Nigeria’s army is planning a makeover for the Sambisa Forest, from being the den of Boko Haram terrorists into a tourist destination.
Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, announced the plan on Wednesday.
“Nigerian Army to collaborate with National Park Service and Borno State Government to turn Sambisa forest to tourist centre to attract tourists into the country – Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Tukur Buratai,” tweeted Bashir Ahmad, President Muhammadu Buhari’s new media aide.
Ahmad did not say how the military plans to attract tourists to Sambisa while it shelters Boko Haram and a military spokesman did not respond to requests seeking comment. Ahmad’s tweet generated about 190 reactions.
Ptresident Buhari and army chief Buratai have said repeatedly the insurgency has been defeated. Recently, the army launched an operation to finally uproot the insurgents from the area.
The insurgency began in 2009 when police killed Boko Haram’s leader, Mohammed Yusuf. Before that, the northeastern state of Borno was popular with tourists. Sambisa itself was a game reserve under and after British colonial rule.
More recently, the thick vegetation which extends for hundred of square miles has provided a haven for the militancy and helped thwart army attempts to eradicate the group.
The 2018 blockbuster movie “Black Panther” gives a nod to Sambisa and Boko Haram as the superhero rescues kidnapped schoolgirls from a militant group in the forest.
Many of the actual Chibok girls were held in Sambisa. More than 100 remain unaccounted for, though investigative journalist Ahmad Salkida has said only 30 remain alive.
It is not the first time Nigerian authorities have mooted turning a Boko Haram site into an attraction.
Last year, Borno state officials discussed turning the group founder Yusuf’s house into a museum. This raised concern it could become a place of homage for Boko Haram’s sympathisers.