Facing an increasingly violent Islamist insurgency, governors from three states in northeast Nigeria asked President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday to deploy extra troops to secure their regions before next month’s presidential election.
With less than six weeks to go before the polls, officials are concerned the northeast may be so destabilised by Boko Haram militants that millions of people are prevented from voting in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, the worst affected of Nigeria’s 36 states.
“We need more troops. The troops on the ground we have in our various states are not enough,” Yobe state governor Ibrahim Gaidem told journalists at the presidential villa after meeting with Jonathan. “We appealed to the president to deploy additional troops with full equipment to tame the situation.”
The presidency was not immediately available to comment, but a presidential source told Reuters Jonathan had accepted the request in principle. The source did not give further details.
Security will be a major election issue in the country with the biggest economy and population in Africa. The electoral commission says more than a million Nigerians displaced by the Islamist insurgency in the northeast may not be able to vote on Feb. 14 unless the law is changed to enable them to do so away from their home regions.
Parliament is considering such a law. Jonathan’s main opponent is Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the north who, as a former military leader, is seen as tough on security.
The five-year-old insurgency, which is trying to revive a medieval Islamic caliphate, has killed thousands of people and uprooted more than a million. The militants have also kidnapped hundreds of children: 200 girls snatched from a school in the village of Chibok last April remain missing.
The military seems ill-equipped and overstretched against a determined foe. Boko Haram killed dozens of civilians and at least 11 soldiers when it took control of a Nigerian town and army base on the shores of Lake Chad, at the borders with Chad and Cameroon, at the weekend.
Refugees aside, it may be too insecure in some parts of the northeast to hold an election at all, officials say, and many foreign observers will not get security clearance to go up there.
But the governors of the three states under a military state of emergency were confident the polls would happen everywhere.
“Definitely in all those areas where the insurgency exist, elections will hold,” Gaidem said.