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Nigeria names defence chief to combat rebels

Goodluck Johnson appoints former general, Aliyu Gusau, to role critical in battle against Boko Haram in northern states.

Last updated: 05 Mar 2014 14:18
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The defence position had been vacant since June 2012, when President Jonathan (C) sacked Mohammed Bello [Reuters]

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has appointed an experienced former general from the Muslim north as his defence minister, as he looks to combat an increasingly bloody armed conflict with Boko Haram.

Analysts said Wednesday's appointment of Aliyu Gusau may lead to a change in strategy in the raging battle against the Muslim rebel group.

The position had been vacant since June 2012, when Jonathan sacked Mohammed Bello following a spate of deadly attacks by Boko Haram.

Gusau, a former chief of army staff, has twice served as Nigeria's national security adviser, from 1999 to 2006 and in 2010 before quitting to challenge Jonathan for the ruling party's nomination ahead of 2011 elections.

"What we have seen is that the Nigerian military cannot defeat Boko Haram with just force," Professor Dapo Thomas, of Lagos State University told the AFP news agency.

"It is all about intelligence now. Because of (Gusau's) background, I cannot think of a better candidate for the defence post," the political and security expert said.

While Gusau's relationship with the president was said to be strained, analysts suggested Jonathan selected Gusau to reshape his strategy to defeat the armed rebels who have already killed 500 this year.

Jonathan replaced his entire military top brass in January and the military has issued statements promising new strategies to combat the group.

But the violence has continued at a relentless pace. 

Late on Monday, suspected Boko Haram fighters burned 11 people to death inside their homes in northeastern Nigeria, where frequent attacks have claimed at least 130 lives in the past four days alone.

The attack on Jakana village in Borno state occurred about 10km from a village where 39 people were killed on Saturday, said Ahmed Zannah, a Nigerian senator.

Violence has escalated in recent weeks in three northeastern Nigerian states that have been under emergency rule for more than nine months.

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