WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan says fighters from Boko Haram, the extremist group that controls large areas of northeastern Nigeria, have traveled to the Middle East for training with Islamic State militants.
In an interview with VOA Wednesday, President Jonathan said he long suspected Boko Haram of having alliances with international extremist groups. "We know the links are there,” he said. “But even now, we may not know the degree of linkages as to how much funds are coming in from them, the kind of volume of weapons coming in from them.” What he knew, the president told VOA reporter Chris Stein, is “that some of the Boko Haram members go to have their training in the ISIS camp and come back.” He declined to name the countries where the fighters have allegedly trained.
Jonathan’s interview with VOA came less than three weeks before the March 28th presidential vote. His main opponent is retired General Muhammadu Buhari, who ruled Nigeria from the end of 1983 to August 1985.
Election officials postponed the vote from its original date in mid-February because the military said it couldn’t provide enough troops to guard the polls. Since then, Nigerian soldiers along with troops from neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger have pushed Boko Haram out of many towns and villages they occupied in the country’s northeast.
In the interview, Jonathan credited both the intervention of Nigeria's neighbors as well as the acquisition of new weapons for turning the tide against the militants. He also responded to criticisms that the foreign troops aren't being allowed to push into Boko Haram strongholds deep in Nigerian territory. He said restrictions on foreign troops were matters of coordination.
Jonathan dismissed the suggestion that Boko Haram’s insurgency has come to define his time in office. While he acknowledged it is the number one security issue Nigeria has as a nation, he said “definitely you cannot define us by Boko Haram.”
Jonathan predicted that the northeastern states of Yobe and Adamawa would be cleared of Boko Haram before the middle of next week and expressed the hope neighboring Borno State, where the group started, will be cleared in the next three weeks.
His electoral opponent, General Buhari, told VOA last week he is not surprised that Nigerian soldiers have started to push Boko Haram out of areas the militants had captured, but he attributed these advances to pressure caused by the presence of foreign forces. The joint operations with Chad, Niger and Cameroon, he said, forced the government to get more sophisticated weapons to Nigerian troops.