Residents told to stay and fight in embattled Nigerian city

Maiduguri (Nigeria) (AFP) - Residents of the northeast Nigerian city of Maiduguri were on Monday told to stay and fight, as calm returned after a weekend Boko Haram attack but fears remained of a future assault.

The restive capital of Borno State was locked down on Sunday morning, as the Islamist militants launched a dawn raid that was later repelled by the military.

The Nigerian Army lifted the curfew at 6:00 am (0500 GMT) but with the militants in control of large swathes of territory in Borno, fears remained high over renewed attacks on the city.

"It is not over yet," said security analyst Abdullahi Bawa Wase, who tracks the Boko Haram conflict.

"They will certainly make another attempt. It is only a matter of when, because Maiduguri is strategic," he told AFP.

Sunday's attack came a day after President Goodluck Jonathan visited the city as part of his campaign for re-election next month, and again vowed to end the six-year insurgency.

Military commanders in Abuja said "scores" of Boko Haram fighters were killed as troops using heavy weaponry and backed by air support pushed the rebels out of the city and nearby Konduga.

"Substantial amounts of heavy weapons" were captured and skirmishes continued into Monday but ground troops were "in charge and Airforce patrol still ongoing", the armed forces said on Twitter.

- 'No flight, no retreat' -

Borno State governor Kashim Shettima, however, recognised the danger of another assault on Maiduguri, with the rebels now in control of the nearby town of Monguno.

He told BBC radio's Hausa-language service: "I call on the people of Borno State not to panic. This is our land. No fear, no flight, no retreat. We should not flee."

Boko Haram's capture of Monguno, some 125 kilometres (80 miles) north of Maiduguri, has prompted fears of a fresh strike on the city, where the group was founded in 2002 and from which it was driven out in 2013.

Shettima confirmed that the situation was "bad in Monguno," and people had fled to Maiduguri, where the military was screening them in case any the militants had infiltrated the displaced population.

In September last year, it was estimated that more than half of Borno's 4.1 million people were in Maiduguri, but many more have arrived since then to seek sanctuary from the violence.

Many are living in camps for internally displaced people.

- Elections and supplies -

Security analysts believe Boko Haram's capture of Monguno and the Lake Chad fishing hub of Baga earlier this month was driven by a need for food, fuel, medicine and other essentials.

Hundreds of people, if not more, are feared to have been killed in Baga, where Boko Haram fighters destroyed much of the town and razed at least 16 surrounding settlements.

Residents who fled Baga have said Boko Haram has enough supplies from the abandoned and looted markets to last for months, but they will eventually be forced to push south.

Others suggested it was restocking arms and ammunition in the event of a counter-offensive by Nigeria and its neighbours, who last week agreed to set up a new multinational force.

Boko Haram violence has effectively wiped large parts of northeast Nigeria off the electoral map, making voting impossible in the February 14 presidential and parliamentary poll.

Nigeria is scrambling for a solution to allow displaced people to vote, but Wase said any successful future attack on Maiduguri would "automatically disrupt the elections".

"It means elections will not be held in Borno state because the bulk of the voters are now in Maiduguri," he added.

Nigeria's main opposition, the All Progressives Congress (APC), has said the overall result could be questioned if hundreds of thousands of people are disenfranchised in its northeast stronghold.

The APC, which has lambasted the record of President Goodluck Jonathan's Peoples Democratic Party on security, said Monday that delaying the vote because of Boko Haram violence would be "a victory" for the militants.