The Defense Headquarters of Nigeria has Tweeted denials of Boko Haram's claim of an "Islamic Caliphate" in Gwoza, but Peter Biye-Gumta, representative of the Chibok/Damboa/Gwoza Federal Constituency of Borno State, confirmed reports of the caliphate in the area that had been mostly Christian.
"He confirmed to me that his whole area has been totally overrun and that Boko Haram now has set up a government, their own government in those areas," Adeniyi Ojutiku, an expert in Nigerian relations, told Baptist Press.
Biye-Gumta is working with Ojutiku's grassroots group, Lift Up Now USA, to establish an Anti-Boko Haram Liaison office in the U.S. to report the struggles of Boko Haram targets and coordinate strategic planning and relief efforts, Ojutiku said.
"Now we are getting from him a perspective that is uniquely different from what we have had before," Ojutiku said, noting Biye-Gumta's status as an elected official in northeastern Nigeria. " actually set up their government. I wouldn't be surprised if they get some financial support from ISIS. I would not be surprised at all, because they have escalated their operation, they've become more sophisticated, they have captured more sophisticated weapons, military tanks and armor. They are just operating in the manner that is so similar to ISIS."
Boko Haram armies are also growing in size, Biye-Gumta reported. The jihadists may be attracting members from outside Nigeria, Ojutiku said.
"He did tell me that when they invaded Gwoza this time, there were so many of them; there were more than 1,000 Boko Haram jihadists, which is very different from what has been happening," Ojutiku said. "He just managed to escape from his house and he would also probably have been dead by now, but for God's protection. He cannot go back to his area; he can't."
The Nigerian government is denying reports of Boko Haram advances, including the establishment of the caliphate.
"That claim is empty," the Defense Headquarters of Nigeria Tweeted Aug. 24. "The sovereignty and terrorist integrity of the Nigerian state is still in tact."
News reports confirm that Nigerian soldiers at times have been forced to withdraw. Boko Haram forced 450 Nigerian soldiers to retreat to neighboring Cameroon Aug. 25 and captured 35 Nigerian police officers at a training camp in remote northeastern Nigeria the previous week, the international news agency AFP reported.
The government denials are an attempt to save face, Ojutiku said.
"The Nigerian government does not want to appear like it has failed the people. They want to appear to be still in charge and be capable of running the government," he said, "because if the information gets out that some portions of Nigeria have been captured and taken by Boko Haram, then that is a serious blight to the capability of the president and the government. So they would rather deny it.
Boko Haram, seeking to establish sharia, or Islamic law, had killed at least 4,239 Christians, moderate Muslims, government officials and civilians in attacks targeting religious communities in northern Nigeria this year, according to a July 29 report by the advocacy group Jubilee Campaign. Hundreds of thousands have been driven from their homes. The terrorists are blamed for 10,000 deaths since 2009, according to an AFP report Aug. 23.
Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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