20 May 2020
- Jihadists will look to exploit government focus on COVID-19 in coming months by increasing tempo of attacks in northeast
- Boko Haram will seek to launch attacks on ‘soft’ targets such as social or religious gatherings as lockdown measures in Borno state are eased
- Significant budgetary pressures amid COVID-19 outbreak and low oil prices will limit government ability to allocate additional resources to contain insurgency
Boko Haram militants reportedly killed 20 civilians in the village of Gajiganna, 50 km from Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, on 17 May. The attack came three days after Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) claimed an attack on a military checkpoint near the same village, killing 17 soldiers and stealing several vehicles. Military sources later acknowledged the attack, but said that only five troops were killed. Separately, Borno state authorities announced on 13 May the suspension of a state-wide lockdown imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), although said they would be willing to reimpose restrictions if infection rates escalated again. The neighbouring states of Gombe, Adamawa and Zamfara said meanwhile that they would reopen mosques and churches.
Boko Haram has operated in Borno state for over a decade, and split into two competing factions in 2016, one of which later pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) and began operating as ISWAP. Both groups have maintained a presence in the northeast despite sustained operations by Nigeria and neighbouring countries, and occasional claims by officials that the insurgency has been technically defeated. Indeed, the two recent attacks come just two weeks after the start of a fresh government offensive dubbed “Operation Kantana Jimlan”, which the defence ministry said on 4 May had resulted in the death of 134 militants…