A Week in Nigeria: 24 November

The deaths of soldiers at the hands of Islamists in the northeast was thrust into the centre of a political debate

In this week’s round-up: Military deaths are used as a political weapon, Buhari and Atiku unveil their election manifestos and the central bank governor hints that an agreement with MTN is close.

  • Militants killed around 100 Nigerian soldiers in an attack on an army base, security sources said, blaming Boko Haram offshoot Islamic State West Africa. The insurgents attacked the base in the village of Metele in northeastern Borno state, the epicentre of a revolt by Boko Haram and its Islamic State splinter group. The toll is among the highest since President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015 and it could raise pressure on him ahead of an election in February, not least because he has claimed victory over the nine-year insurgency.
  • Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the attack which it said was among five it had carried out over the last week that it claimed resulted in 118 casualties.
  • The deaths were widely reported in the Nigerian media and were seized upon by critics of Buhari whose administration has been largely silent about the fighting in the northeast as, in battle after battle, soldiers have been killed. On Thursday Buhari’s political opponents disclosed that 44 soldiers had been killed in the attack on Metele and adjourned parliament out of respect. Political and security analysts said the move, which has not been carried out after other military deaths of the last few months, was calculated to undermine the security credentials of the president as he seeks a second term in three months’ time. The opposition is “playing politics with conflict,” said one analyst. Attacks by Boko Haram in the run-up to the last election, in 2015, weakened then-president Goodluck Jonathan and helped Buhari to defeat him at the polls. The debate over the deaths and the way it has been handled by the government and military was heated on social media.
  • Election campaigning official began on 18 November. The two main contenders, President Buhari and former vice president Atiku Abubakar, unveiled their manifestos.
  • Buhari’s plan focuses on the expansion of his administration’s social welfare programme, a continuation of his anti-corruption agenda and improvements in education.

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Nigeria bureau chief for Reuters. Ghanaian family, British accent. Ex-BBC, before that newspapers.

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