By Phil Hazlewood ,AFP
LAGOS, Nigeria — Boko Haram’s seizure of a key town and military base in Nigeria’s far northeast has tightened its grip on the region, undermining efforts to tackle the insurgency, experts said on Tuesday. The capture of Baga and the headquarters of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) now means the Islamists control all three of Borno state’s borders with Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Analysts said that as a result, the militants were in a better position to launch fresh attacks both within Nigeria, including against the key city of Maiduguri, and across borders. ��The capture of Baga is of enormous significance,�� Abdullahi Bawa Wase, a Nigerian security analyst who tracks the Boko Haram conflict, told AFP. ��It has put a lie to the Nigerian government claim that it is on top of the situation. It is a serious symptom of defeat on the side of the government.�� Boko Haram has had Baga in its sights for months, as it was said to be one of the last towns in northern Borno under federal government control. The militants have seized more than two dozen towns in northeast Nigeria in the last six months in their quest to establish a hard-line Islamic state. With Baga the latest to fall, Boko Haram has effectively encircled the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, where it was founded in 2002 and which has been repeatedly attacked. Analysts assessed that the group’s control of border areas potentially secures it important supply lines for weapons as well as a wider recruitment base to replenish its ranks. ��Their next move is predictable, which is expanding their territory southwards,�� said Wase.
Strategic Town The loss of Baga not only reinforces long-held doubts about Nigeria’s inability to tackle the insurgency but fears about holding national and state elections next month. The main opposition party has said the overall result could be in doubt if tens of thousands of voters are disenfranchised because of the violence. International Crisis Group senior Nigeria researcher Nnamdi Obasi said the fall of Baga on Saturday ��dims the already bleak prospect of holding any elections in northern Borno state next month.�� Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst for risk consultants Red24, added that the attack could signal the start of an increase in violence before the ballot. To do so ��would undermine the inclusiveness and legitimacy of the vote,�� he said.