On Monday 19 January the ultra-Islamist Boko Haram crossed the border from Nigeria into northern Cameroon and attacked villages, kidnaping eighty people, mostly children.
This latest attack is part of a bid by the group to carve out an Islamic state in north-east Nigeria. In the last five years around 16,000 have been killed and 1.5 million displaced. Boko Haram now control 20,000 square miles of territory, an area the size of Belgium.
Boko Haram have stepped up their attacks as Nigeria’s presidential election approaches (14 February); their attacks have included using children as suicide bombers.
The electoral contest is between incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, and the former military ruler, Muhammadu Buhari.
Boko Haram may be modelling itself on Islamic State (ISIS) and figure they can enjoy the same “success”. But the movement is also a criminal gang, profiting from theft, extortion and kidnapping which by their own account is in fact slave raiding. And there is also a ethnic-exclusive element to the group. Boko Haram’s unofficial headquarters is in the town of Gwoza in Borno state, the homeland of the Kanuri people, to which the group’s leader Abubakar Shekau belongs.
Neighbouring African states are beginning to prepare a military response to the Boko Haram threat. Cameroon has deployed thousands of additional troops to its border with Nigeria and has called on the Chad government to provide additional troops. Chad is one of the stronger military powers in the region. The African Union is due to discuss creating a special force to fight Boko Haram.
Why has the Nigerian government, which benefits from huge oil wealth and which has at its disposal one of the strongest armies in Africa, not been able to contain Boko Haram? Deeply entrenched and thorough-going corruption.
The government claim to have launched ground action backed by air strikes to reclaim the area Boko Haram now control. But in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, Nigerian soldiers trying to defend the city (and still holding it), say they are inadequately armed against Boko Haram’s sophisticated weapons.
Last year, the federal government allocated 20 per cent of its budget to the armed forces — over £4 billion. A large proportion of the military budget simply disappeared into the pockets of senior officers.
Despite being the headquarters of the 7th division, Maiduguri lives under the constant threat of attack. It has become home to about 10,000 Catholic refugees.
• More on the Nigerian election here