An official from the state’s information commission and a local official said Boko Haram insurgents have seized multiple communities in the north-central state of Niger, offering villagers money and incorporating them into their ranks to fight the government.
As the Islamist group is typically concentrated in the northeast of Africa’s most populous nation, its presence in Niger, a state bordering the federal capital territory, indicates a significant spread during a time when the military says its counter-insurgency efforts are working.
Suleiman Chukuba, chairman of Shiroro local government area in Niger state, which borders Abuja, said Boko Haram fighters are now present in eight out of 25 wards in the local government area.
The Boko Haram fighters in the Shiroro local government are uncountable, Chukuba said.
As early as 2009, Boko Haram, whose name translates roughly to “Western education is forbidden”, had waged insurgency, later joined by its offshoot, the Islamic State of West Africa. According to the United Nations, almost 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced by the fighting.
Shiroro is home to 331,000 people and covers 4,700 square kilometers, according to the official website of Niger state.
Muhammad Sani Idris, the state’s information commissioner, confirmed that Boko Haram fighters infiltrated the state, originally believed to be armed bandits. According to Idris, the state government and security agencies have been able to contain the spread of the virus.
“We will do whatever it takes as a state,” he said. In addition, our security staff and local vigilantes will combine their efforts.”
Last month, the army said nearly 6,000 Boko Haram fighters had surrendered, attributing the development to its counterinsurgency efforts.
Chukuba has called for more troops from the federal government to fight the insurgents in the area.