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Nigeria losing control of northeast to Boko Haram

Civilians who fled their homes following an attacked by Islamist militants in Bama, take refuge at a School in Maiduguri, Nigeria, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014. (Jossy Ola/AP)
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A special report issued by the Nigeria Security Network of scholars earlier this week warned the country “is losing control of large parts of the north-east region,” and that, and for the first time in history, Boko Haram was seizing and holding territories across three northeastern states, outside of its known hideouts in the Sambisa and Mandara Mountains.

“If Boko Haram are able to continue seizing territory in Borno, including the state capital, it is likely that almost the entire state will soon fall under the insurgency’s control. This will be the realisation of Boko Haram’s ambition to establish a caliphate in north-east Nigeria,” said the report.

The report listed six territories believed to be seized by Boko Haram since July as well as six other communities in the northeast believed to be seized or heavily contested, including Banki, a town near Cameroon, which was seized on Wednesday by militants.

As the town of Bama was captured by the group, a government council in Gulani, a town in neighboring Yobe state, was taken over by Boko Haram on Wednesday, according to Sahara Reporters, where locals attested that the militants registered their arrival and assured a government ward that they were only there to preach and not harm anyone.

The report by the Nigeria Security Network suggested that the recent campaign for territory may be aimed at establishing a “Boko Haram state” in Borno, with the key goal to take the state capital, Maiduguri.

This marks a worrying new development in an insurgency which Boko Haram has waged for five years, progressing from political propaganda, preaching and rallies to bomb attacks, assassinations and kidnappings after its leader, Mohammed Yusuf, was killed while in police custody in 2009.

The crisis in the north has displaced more than 700,000 people both inside and outside the country, the United Nations refugee agency report, and a worsening humanitarian crisis in the northeast region, which shares porous borders with Niger, Chad and Cameroon, could have a serious impact on regional security.