A spate of victories against Boko Haram has pushed the militants out of much of the territory they controlled in Nigeria, but that is unlikely to do much to boost President Goodluck Jonathan’s bid for re-election by divided voters this week.
At the start of this year the Islamist militants had seized an area the size of Belgium in Africa’s biggest economy and were slaughtering civilians at will, a crisis authorities cited as a reason for delaying the poll by six weeks to March 28. Boko Haram is now on the run and squeezed into ever smaller turf. That still won’t help John Dauda get his family back.
“The military operations going on now mean nothing to me because I lost my two wives and four children,” the 52-year-old fuel dealer in northeastern Adamawa state said.
For that reason, Jonathan will not be getting his vote when he goes into one of the polling booths to be set up in camps for the more than a million people who, like Dauda, have been displaced by fighting.
Jonathan, a Christian southerner, has been criticised for failing to tackle the insurgency. His main challenger, Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the north, has campaigned on his reputation for being tough on security when he was military ruler of Nigeria in the 1980s.
Nigeria’s army said on Tuesday it had taken back all but three local government areas, out of around 20 controlled by Boko Haram, a shift owing partly to neighbours Chad, Cameroon and Niger stepping up offensives against the Islamists. It may have come too late to alter perceptions of Jonathan.
“Why did he have to wait until now that the elections are here? Recapturing those towns is like ‘medicine after death’,” computer science student Joe Garba, 38, said, shaking his head as he turned away from his keyboard in his university classroom.
With Nigeria facing its closest election since the end of military rule in 1999, victory on the battlefield won’t automatically mean victory at the ballot box.
Morris Adaka, a 50-year-old retired civil servant in Yenagoa, capital of Jonathan’s Niger Delta home state of Bayelsa where the president is expected to do well, wondered why it took the government six years to take action.
“If this measure of seriousness had been deployed early enough, the Chibok girls wouldn’t have been kidnapped,” he said, referring to the abduction of around 200 schoolgirls in April last year by Boko Haram to worldwide horror.
Thomas Hansen, a senior analyst at Control Risks, said the media narrative around Jonathan had improved, but that “most people in Nigeria seem to have already made up their minds about who they will vote for in the elections”.
Not all oppose the president. Edet Edet, a cook in Abuja, made up his mind to vote Jonathan a while ago. “It’s not his fault that Boko Haram killed people. To be winning the battle makes me like him even more,” he said.
What this means, says Bismark Rewane, CEO of Lagos-based advisory group Financial Derivatives, is “the military offensive has reduced the haemorrhaging of popularity that Jonathan has been experiencing, but it hasn’t turned into a catalyst for support”.