell on the insurgents. The militants then raided two towns in Borno’s neighbouring state of Yobe on Sunday, torching public buildings and looting food and fuel stores. Niger shares a border with both Borno and Yobe while Chad borders just Borno in Nigeria’s extreme northeast.
Former president Goodluck Jonathan’s administration had long complained that Nigeria’s neighbours were not doing enough to contain Boko Haram as they fled military pursuit by crossing porous borders. A four-nation offensive that also includes Cameroon has won significant victories since February but there are fears of Boko Haram regrouping, especially in remote border areas.
Buhari said little regarding his specific plans for regional security cooperation other than to thank the three nations for their efforts to date. Chadian President Idriss Deby has publicly mocked Nigeria’s counter-insurgency efforts under Jonathan and called for greater cooperation. Buhari, a former army general who headed a military regime in the 1980s, is seen by most observers as a more robust commander-in-chief than Jonathan.