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World

Nigerian President Tells BBC War Against Boko Haram 'Technically' Won

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Nigeria has been fighting a long war against the terrorist group Boko Haram. A think-tank that tracks terrorist deaths says Boko Haram killed more people this year than ISIS. So we were surprised to hear Nigeria's president Muhammadu Buhari say this in an interview with the BBC.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MUHAMMADU BUHARI: Technically we have won the war.

SHAPIRO: Technically we have won the war. The BBC reporter who conducted that interview is Abdullahi Kaura Abubakar, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

ABDULLAHI KAURA ABUBAKAR: Thank you very much.

SHAPIRO: Let's just start with a fact-check. When Nigeria's president told you his army has technically won the war against Boko Haram, did alarms go off in your head or did you think, yes, that sounds plausible?

ABUBAKAR: Well, no alarms went off because I have been following events. And the frequent attacks that we used to hear of by the group on towns and military installations have significantly reduced.

SHAPIRO: He said that the group has been reduced to improvised explosive devices, insurgent attacks. Even that seems like it could do a lot of damage. Is that really having won the war?

ABUBAKAR: Well, yes, these suicide bomb attacks do cause a lot of damages at times. But in recent times, the number of casualties has also significantly reduced. And the IED attacks are not as often as if the group were still that strong.

SHAPIRO: What do you think is responsible for the improvement in the situation after so many years of fighting?

ABUBAKAR: The motivation was not there. The troops used to complain of lack of equipment. And rather than addressing that problem the authorities were calling them cowards, that they were just being afraid of the insurgents, while the truth was that they indeed did not have the necessary equipment to fight the war. So I think what has changed now is that this present government has been able to give them some sort of hardware that is helping them fight the insurgents.

SHAPIRO: While Nigeria's president talks about all of this progress against Boko Haram, this week UNICEF said violence from the group has kept 1 million children out of school. That seems to suggest that this is still a huge problem.

ABUBAKAR: Yes, it is indeed a huge problem because when the insurgents were holding sway they attacked and destroyed so many schools, which forced a lot of these children to stay away from school. And now a lot of these children are living in internally displaced camps. And the government is yet to start the rebuilding of these schools. So that will take some time before it is done and the children are able to go back to school.

SHAPIRO: Abdullahi Kaura Abubakar is a BBC reporter based in Nigeria. Thank you for talking with us.

ABUBAKAR: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.