I was born in Borno State and grew up in Yobe State, the group’s epicentre and have family members who still live in the region. I have received three death threats from Boko Haram’s leaders for my work analysing the conflict. But now the joint threat of Boko Haram and Covid-19 terrifies me. Boko Haram’s
I was born in Borno State and grew up in Yobe State, the group’s epicentre and have family members who still live in the region. I have received three death threats from Boko Haram’s leaders for my work analysing the conflict. But now the joint threat of Boko Haram and Covid-19 terrifies me.
Boko Haram’s attacks are a significant distraction for those trying to stop the virus from spreading.
Take Chad. The nation of around 15 million people confirmed its first case of coronavirus on March 19. The pandemic is bringing some of the most advanced health care systems in the world to their knees and Chad only has ten intensive care beds.
But the jihadists are making things far worse. Four days after Chad confirmed coronavirus had come to the country, Boko Haram launched a huge attack killing nearly 100 local soldiers, in one of the deadliest incidents in the country’s history.
The damage was so significant that Idriss Déby, Chad’s dictator of thirty years, was forced to leave the capital and his country’s Covid-19 response behind and rush to Lake Chad with his troops to direct a military intervention.
On the same day in March, at least 47 Nigerian soldiers were killed in a Boko Haram ambush, as the country recorded a sharp rise in confirmed cases of coronavirus.
The head of Nigeria’s army had been preparing his troops to enforce lockdowns, transfer patients to hospitals and prepare for mass burials. But he was forced to leave the army headquarters and mount an offensive against the group.
It is clear that both attacks drew attention away from efforts to fight the virus and forced governments to fight on two fronts with stretched resources.
There is no doubt that Boko Haram recognises the opportunity that Covid-19 offers them. Boko Haram’s breakaway group, Islamic State West Africa Province, recently boasted that the pandemic is an opportunity to step up efforts and expand activities.
In an editorial in Isil central’s bi-weekly Arabic language magazine, it celebrated recent attacks in the Lake Chad region. It said the virus and subsequent economic downturn would divert government attention, weaken capacity and increase fragility, giving its fighters more inroads.
The jihadists have a long history of targeting health and aid workers which will certainly imperil coronavirus testing and treatment efforts in remote areas.
The group has attacked polio immunisation campaigners, executed workers from Action Against Hunger and the International Committee of the Red Cross. If a vaccine were developed, Boko Haram would almost undoubtedly slow distribution in the areas they operate in.
The preachings may also damage the local people’s compliance with health measures and feed into widespread misconceptions about Covid-19.