Deaths from Nigerian refugee camp air strike rises to 90, could reach 170: MSF

people walk at the site of a bombing attack

GENEVA (Reuters) – The death toll from an accidental Nigerian air strike on a refugee camp in the town of Rann has risen to around 90 people, and could be as high as 170, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said in a statement on Friday.

Tuesday’s strike on the northeastern town in Borno state, which had Boko Haram militants as its target, has led to an investigation by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF). The inquiry’s report is due to be submitted no later than Feb. 2.

The aid group, also known as Doctors Without Borders, said the higher figure of 170 comes from reports from residents and community leaders.

“This figure needs to be confirmed,” said Bruno Jochum, MSF General Director, in the statement.

“The victims of this horrifying event deserve a transparent account of what happened and the circumstances in which this attack took place.”

Borno is the epicenter of Boko Haram’s seven-year-long attempt to create an Islamic caliphate in the northeast. The insurgency has killed more than 15,000 people since 2009 and forced some two million to flee their homes, many of whom have moved to camps for internally displaced people.

“A Nigerian airforce plane circled twice and dropped two bombs in the middle of the town of Rann, which hosts thousands of internally displaced people,” MSF said.

“At the time of the attack, an aid distribution was taking place.”

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch said the strike had destroyed 35 structures, and hit 100 meters from what appears to be a Nigerian military compound, raising questions about why precautions were not taken to avoid harming civilians.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Paul Carsten; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Clashes in Nigeria’s divided heartland pile pressure on president

Displaced Nigeria families, fleeing from Boko Haram

By Alexis Akwagyiram

KADUNA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Hundreds of people have died in a surge of ethnically-charged violence in Nigeria’s divided heartlands, officials said, piling pressure on a government already facing Islamist militants in its northeast and rebels in its oil-rich south.

Locals in remote villages in Kaduna state told Reuters Muslim herders had clashed with largely Christian farmers repeatedly in recent weeks, in the worst outbreak of killings in the region since riots killed 800 after elections in 2011.

The fighting triggered by competition over scarce resources has come at a particularly sensitive time for Kaduna city, which is about to become the main air hub in central and northern Nigeria, after the capital Abuja’s airport closes temporarily for runway repairs in March.

Farmer Ibrahim Sabo said cattle herders armed with assault rifles raided his village Kalangai in southern Kaduna in November, forcing him and his family to hide in surrounding fields.

“We left everything we harvested and they took our cattle. We have been running ever since,” said the 75-year-old in Kakura village where he took refuge.

The violence has focused attention on President Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler who vowed to restore order in Africa’s most populous nation when he came to power in May 2015.

He held a five-hour session with senior security and army officials in Abuja on Thursday on how to tackle the unrest.

Security agencies are already deploying extra forces to secure Kaduna’s airport and its highway to Abuja, a route often targeted by kidnappers.

That all comes on top of an insurgency by Boko Haram Islamists in the northeast, beaten back last year by a military coalition of neighboring nations, but showing signs of a resurgence with a recent step-up in bombings.

Militants in the southern Niger Delta oil hub have said they are ready to resume pipeline attacks, and there have also been clashes between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims in Kaduna state.

FESTERING DISPUTES

Locals say the Kaduna violence grew out of festering disputes over territory in October and November, then escalated sharply, exacerbated by north-south, Muslim-Christian tensions in a patchwork nation.

Details of attacks and precise figures are hard to come by in the remote territory.

The national disaster agency NEMA said on Friday it had recorded a total of 204 deaths since October in Kafanchan and Chikun, two of the four municipal districts worst hit by the violence, with no details from the others.

Christian leaders released a statement late December saying 808 people had died – an estimate dismissed by Kaduna state police commissioner Agyole Abeh who did not give his own figure.

The authorities had already sent in reinforcements – 10 units, each with 63 police officers, using 20 armored cars, he added.

Community group, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, said herdsmen had been “unjustifiably accused and maligned” in the area and had also come under attack, prompting a cycle of revenge.

There were few signs of the promised police or army reinforcements outside the center of Kaduna city.

Tarmac roads gave way to red soil dirt tracks leading to Kakura, on the edge of the territory that has seen the worst fighting.

Another farmer, Yusuf Dogo, said dozens of armed herdsmen burned houses in his village of Pasakori in three quick raids, forcing 700 people to flee in October.

“They ran through our village and started shooting randomly,” he said. “Later, they brought their cattle and they ate everything.”

(Additional reporting by Garba Muhammad in Kaduna and Felix Onuah in Abuja; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Andrew Heavens)

Nigeria faces mounting pressure to rescue girls abducted by Boko Haram 1,000 days ago

police disrupt Bring Back Our Girls rally in Nigeria

By Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and Kieran Guilbert

CHIBOK, Nigeria/DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Nigeria is facing mounting pressure to find some 200 schoolgirls abducted 1,000 days ago in Boko Haram’s most infamous attack after the rescue of 24 girls raised hopes that they are alive.

For more than two years there was no sign of the girls who were kidnapped by the Islamist fighters from a school in Chibok in northeast Nigeria one night in April 2014, sparking global outrage and a celebrity-backed campaign #bringbackourgirls.

But the discovery of one of the girls with a baby last May fueled hopes for their safety, with a further two girls found in later months and a group of 21 released in October in a deal brokered by Switzerland and the International Red Cross..

For parents like Rebecca Joseph the return home of the group of 21 girls at Christmas was a bitter-sweet celebration.

Her daughter, Elizabeth, is one of an estimated 195 girls still held captive by the jihadist group, which has tried to force some of them to convert to Islam and to marry their captors.

“I am happy that some of the girls are returning home even though my own daughter is not among them,” Joseph told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the town of Chibok in Borno state.

“My prayer is that my daughter and the rest of the girls will be rescued and returned to their families safe.”

With last weekend marking 1,000 days since the girls were abducted, President Muhammadu Buhari said he remained committed to ensuring the abducted schoolgirls are reunited with their families “as soon as practicable”.

“We are hopeful that many more will still return,” said Buhari, who came to power in 2015 and replaced a government criticized for not doing enough to find the missing girls.

“The tears never dry, the ache is in our hearts,” he said in a statement.

STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM

The Nigerian government said last month that it was involved in negotiations aimed at securing the release of some of the girls as the army captured a key Boko Haram camp, the militant group’s last enclave in the vast Sambisa forest.

The exact number of Chibok girls still in captivity is believed to be 195 but it has been hard to pin down an exact number since the girls went missing.

Academics and security experts say it may be a huge challenge to obtain the girls’ freedom given the significance of the abduction for Boko Haram, which has killed about 15,000 people in its seven-year insurgency to set up an Islamic state.

“Outside Nigeria, the Chibok girls have come to symbolize the Boko Haram conflict,” said Sola Tayo, an associate fellow at the London-based think tank Chatham House.

“The global outrage generated by their captivity has added to their value to the insurgents,” she added, adding that they were also significant to Buhari because he made their release a key campaign pledge before his 2015 election.

The government said in October that it had not swapped Boko Haram fighters or paid a ransom for the release of the 21 girls but several security analysts said it was implausible that the Islamist group would have let the girls go for nothing.

“To secure the release of the remaining girls would require concessions by the Nigerian government, which could reverse significant gains it has made against Boko Haram,” said Ryan Cummings, director of risk management consultancy Signal Risk.

“In addition to detainees, Boko Haram may also demand supplies, weapons, vehicles and even money which they could use to recalibrate and invigorate their armed campaign against the Nigerian state.”

DEEP DIVISIONS

One of the major obstacles to securing the release of all of the Chibok girls who remain in captivity is the deep divisions emerging within Boko Haram, said Freedom Onuoha, a security analyst and lecturer at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka.

The militants split last year with one faction moving away from the group’s established figurehead Abubakar Shekau over his failure to adhere to guidance from Islamic State to which Boko Haram pledged allegiance in 2015.

It is unclear how many Chibok girls are held by the main faction led by Shekau, thought to be based in the Sambisa, and by the Islamic State-allied splinter group – headed by Abu Musab al-Barnawi and believed to operate in the Lake Chad area.

“It will be difficult to release most of the remaining girls as each faction will maintain a strong hold on them and would negotiate with state officials on their own terms,” said Onuoha.

While the deal to free the 21 girls was seen as a huge boost for the government’s assertions that it would soon bring home the others, a lack of progress since then has seen public hopes dwindle and frustrations arise, academics said.

Although Nigeria has driven Boko Haram out of most of the territory it held, its battle against the militants will not be considered over until the fate of all of the Chibok girls is made clear, said Nnamdi Obasi of the International Crisis Group.

“From various indications, it is most unlikely that all the remaining girls will come home alive, but the government owes their parents and the public the fundamental responsibility of accounting for every one of them,” the Nigeria analyst said.

“In the long run, that’s the only way to bring closure to this sad episode.”

(Reporting by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani and Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

Nigerian soldiers find Chibok girl kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014

Bring Back Our Girls campaigners

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Nigerian soldiers have found a schoolgirl who was one of more than 200 pupils kidnapped by Islamist militant group Boko Haram from their school in the northeastern town of Chibok in April 2014, an army spokesman said on Thursday.

The troops had found Rakiya Abubkar wandering around near Algarno, a former Boko Haram stronghold, the spokesman said. She had a six-month-old baby with her.

A total of 276 schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram from Chibok in 2014 in one of the most infamous actions of their insurgency. More than 20 were released in October in a deal brokered by the International Red Cross. Others have escaped or been rescued but about 200 are believed to be still in captivity.

Boko Haram has killed 15,000 people and displaced more than two million during a seven-year-old insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic caliphate in northeast Nigeria.

The group controlled an area about the size of Belgium in early 2015 but has been pushed out of most of that territory over the last year by Nigeria’s army and troops from neighbouring countries.

Last month, the army said it had seized a key Boko Haram camp in its last enclave in Nigeria in the vast Sambisa forest. The jihadists still stage suicide bombings in northeastern areas and in neighbouring Niger and Cameroon.

(Reporting by Lanre Ola, Alexis Akwagyiram and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Dominic Evans)

Famine may have killed 2,000 people in parts of Nigeria cut off from aid by Boko Haram

Writings describing Boko Haram are seen on the wall along a street in Bama, in Borno, Nigeria

DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – More than 2,000 people may have died of famine this year in parts of northeast Nigeria which cannot be reached by aid agencies due to an insurgency by Islamic militant group Boko Haram, hunger experts said on Tuesday.

The deaths occurred in the town of Bama in Nigeria’s Borno state, the jihadists’ former stronghold, a report by the U.S.-based Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) said.

While food aid is staving off famine for people uprooted by conflict who can be reached, the outlook is bleak for those in parts of the northeast cut off from help, according to FEWS NET.

“The risk of famine in inaccessible areas of Borno State will remain high over the coming year,” the report said.

“In a worst-case scenario, where conflict cuts off areas that are currently accessible and dependent on assistance, the likelihood of famine in these areas would be high,” it added.

Around 4.7 million people are in need of emergency food aid in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states – nearly two-thirds of them in Borno alone – according to FEWS NET.

Some 400,000 children are at risk from famine in the three states, 75,000 of whom could die from hunger within months, the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF) said in September.

Yet the current humanitarian response is insufficient amid extreme levels of food insecurity, and only one million people have received food aid this year, FEWS NET said.

Almost four in five of the 1.4 million displaced Nigerians in Borno state are living in local communities, where tensions are rising in many families as food runs short.

Improving security has enabled aid agencies this year to reach some areas that were previously cut off, but many remain unreachable due to the ongoing violence and lack of security.

Boko Haram militants have killed about 15,000 people and displaced 2.4 million across Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria during a seven-year campaign to create an Islamist caliphate.

Nigeria’s army has pushed the Islamist group back to its base in Sambisa forest in the past few months, but the militants still often stage raids and suicide bombings.

(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

Nigeria’s presidency says aid agencies overstating northeast hunger

girl eats meal in front of New Prison camp in Nigeria

ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria said on Monday that aid agencies, including the United Nations, were exaggerating the levels of hunger in the strife-torn northeast to get more funding from international donors.

In the last few months, Boko Haram insurgents, who have killed 15,000 people and displaced two million since 2009, have been driven back from an area the size of Belgium, revealing thousands of people that aid agencies say are near starvation.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman said “hyperbolic claims” were being made by, among others, U.N. agencies about the region, where the United Nations says some 75,000 children are at risk of starving to death in the next few months.

“We are concerned about the blatant attempts to whip up a nonexistent fear of mass starvation by some aid agencies, a type of hype that does not provide solution to the situation on the ground but more to do with calculations for operations financing locally and abroad,” an emailed statement from Garba Shehu said.

“In a recent instance, one arm of the United Nations screamed that 100,000 people will die due to starvation next year. A different group says a million will die,” he said.

On Friday, the U.N. said it had doubled its humanitarian funding appeal for northeast Nigeria to $1 billion to reach nearly 7 million people it said needed life-saving help.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has worked out an aid plan “in close cooperation with the government”, its deputy humanitarian coordinator Peter Lundberg said on Monday.

“The reality is that if we don’t receive the funding we require many thousands of people will die,” he said.

Shehu said government agencies were distributing food, deploying medical teams and providing education for children in camps for people who had fled their homes, noting that they would continue to work closely with international aid agencies.

Nigeria has Africa’s largest economy but is grappling with its first recession in 25 years as oil prices fall. Buhari’s administration has been criticized in the media for its handling of the economy and needing aid despite its oil wealth.

(Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Boko Haram attacks destroy farm communities, bring famine risk

Nigerian Women and Children waiting at a nutrition clinic

By Alexis Akwagyiram

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Fati Adamu has not seen three of her six children nor her husband since Boko Haram militants attacked her hometown in northeast Nigeria in an hail of bullets.

Two years on, she is among thousands of refugees at the Bakassi camp in Maiduguri, the city worst hit by a seven-year-old insurgency that has forced more than two million people to flee their homes.

The United Nations says 400,000 children are now at risk from a famine in the northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe – 75,000 of whom could die from hunger within the next few months.

A push against the jihadists by the Nigerian army and soldiers from neighboring countries has enabled troops to enter remote parts of the northeast in the last few months, revealing tens of thousands on the brink of starvation and countless families torn apart.

“I don’t know if they are dead or alive,” Adamu, 35, said of her missing relatives.

There is a renewed threat of Boko Haram attacks. The start of the dry season has seen a surge in suicide bombings, some of which have targeted camps, including one at Bakassi in October which killed five people.

The World Food Programme said it provides food aid to 450,000 people in Borno and Yobe. Some 200,000 of them receive 17,000 naira each month to buy food, soon to rise to 23,000.

At least 15 camps, mostly on the outskirts of Maiduguru, the Borno state capital, are home to thousands of people unable to return home and surviving on food rations.

At one known as New Prison, women and children visibly outnumber men, many of whom were killed by Boko Haram or are missing.

One man — 45-year-old Bukaralhaji Bukar, who has eight children from his two wives — said the food he buys with the monthly stipend finishes within two weeks.

“We are suffering. It is not enough,” said Bukar, who begs on the street to make money.

In the center of Maiduguri, life seems to be returning to normal. Food markets are bustling but soldiers in pick-ups clutching rifles are reminders of the need for vigilance.

MALNOURISHED CHILDREN

In a ward in Molai district near the Bakassi camp, the air is filled with the sound of crying babies and the gurgle of those who lack the energy to cry. Some, whose skin clings tightly to their bones, are silent – too weary to even raise their heads.

“Many of them are malnourished, which is already bad enough, but they also develop things like malaria which further worsens their illnesses because they can’t eat and start vomiting,” said Dr Iasac Bot, who works at the unit overseen by the charity Save the Children.

Children have conditions ranging from diarrhea and pneumonia to bacterial infections and skin infections.

Hauwa Malu, 20, fled with her husband and their two-week-old daughter, Miriam, from her village in Jere after Boko Haram militants burned the farming community to the ground and took their cattle.

Miriam, now aged 10 months, has suffered from fevers, a persistent cough and is malnourished. Her mother said they have been left without a home or livelihood.

Tim Vaessen of the Food and Agriculture Organization said a failure to restore their ability to farm would in the long term mean displaced people would depend on expensive food aid.

“They would remain in these camps, they would become easy targets for other armed groups and they might have to migrate again – even up to Europe,” he said.

(Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Hunger ‘deadlier than violence’ in Boko Haram-hit northeast Nigeria

Writings describing Boko Haram are seen on the wall along a street in Bama, in Borno, Nigeria

By Kieran Guilbert

DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Living conditions for people uprooted by Boko Haram violence and seeking refuge in camps and towns across northeast Nigeria are more deadly than the conflict between the Islamist militants and the army, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said on Wednesday.

Hunger and malnutrition is widespread among the displaced in Borno State, not just in remote, previously inaccessible areas, but also in the capital Maiduguri, the medical aid group said.

Coordination of relief efforts must be drastically improved and food aid urgently delivered to people in need across Borno, where the humanitarian situation is reaching “catastrophic levels”, said MSF emergency program manager Natalie Roberts.

“It is shocking to see so many people malnourished in Maiduguri, not just in isolated and hard-to-reach areas,” Roberts told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

“Aid actors have access, and there has been no Boko Haram presence for the last few years, but people are starving to death inside Maiduguri. Millions are in a nutrition crisis.”

MSF said it had recently gained access to Ngala and Gambaru, towns previously cut off from aid, where tens of thousands of people have little or nothing to eat and at least one in 10 children are suffering from life-threatening malnutrition.

Yet the medical charity said it was most concerned about the situation in Maiduguri, where malnutrition rates in some parts of the city are as high as those seen in conflict-hit areas.

Boko Haram violence has left more than 65,000 people living in famine in the northeast, with one million others at risk, and more than half of children under five are malnourished in some areas of Borno, several aid groups said last week.

Many women in aid camps in the northeast are resorting to selling sex in exchange for food and money with which to feed their families, medical charity International Medical Corps and Nigerian research group NOI Polls said this week.

Roberts said the aid response across Borno was insufficient and uncoordinated, leaving many people without any assistance.

“Civilians are not receiving aid, and find themselves trapped between Boko Haram and the military’s operations.”

The Islamist militant group has killed about 15,000 people and displaced more than 2 million in Nigeria in a seven-year insurgency aimed at creating a state adhering to Islamic laws.

A military offensive has driven Boko Haram from much of the territory it held in northern Nigeria, but the militants have continued to carry out suicide bombings and raids in northeast Nigeria and neighboring Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

(Reporting by Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)

Nigerian army commander: only weeks left for Boko Haram

Major General Lucky Irabor, commander of "Operation Lafiya Dole",

By Ulf Laessing and Lanre Ola

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Nigeria’s army expects to seize Boko Haram’s last few strongholds in the northeast over the next few weeks, the commander in charge of crushing the jihadist group’s seven-year insurgency said on Wednesday.

The army missed a December deadline set by President Muhammadu Buhari to wipe out the group, which wants to set up an Islamic caliphate in the area around Lake Chad, but has retaken most of its territory – at one point the size of Belgium.

Major General Lucky Irabor, commander of the operation, said the jihadists were now holed up in a few pockets of the Sambisa forest – where more than 200 girls kidnapped from the town of Chibok in 2014 are believed to be held – and two areas near Lake Chad and would be flushed out “within weeks”.

Despite the set-backs, Boko Haram still manages to stage regular suicide bombings in Nigeria and neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Since 2009, more than 15,000 people have been killed, 2.3 million displaced and the local economy decimated.

“Almost all of the locations held by the Boko Haram terrorists have been reclaimed. We are talking only of a few villages and towns,” Irabor said in an interview at his base in Maiduguri in Borno state, birth place of the insurgency.

Much of the success is down to better military cooperation with Nigeria’s neighbors, especially Chad, whose forces have been attacking Boko Haram fighters fleeing across the border.

“There are joint operations. My commanders have an exchange with local commanders across the borders. Because of the collaborations we’ve had Boko Haram has been boxed in and in a few weeks you will hear good news,” he said.

He said the jihadists, who pledged loyalty to Islamic State last year, were still controlling Abadan and Malafatori, two towns near Lake Chad, apart from their main base in the Sambisa forest, south of Maidguri.

The army was planning a new push into Sambisa after abandoning an attempt due to torrential rain, he said.

“Earlier on this year we had a major operation in the Sambisa,” he said. “Gains were made but unfortunately the weather conditions became such that we to pull out waiting for more favorable conditions.”

He said the army had rescued some 20,000 people from Boko Haram, a fraction of the 2.2 million UNICEF said last week remained trapped in the region around Lake Chad.

LEADER “WOUNDED”

Irabor’s base on the outskirts of Maiduguri, a sprawling military complex with rows of residential blocks for officers, is the most visible sign of a shake-up introduced by Buhari, a former military ruler.

Under his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, the army had a reputation for being poorly equipped and running away in the face of Boko Haram assaults.

Britain and other countries have recently increased military assistance, and two Westerners wearing flat jackets could be seen jogging in the compound.

U.S. officials told Reuters in May that Washington, which blocked arms sales under Jonathan amid concerns about rights abuses, wants to sell up to 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to Nigeria although Congress needs to approve the deal.

Irabor has set up a human rights desk to address the issue.

“The code of conduct is quite clear. Human rights issues are taken quite seriously,” he said.

He said that Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau had recently been wounded, but backed off an Air Force statement this month suggesting he had been killed in an airstrike.

“Shekau was wounded. That’s what I can confirm, but as to whether he is dead that I cannot at the moment confirm.”

Boko Haram, which normally communicates via video or audio clips posted on the Internet, has said nothing since the Aug. 24 Air Force statement about Shekau being hurt.

(Editing by Ed Cropley and Louise Ireland)

As Kerry lands in Nigeria, air force says top Boko Haram fighters killed

Boko Haram

By Lesley Wroughton

SOKOTO, Nigeria (Reuters) – Nigeria’s air force said it had killed a number of senior Boko Haram fighters and possibly their overall leader, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived for talks on tackling the militants.

Government planes attacked the Islamist group inside the Sambisa forest in its northeast heartland on Friday, the air force said, adding that it had only just confirmed details of the impact of the raid.

“Their leader, so called ‘Abubakar Shekau’, is believed to be fatally wounded on his shoulders,” the statement by military spokesman Colonel Sani Kukasheka Usman added, without going into details on the source of its information.

Kerry did not make a direct reference to the reported air raid on his arrival on Tuesday, but his administration has paid close attention to the fight against a militant group that has declared allegiance to Islamic State and destabilized a whole region by attacking Nigeria’s neighbors.

On his first stop in the northern city of Sokoto, the top U.S. diplomat said the struggle against Boko Haram would only succeed if it tackled the reasons why people join militant groups and gained the public’s trust.

“It is understandable that, in the wake of terrorist activity, some are tempted to crack down on anyone and everyone who could theoretically pose some sort of threat. But extremism can’t be defeated through repression or fear,” he said.

U.S. PLANES

Nigeria has been pushing the United States to sell it aircraft to take on Boko Haram – a group that emerged in northeast Borno region seven years ago. The militants have killed an estimated 15,000 people in their fight to set up an Islamist state.

Under Nigeria’s last president, Goodluck Jonathan, the United States had blocked arms sales and ended training of Nigerian troops partly over human rights concerns such as treatment of captured insurgents.

But the new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has argued its human rights record has improved significantly enough to lift the blockade.

In May, U.S. officials told Reuters that Washington wanted to sell up to 12 A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft to Nigeria in recognition of Buhari’s reform of the country’s army. Congress needs to approve the deal.

Kerry said Buhari had made “a strong start at all levels of government” since taking office in May 2015, without referring specifically to rights abuses.

Kerry was due to visit Buhari later in the capital Abuja, officials said.

There was no immediate reaction from Boko Haram, which communicates with the media only by videos. The military has reported the death of Boko Haram’s Shekau in the past, only to have a man purporting to be him appear later, apparently unharmed, making video statements.

There have been recent signs of rifts between at least parts of Boko Haram and Islamic State. The global militant organization announced a new leader for what it described as its West African operations this month – an account that Abubakar Shekau appeared to contradict in a later video message.

(Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Heavens)