A massive march in Cameroon’s capital against Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency drew thousands Saturday. The march in Yaounde also garnered support for the Cameroon military, which is fighting alongside armies from other West African nations to defeat the terror group, Reuters reported.
“It was important to tell Cameroonians that we are at war and a part of the country is suffering,” Gubai Gatama, a newspaper editor who was among the march’s organizers, told Reuters. “About 150,000 people have been displaced by the conflict.”
March organizers estimated some 5,000 people participated in the rally Saturday. Protesters chanted and waved flags in support of the regional coalition, Reuters reported.
Soldiers from Cameroon, Chad and Niger have helped Nigerian troops storm Boko Haram’s strongholds in northeast Nigeria. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan claimed the forces have recaptured territory in recent weeks, including the city of Baga near Lake Chad, where Jonathan told residents Thursday the conflict would be over soon, Agence France-Presse reported.
But explosions blamed on Boko Haram killed 86 people in Nigerian towns this week alone, as the March 28 elections — in which the group has vowed to interfere — approach. Experts said the militants are likely to increase these bomb attacks against the coalition efforts in an intensive fight-back. “I think it's safe to say that as multi-national counter-insurgency operations continue in the northeast, Boko Haram will intensify its urban terror campaign," Ryan Cummings, chief Africa analyst at Red24 risk consultants, told AFP.
Critics said Nigeria's claimed successes against Boko Haram are dovetailed to the upcoming elections, in which Jonathan is running for his second term. The country’s elections were postponed for six weeks because of security concerns in Nigeria’s northeast region, which is the epicenter of the Boko Haram insurgency.
The Nigerian army fighting Boko Harm said it could not ensure voters’ safety around the country during the original election dates, the Associated Press reported. Post-election violence in Nigeria’s last presidential race in 2011 killed more than 800 people in widespread protests across 12 northern states, according to international watchdog group Human Rights Watch.
The postponement prompted suspicion that Jonathan and his inner circle are rigging ballots. The ruling People's Democratic Party has been in office since 1999, often through blatant voter intimidation, vote rigging and other illegal practices, according to BBC News.
Boko Haram still controls multiple areas in Nigeria’s northeast, where the group is trying to establish a state based on strict Islamic law. Boko Haram’s six-year insurgency in Nigeria has killed more than 13,000 people. The violence has also displaced hundreds of thousands of Nigerians, according to AFP.