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Nigeria Declares Victory Over Boko Haram — But Do Nigerians See It That Way?


And I'm joined now by NPR's West Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. She's reported extensively on Boko Haram. Ofeibea, we just heard Nick Schifrin say the Nigerian government has taken back territory from Boko Haram. We also have this clip of President Buhari in a BBC interview essentially declaring victory. Let me play that for you.


MUHAMMADU BUHARI: Boko Haram, as an organized fighting force, we have dealt with them. Boko Haram cannot now march their forces and attack towns or attack military installations. Technically, we've won the war because people are going back into their neighborhoods.

MARTIN: Ofeibea, that is a bold statement. Do the people of Nigeria see it that way?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: There's no doubt that Boko Haram has been driven from many of its strongholds in northeastern Nigeria. Now, President Muhammadu Buhari says technically, we have won the war. Those in the know say but technically, the army is still losing the battle because Boko Haram has changed tactics. Instead of now holding territory as it used to and calling this territory its own, now it is resorting to guerrilla tactics, hit-and-run raids and especially suicide bombings. So although President Buhari is - I would say perhaps half right in that Boko Haram no longer has the caliphate it claimed to have, it's certainly not winning a war against this group, which is so mobile and so nimble and so able to attack and, you know, kill people all over.

MARTIN: Well, to that end, Ofeibea, a recent report said that Boko Haram is in fact the world's deadliest terror group. It actually killed more people this year than ISIS did. How well-equipped is the Nigerian military to deal with these new tactics as you just described them - the threat of suicide bombers, roadside bombs and so on?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, we heard in Nick Schifrin's report that preceded this interview, Michel, that Sambo Dasuki, former president Goodluck Jonathan's national security advisor, is said to have purloined billions of dollars. And that money was meant for procuring weapons for Nigeria's military. President Buhari has now been in power for - what? - since May he was sworn. He won the election at the end of March. And we are understanding - we're beginning to understand that the Nigerian military is now better on. And also, probably even more importantly, Michel, morale is higher amongst the military. I mean, you had Nigerian soldiers being accused of cowardice, running away from Boko Haram and not having the will to fight. Now we see an army, a military that is perhaps a little more motivated. And the headquarters for the operation in the Northeast, which has been book Boko Haram's stronghold these past couple of years, has now moved to Maiduguri, which is the - really the regional metropolis. But as we say, Boko Haram still able to strike at will.

MARTIN: One of the effects though of Boko Haram's operations has been that a million-plus Nigerians have been displaced from their homes as a result of their - Boko Haram's raids and the violence associated with it. What is happening with these people who are displaced? Are these areas considered now safe for them to return?

QUIST-ARCTON: President Muhammadu Buhari says more than a million and a half people displaced, Michel, just within Nigeria. And of course, they're displaced all across Nigeria's borders, in the neighboring countries, who have sent troops as part of the regional, multinational force that has orders to destroy and subdue Boko Haram by the end of the year. But of course, you have children who haven't been to school now for two or three years. You have the Chibok girls who were abducted on the fortnight of the 14 of April in 2014. Where are those girls? Where are the other young women - girls, boys, women and men who have been abducted by Boko Haram, many of them unable to go back to their homes, despite what President Buhari says about populations moving back to where they came from because Boko Haram has been dislodged.

MARTIN: Is Boko Haram still kidnapping young people?

QUIST-ARCTON: We hear less of that now. But what has happened to the people - what has happened to the children who have been kidnapped? And what about the young girls and children who were being used still in suicide attacks? That is the question - how come they are able to get hold of these children to brainwash them and force them into doing their dirty work?

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Ofeibea, we've been talking - we've been focusing on Boko Haram as a threat internally in Nigeria. Does the group remain a regional threat elsewhere in Africa?

QUIST-ARCTON: Very important to remember, Michel, that Boko Haram is not only a threat in Nigeria. It has pledged allegiance to ISIS, and it is operating across Nigeria's borders in neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon, which have sent forces to the regional military operation that is meant to be defeating and destroying Boko Haram.

MARTIN: That was NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reporting from Accra, Ghana. Ofeibea, thank you so much for speaking with us.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.