MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Thousands of Nigerian hunters, armed with charmed amulets and intimate knowledge of harsh terrain, are preparing an offensive against the Boko Haram extremists who have ravaged the northeast for a decade, calling it “high time” they help soldiers end the deadly insurgency.
Nigeria’s government discouraged a similar offensive five years ago, calling it a suicide mission. This time it has the backing of the governor of Borno state, which has suffered the worst of the Boko Haram attacks.
It is a sign that Nigerian authorities, who have repeatedly claimed the defeat of Boko Haram, might be running out of options against the extremists and a recent offshoot that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group.
Borno state’s new Governor Babagana Zulum, who inherited the conflict after winning election earlier this year, said he is tired of applying conventional strategies against an extremist group that has killed and abducted tens of thousands of people and displaced millions. The unrest has created a vast humanitarian crisis.
The governor recently approved the sourcing of at least 10,000 hunters to help end the fighting.
Government spokesman Isa Gusau confirmed that the governor has decided to “aggressively explore every lawful means necessary in trying to put an end to the insurgency” after consultations with key stakeholders including elders and traditional rulers.
“We need all the prayers we can get, given the task ahead,” Gusau said.
The hunters are separate from the civilian self-defence forces that have sprung up in northeastern Nigeria to combat the Boko Haram insurgency. Usually inheriting their vocation, the hunters are seen as the only group with intimate knowledge of the forests and other terrain in the vast region near Lake Chad. They see their charms and amulets as protection from attack.
Associated Press visited the camp where about 2,000 hunters have been waiting ahead of their march into the Sambisa forest and other Boko Haram hideouts.
More than 5,000 are being mobilised from Nigeria and regional countries including Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, said one leader of the hunters, Baba Maigiwa.