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Boko Haram Fighters Seize Nigerian Army Base


Fighters from the Islamist group Boko Haram in Nigeria seized yet another strategic town over the weekend. They also took a military base. This group has been launching attacks in the remote northeast of Nigeria almost every day. The Council on Foreign Relations estimated up to 10,000 people were killed in 2014 alone. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has been following this story. She's on the line. Hi, Ofeibea.


INSKEEP: What happened?

QUIST-ARCTON: We're told that hundreds of insurgents on pickup trucks and on motorbikes, firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles captured the town of Baga in the far northeast of Nigeria in predawn raids on Saturday. Now, the senator who covers this northern area of Borno State in Nigeria described Baga as the last town standing. He said that the insurgents have taken so many towns and villages.

But this is a strategic one because it had this base next door, meant to be a base for a multinational force of Nigerian, Chadian and Cameroonian troops to counter the insurgency and terrorism. But we're told that notionally, the foreign troops aren't there anymore, and it was Nigerian forces who put up a defense and then ran out of any ammunition. And apparently the soldiers abandoned their post and fled, and the civilians took off after them because they knew they couldn't be protected.

INSKEEP: So the base that was meant to be used against Boko Haram was taken by Boko Haram. But how significant is it, their spread through this particular area of Nigeria?

QUIST-ARCTON: Because this is the northern corner that borders Chad, it is strategic because this insurgency is spilling over Nigeria's borders into Cameroon and now Chad - we're told, that civilians had to literally take flight across Lake Chad to escape. And, Steve, the question comes back again. What is the government? What are Nigeria's military doing about these constant, relentless attacks which target civilians?

INSKEEP: Wasn't that Nigerian military supposed to be receiving aid from the United States?

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed, Steve. That's when 300 - almost 300 school girls were abducted from their boarding school dorms. And you'll remember the high-profile Bring Back Our Girls campaign that the first lady Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie lent their support to. The Americans then said they were sending in military advisers and drones. But it seems there's some frustration, we believe, on the Americans' part with the Nigerian governments and the military's handling of the insurgency.

INSKEEP: Is this situation complicated at all by the fact that it's an election year?

QUIST-ARCTON: Absolutely. President Goodluck Jonathan seeking re-election for his second term next month, Steve. The oppositions say that he is using this insurgency, that he is not providing the military with the hardware that it needs to counter the insurgency because tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of civilians have left that northeastern area of Nigeria, and they were registered there. So they may not be allowed to vote in areas to which they have been displaced. That is what the opposition is saying. Ordinary Nigerians are saying, what is happening? We want these girls released. We want this insurgency ended now.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, who's tracking this story from Accra, Ghana. Thanks very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. 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.