A BOMB explosion at a market in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri killed at least 50 people on Tuesday, according to a witness who helped evacuate victims from the scene.
“We have been helping to evacuate the corpses and I can say over 50 people died from the attack,” Isa Mohammed, a vigilante militia member, said by phone. “It is the biggest abattoir in Maiduguri and many people were engaged in the buying and selling of animals when the time bomb exploded.”
The bombing, which happened around 12 p.m. in the Borno state capital, was followed after residents heard loud explosions and heavy arms fire in the early morning that subsided around 2 a.m. after a military helicopter, according to Mohammed.
“I asked my family to lie flat as we continuously heard the explosions from all different directions,” Tujja Masa, a resident of Bulumkuttu area of Maiduguri, said. “It felt like it is just beside my house because the explosives are so loud.”
The explosions were heard after Islamists arrived in the Moronti area of Maiduguri city by river but were unable to advance further because of wide ditches and embankments dug by soldiers around the city limits.
They then began shelling Ajillari Cross, about three kilometres (two miles) away at about 12:45 am (2345 GMT Monday). There was no immediate word on damage or casualties.
Maiduguri, the birthplace of Boko Haram, has been under sustained attack since the inauguration of President Mohammadu Buhari on May 29. At least 26 people were killed in the northeast city on May 31 when a suicide bomber detonated explosives in a mosque.
Though a military campaign by Nigeria and neighbouring countries this year has scored victories against the Islamist militant group in the northeast, the group is still waging a six-year-old campaign of bombings and guerrilla warfare.
Boko Haram has killed at least 5,500 people since 2014 in its pursuit to impose its version of Islamic law on Africa’s biggest oil producer, according to Amnesty International.
President Buhari, who succeeded Goodluck Jonathan after winning elections in March, vowed in his inaugural address to defeat Boko Haram, describing the group as “a mindless, godless group who are as far away from Islam as one can think of.”
Buhari has pledged to move the military’s counter-insurgency command centre to Maiduguri, which is the capital of Borno state and has suffered the worst violence in the six-year insurgency.
For Buhari the war against Boko Haram is fast becoming a race against time. He will have to move quickly to stem the militants, or he could be stuck with the image of a fumbler in the face of terrorist attacks that saddled his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan.
The perception that he would better deal with the insurgency, and the corruption that has hobbled the once formidable military in overcoming Boko Haram, was one of the reasons he was able to become the first opposition candidate to defeat an incumbent in Nigeria’s history.
-Reporting by Bloomberg and AFP.