DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Nigeria is just days away from nationwide elections, and the threat from the militant group Boko Haram just seems to be growing. The group has, for the second time in a week, attacked a major city in the Northeast that was the birthplace of the Islamist insurgency. More than six people were reportedly killed in this assault which the military says it was able to repel. We spoke a short while go with NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.
Ofeibea, good morning.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings.
GREENE: This sounds like a really pivotal moment. Tell us exactly what happened.
QUIST-ARCTON: Pivotal is a good word, David, because we're talking about Maiduguri, which is the main city of the Northeast. It's also where Boko Haram was created almost a decade ago and where the insurgency really started five years ago. So trying to take control of this city at this time just before the elections is absolutely crucial, and it's not the first time that Maiduguri has been attacked; it's the second time within a week. We're told that terrified residents fled from their homes and that the insurgents were repelled by the military but especially by vigilantes, but these are volunteers armed with all sorts of crude weapons, you know, from hoes to sticks and to knives. They have been helping the Nigerian army, and we're told that they were out in their hundreds trying to stop this attack.
GREENE: Well, it sounds like, I mean, if these vigilantes, as you describe them, and the military, they were able to repel Boko Haram which has just caused so much violence, could this be a turning point?
QUIST-ARCTON: A big question because Boko Haram has been gaining territory, as you know, in a series of attacks for the past few months. We're told now that they hold territory almost the size of Belgium running along the borders with Chad and Cameroon, and the insurgency has literally spilled over into these countries.
GREENE: I guess, on one hand, we could look at this as perhaps an optimistic turning point. On the other hand, I mean, you mentioned this insurgency is spreading across borders. The African Union is now talking about forming a regional force to try and quell this insurgency. I mean, could this become a wider war with Boko Haram?
QUIST-ARCTON: Well, it already has become a wider war - the fact that Cameroon is trying to quell attacks by Boko Haram, Chad which has unilaterally, with the approval of Cameroon, now entered Nigeria to try and stop the attacks. The neighbors feel Nigeria is not doing enough. So I think it is a turning point in very many ways. But with elections just 12 days away in Nigeria, fingers are being pointed at President Goodluck Jonathan who has visited Maiduguri twice in the past two weeks, but he hasn't been there for two years. The people of the Northeast saying, hundreds of thousands of us have been displaced from our homes because of this insurgency. Why is it only now you're coming? This is a political response, but we want a proper response that is going to end this insurgency so that we can return to our homes. And another question, David, with so many hundreds of thousands of people displaced, are they going to be able to vote in what is considered in the Northeast a mainly opposition stronghold?
GREENE: We've been speaking to NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reporting on what could be a widening war with the group Boko Haram although they have been repelled in one major Nigerian city. Ofeibea, thanks very much.
QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you, David.
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