Nigeria's Buhari replaces military brass as Boko Haram strikes

Ola Awoniyi
1 / 4

Boko Haram has stepped up its attacks since Nigeria's new President Muhammadu Buhari (pictured) was sworn in on May 29, vowing to crush the insurgency

Boko Haram has stepped up its attacks since Nigeria's new President Muhammadu Buhari (pictured) was sworn in on May 29, vowing to crush the insurgency (AFP Photo/Mujahid Safodien)

Abuja (AFP) - President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday sacked his entire military top brass, as Boko Haram militants mounted deadly attacks against civilians in Nigeria's remote northeast and their first suicide bombing in Cameroon.

A strike by a lone bomber in the restive city of Maiduguri and two women in the border town of Fotokol in northern Cameroon, killing 11 people, again underlined the red gional threat posed by the Islamists.

Both came after a male suicide bomber, dressed as a woman and wearing a full-face veil, blew himself up at a crowded market in Chad's capital N'Djamena on Saturday, killing 15.

Buhari's purge of senior military commanders inherited from his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan was widely expected but is the clearest demonstration yet of his quest for a fresh start.

"President Buhari thanks the outgoing service chiefs and national security advisor for their services to the nation and wishes them well in their future endeavours," his office said in a statement.

The former military ruler has made ending the insurgency his top priority but Boko Haram has intensified its campaign since he came to power on May 29, killing some 570 people in Nigeria alone.

At least 15,000 have been killed since 2009.

- First senior appointments -

The new appointments are Buhari's first to senior roles in his administration, as he looks to overhaul a military that struggled to take on Boko Haram throughout all of last year.

The outgoing chief of defence staff Alex Badeh and heads of the army, navy and air force were appointed in January 2014 after a daring raid by the Islamists against military installations in Maiduguri.

Badeh promised at his investiture in January last year that the insurgency "must be brought to a complete stop before April 2014" -- but if anything, the violence has worsened.

In April last year, militant fighters kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from the remote northeastern town of Chibok in Borno state, provoking global outrage.

Jonathan's administration and the military were criticised for their response and Badeh promised the 219 girls' swift return yet nothing has been seen or heard from them since May last year.

His time in the post also saw Boko Haram overrun vast tracts of northeastern Nigeria, capturing towns and villages and even proclaiming a self-styled caliphate.

Demoralised frontline troops were seemingly unable to prevent the take-over and protested over a lack of arms and ammunition to take on the better-armed rebels.

Procurement since the end of last year, the arrival of foreign mercenaries and assistance from Cameroon, Chad and Niger have apparently reversed the unprecedented land grab.

But the rebels have since allied themselves to the Islamic State Group, handing a potentially more troubling portfolio to Badeh's successor, Major-General Abayomi Gabriel Olonishakin.

There will also be questions over who heads the new, regional force due to deploy at the end of the month, with the appointment of Major-General Tukur Yusuf Buratai as chief of army staff.

Buratai had been acting as commander of the Multi-National Joint Task Force, which has its headquarters in N'Djamena.

- Hearts and minds -

Former national security advisor Sambo Dasuki last year unveiled a well-received "soft power" counter-insurgency plan that recognised poverty and alienation in the northeast was fuelling the crisis.

His successor, retired Major-General Babagana Monguno, and the new chief of defence intelligence, Air Vice Marshal Monday Riku Morgan, will also have to try to win hearts and minds of civilians wary of the military following a catalogue of abuses and excesses.

The attack in Maiduguri again demonstrated the difficulty of combating Boko Haram's guerrilla-style tactics, as bomber detonated his explosives in a crowd of passengers undergoing identity and screening checks, civilian vigilantes said.

Two female bombers blew themselves up near an army camp at Fotokol on Sunday, according to a local security source in the town, the first suicide attack on Cameroonian soil although the area has come under repeated attack by Boko Haram.

Just before his sacking, former army chief Lieutenant-General Kenneth Minimah said Boko Haram's ability to fight troops had been "seriously degraded".

"Consequently, the terrorists have cowardly resorted to attacking innocent and vulnerable citizens in markets, places of worship and similar places," he added.