Nigerian Military Rescues Boko Haram Captives
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The news out of Nigeria this week was dramatic and encouraging, but also distressing. The Nigerian army went into the Sambisa Forest, a stronghold of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, and liberated on Tuesday almost 300 women and girls, and then on Thursday, nearly another 200 women and girls. What was distressing was that those who were liberated did not include the girls who were seized from the town of Chibok a year ago. Their whereabouts remain unknown. Anna Cunningham covers Nigeria for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the CBC, and she joins us from Lagos. Welcome to the program.
ANNA CUNNINGHAM: Thank you.
SIEGEL: And first, what do we know about the Nigerian military action in the forest?
CUNNINGHAM: Well, really what's happened this week has been incredible considering that Boko Haram has been carrying out this insurgency for the past six years. But what we have seen in terms of the Nigerian military's operation, certainly this week, is them attacking the Sambisa Forest. And strategically we've been told that it is an operational nightmare because it's so dense a forest. People describe it as a place that you can't even see the sky.
SIEGEL: Now, Nigeria's president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari, who beat President Goodluck Jonathan, hasn't taken office yet. But what's the relationship between Nigerian presidential politics and the war against Boko Haram?
CUNNINGHAM: Well, I think it's a very complex one. But the difficulties of being - if you look historically at Nigeria's military, it was always seen as the strongest military in West Africa. And Nigeria has the biggest defense budget going. And the question has been, well, why has the Nigerian military been incapable of being able to tackle Boko Haram? And the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan has been heavily criticized for the way he has dealt with Boko Haram. And what we're seeing now is some very tough talking from President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, but also an interesting new take, really, because he's said, look, what we need is honesty. He's said that we don't know where the Chibok schoolgirls are and whether we will be able to rescue them. But he has promised that when he comes to power he will deal with them with a firm hand. Now, you've got to remember that of course Muhammadu Buhari is a former military ruler of Nigeria who once took power in a military coup. So he has this record behind him of being a tough military man.
SIEGEL: But are we seeing a surge of Nigerian force against Boko Haram that President Goodluck Jonathan at least had hoped might work to his benefit in the election?
CUNNINGHAM: Well, I think we definitely are seeing a surge. I mean, if you recall, the presidential elections were actually postponed for six weeks because they said they needed to deal with Boko Haram and they had this huge military operation. I think there's definitely something to be said for the timing of this in terms of people have questioned whether it was a proper gander effort to try and keep President Goodluck Jonathan in power. But I think the Nigerians themselves didn't really fall for that.
SIEGEL: Is it clear whether Boko Haram is gaining or losing power in West Africa? Or is it too hard to tell?
CUNNINGHAM: Well, I think the pressure has been put on Boko Haram. And this is now why we're seeing this focus on the Sambisa Forest because it does appear that they have gathered in the Sambisa Forest, and that's why the Nigerian military are now they're focusing their attacks and their operations there. But as I said, it's very difficult terrain, and we understand a lot of it is landmined.
SIEGEL: Anna Cunningham of the CBC in Lagos, Nigeria. Thank you very much for talking with us.
CUNNINGHAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.