File photo: Red Cross personnel search for human remains at the site of a car bombing in Jos, Nigeria. File picture: Sunday Alamba

Lagos -

Nigeria faces an open-ended fight against Boko Haram unless it changes its approach to ending the insurgency, according to a new research paper published on Tuesday.

Marc-Antoine Perouse de Montclos, from the French Institute of Geopolitics in Paris, said the military and political response had to change and that “years of mishandled responses” had effectively fuelled the violence.

Restoring the trust of civilians after a string of military human rights abuses is also vital, he added, although he warned that direct foreign military assistance risked spreading the violence beyond Nigeria's borders.

“The purpose of the presence of the armed forces in the northeast needs to change,” Perouse de Montclos wrote in the paper for the Chatham House international affairs think-tank in London.

“Without a reordering of priorities and visible efforts to regain the trust of communities, Nigeria's military will be caught fighting an interminable insurgency.”

Boko Haram has been blamed for thousands of deaths in northern Nigeria since 2009 but the violence has intensified this year with the group's tactics shifting from indiscriminate and retaliatory attacks to more strategic strikes.

That has seen the group target infrastructure and launch brazen attacks to hold territory, and in April, led to the mass abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls, which gave the group a greater global profile.

On August 24, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau declared that the town of Gwoza in Borno state was now part of an Islamic caliphate.

Perouse de Montclos described that statement as “a significant signal that the movement is growing in confidence and ambition,” which he said would need to be met with greater political will, a properly-equipped military and institutional reform.

“Any effort to destroy Boko Haram without complementary strategies for negotiations and sufficient provisions for alternatives to membership of the movement will fail: the sect will simply adapt, move and continue,” he said.

In March, the government's national security adviser Sambo Dasuki announced a new strategy combining military force with “soft power” tactics such as social and economic development in the impoverished north to reduce radicalisation.

The government in Abuja maintains that the programme is on track but Perouse de Montclos suggested the momentum had been lost because of political in-fighting and the military's ability to repel attacks.

Support for negotiations, helping civilians caught up in the conflict and promoting institutional change may be the best way for the international community to help, he added.

Greater military involvement from Nigeria's neighbours Cameroon, Chad and Niger “could incite the movement to open another front” and risked dragging foreign powers into a complicated Nigerian crisis or spreading the violence.

“If foreign nations engage more actively on the ground in Nigeria, they risk exacerbating tensions within the Nigerian army, pushing Boko Haram to truly internationalise and making themselves targets of attacks,” he said.

“International involvement is important but must be measured and appropriate.” - Sapa-AFP