ABUJA (Reuters) – Close to 6,000 fighters from the Boko Haram Islamist insurgent group in northeast Nigeria have surrendered in recent weeks, the Nigerian armed forces said on Thursday, attributing the development to the military’s counter-insurgency efforts.
Some 350,000 people have died in the conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian army since it began 12 years ago, according to a United Nations estimate, and the fighting has spilled over to neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
“Within the last few weeks, more than 5,890 terrorists comprising foot soldiers and their commanders have surrendered with their families to own troops in the North East Zone,” said Brigadier General Bernard Onyeuko, spokesman for the armed forces.
He said 565 of the surrendered fighters had been handed over to the government of northeastern Borno State for “further management after thorough profiling”, but gave no further details.
Boko Haram, which acquired global notoriety with the mass kidnapping of schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in 2014, has been in a state of flux due to a conflict with a splinter group-turned-rival, the Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP).
Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, died in May. According to ISWAP, he was fleeing a battle with ISWAP and detonated an explosive device before he could be captured.
Observers expressed uncertainty as to what the repercussions of Shekau’s death might be. The two groups had been fighting each other for control of territory in northeast Nigeria and around Lake Chad.
The Nigerian government and armed forces have in the past made statements about imminent success against Boko Haram, only to have events on the ground to contradict them.
Hundreds of Boko Haram fighters attacked a military post in southern Niger last week, killing 16 soldiers, according to the Niger defence ministry.
At least 26 Chadian soldiers were killed earlier in August by suspected Boko Haram attackers, according to the Chadian army.
(Reporting by Camillus Eboh and Maiduguri Newsroom, writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Bernadette Baum)