President Muhammadu Buhari urged troops to show more commitment in fighting Boko Haram despite scores of losses in a recent assault as he visited the northeastern city of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital on Wednesday.
The visit came a day before Buhari heads to N’Djamena to hold talks on the Boko Haram conflict with his counterparts from Niger and Chad, his office said.
Addressing delegates at an army conference in Maiduguri, the epicentre of the jihadist insurgency, Buhari acknowledged the military had done a lot to secure the volatile region.
“There has been a remarkable improvement in the security situation in the northeast since 2015 when this administration came to power and you are part of it,” he said.
But defeating Boko Haram was “a must-win war,” insisted the 75-year-old retired general who will seek a second four-year term in February’s elections.
“Our troops must not be distracted. They should be committed to the task of eliminating Boko Haram from the face of the earth.”
The conference had initially been due to take place in Benin City in the south, but it was moved to Maiduguri to honour the soldiers that were killed 10 days ago in an attack on a nearby military base, he said.
There has been an upsurge in deadly attacks on both military and civilian targets in recent months, despite government claims the jihadists are on the verge of defeat.
AFP has reported at least 17 attempts to overrun army bases since July.
Many of the attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), a faction of Boko Haram.
In the latest attack on November 18, at least 43 soldiers were killed in Metele, although troops who survived put the death toll at more than 100.
Buhari praised the fallen soldiers for their “heroic sacrifices” and pledged work with partners in the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJT) to end the conflict.
The MNJT comprising Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin was set up to fight the Islamists in Lake Chad.
Nigerian Defence Minister Mansur Dan-Ali said he was in Chad and Niger this week for talks with his counterparts on the Boko Haram issue.
“My recent visit to Niger and Chad… was to meet with their defence ministers on how to strengthen the operational capabilities of the MNJT to achieve peace and security of the countries in Lake Chad,” he said in Maiduguri.
Dan-Ali said the MNJT would address the circumstances that led to the attack in Metele and come up with “new ideas and strategies” to prevent a recurrence.
Security analysts say there must be a change of tactics if the fight against the jihadists is to succeed.
They believe Nigeria’s regional partners are not doing enough to secure their common frontiers against the insurgents.
The nine-year Boko Haram jihadist rebellion has claimed more than 27,000 lives and forced at least 1.8 million to flee their homes, sparking a dire humanitarian crisis in the region.