The command centre for Nigeria’s military operation against militant Islamist group Boko Haram has been moved to Maiduguri, the largest city in the country’s northeast, an armed forces spokesman said on Monday.
Boko Haram has killed thousands and displaced around 1.5 million people during a six-year insurgency in which it has tried to establish an Islamic emirate in the country that is Africa’s top oil exporter and most populous nation.
In the last few days, more than 80 people have been killed in a spate of bombings in Maiduguri, capital of Borno state where the insurgency began.
“From now on, the fight against terrorism and insurgency would be monitored, coordinated and controlled from this centre,” said army spokesman Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman.
He said a military team, led by a two-star general, had begun work at the command base.
New president Muhammadu Buhari used his inauguration speech on May 29 to announce that the command centre would move from Abuja, the capital, to the northeast. Since then he has met his counterparts in Niger and Chad to discuss the group.
The military has drawn criticism in Nigeria media for directing the fight against Boko Haram from the relative security of Abuja. Directing the campaign from Maiduguri puts the military closer to the action and boosts Buhari’s image as someone tough on the insurgents.
At the start of the year, Boko Haram controlled territory in the northeast around the size of Belgium. But Nigeria’s army said its recent offensive, with troops from Chad, Cameroon and Niger, pushed the group out of most of the areas it had controlled.
The group denied the claims in a video that surfaced on social media last week, with attacks in Maiduguri and Yola pointing to a resurgence by the group.