The spate of Boko Haram attacks on different parts of the country is giving Nigerians a lot of concern and anxiety as to whether the war will ever end
| By Olu Ojewale | Jul. 14, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
IF ONE of the objectives of Boko Haram, a fundamentalist Islamic terror group, was to instil fears in the country, it appears to be succeeding. In the past few weeks, the Islamic terror group has stepped up its assaults on easy targets and carried out daring attacks in which many people have been killed and several others injured. The sect has also promised that the attacks would not be restrained.
One of its latest bombings was carried out in Maiduguri, Borno State capital, on Tuesday, July 1. The number of casualties was still uncertain as at press time. Some reports said about 50 people were killed while others put the figure at 20. In any case, the attack on the Monday Market, took everyone by surprise. Witnesses said some people noticed an abandoned Peugeot 505 saloon car with charcoal parked at the market and called the attention of the civilian Joint Task Force, JTF, to it. Apparently unaware that the car was wired with Improvised Explosive Devices, IEDs, the vehicle exploded as members of the task force approached it to find out why it was parked there. About 15 members of the group as well as many other market men and women in the area were said to have been killed. “The IEDs were concealed under bags of charcoal in a Peugeot 505 saloon car, which was parked by a suspected Boko Haram member in the busy area. Some people, who noticed the vehicle parked and abandoned in the area were suspicious and decided to alert some Civilian JTF men. Unfortunately, when about 20 of the Civilian JTF
men approached the vehicle, it exploded, leaving about 16 of them dead as well as 30 innocent civilians while 68 people, including the Civilian JTF men were also seriously injured. They were all rushed to various hospitals in Maiduguri for treatment. The people, who parked the vehicle knew that the area was a busy place for all kinds of traders as well as people who pass through the place on their way to their offices,” one the injured persons said. Another witness who did not want his name mentioned for security purpose said he saw the owner of the vehicle parked at the wrong place, alighted and disappeared into the crowd. “When we realised that the vehicle was parked wrongly, we were suspicious and began to look for the owner but to no avail; we, therefore, asked some of us to volunteer and push it to a normal parking space along the road. When we realised that the owner had locked the two doors and wound up the glass we were left with no option than to leave it where it was. When I left the place and was about 200 metres away, I heard an explosion apparently from the vehicle which scattered everywhere with mangled bodies of human beings.”
The bomb which rocked Maiduguri’s largest roundabout near the crowded Monday Market also destroyed several stores and food items, while several vehicles and tricycles went up in flames. The explosion was said to have occurred at about 7:00 am at the El-Kanemi Round -About, in the Monday Market, which is about 40 metres away from the office of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, in Maiduguri.
Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State visited the scene of the explosion after leaving the Maiduguri Specialist Hospital and the Umaru Shehu General Hospital in Bulumkutu, where most of the victims were receiving treatment. Shettima condemned the perpetrators of the heinous act, describing it as anti-Islamic, barbaric and wickedness against humanity. He said further: “In the period of Ramadan, which is a holy month for prayers and fasting and total submission to Allah, some miscreants choose to use the period to cause havoc to lives and property; it is very unfortunate.”
While the confusion caused by the explosion in Maiduguri was still going on, there was an explosion around the Asikolaye/Bakin Ruwa area, along the Kaduna western bypass, late on Tuesday. The casualty figure was not available as at the time of this report although witnesses said many were killed and several injured. The explosion reportedly shattered the glass windows of some of the surrounding buildings.
Umar Shehu, commissioner of Police in Kaduna State, who confirmed the incident, said the blast caused no death. According to him, only two people were injured. Suleiman explained that the bomb was planted near a makeshift shop where provisions were sold but that it was unlikely that the casualty figure would be high since many people had gone for prayers at a nearby mosque.
As if that was not bad enough, there was also a bomb blast in Ile-Ife, Osun State, on the same Tuesday, July 1. Police said that the low-calibre bomb went off in the Onipetu area of the town around 4.00am but nobody was killed because the police was able to deactivate it before detonating. “They were grenades of low calibre. The first one exploded and the other was defused. It happened in an isolated place, so it did not kill nor injure anybody. We have visited the scene and we are investigating the matter,” Ibrahim Maishanu, commissioner of Police in Osun State, was quoted as saying.
Speaking to journalists on Wednesday, July 2, Maishanu said Boko Haram had not made any incursion into the South West. He said the detachment of police that went to investigate the explosion found a banger and not a deadly explosive or bomb. He said the banger went off in an area predominantly occupied by social miscreants and hoodlums, who usually scared people before dispossessing them of their belongings. The police boss insisted: “There is no threat to life and property, peace and tranquillity in the state. Osun is one of the most peaceful states in the country and we have one of the lowest crime rates. There is no confusion or panic anywhere. There is no threat of terrorist attack anywhere in the state.”
But the same cannot be said about what happened in Lagos State on Wednesday, June 25. On the night of that Wednesday, the state had a dose of terror attacks when a car explosion occurred in Apapa. Between four and seven persons were killed and several others injured in the attack which was meant to ignite several gasoline depots at the Folawiyo tank farm facility. The explosion could have triggered off a massive inferno and inflicted casualties in a horrifying scale as well as damage to properties in Apapa area, which is both a residential area as well as the hub of economic activities, including shipping, manufacturing and petrochemical storage depots. But the quick intervention of the fire service and other security services, the fire was put off. A female suicide bomber was said to have driven a Mercedes Benz car that caused the explosion.
A source said: “We were reliably informed that a lady dressed in hijab had fled the scene after, perhaps, detonating the IED and entered a car that was parked strategically at Alex Junction. Minutes after the first explosion, the second one occurred almost immediately at that same junction.”
Before the attack, the United States was said to have already warned its citizens of a planned suicide attack in Lagos. “There is a plan by terrorists to launch a deadly attack on one or two densely populated spots in Lagos. Sheraton Hotels Lagos, Nigeria’s main commercial hub, which attracts many foreign business people and which, so far, has been spared by the country’s violent Islamist militants, may have been slated as one of the targets.”
President Jonathan was said to have been briefed about the true position of the Apapa blast, which forced him to cut short his African Union, AU, head of governments’ meeting in Equatorial Guinea and made a brief stopover in Lagos to get briefing on the blast at Apapa. The Presidency was said to have been told by the US operatives that a warning to this effect had been issued since April, 2014.
Making reference to the incident while celebrating his 51st birthday on Saturday, June 28, at the commissioning of the ‘Fountain of Life Church’ main auditorium, led by Taiwo Odukoya, a pastor, in Ilupeju, Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, urged residents to be vigilant and engage any stranger in their neighbourhood to know the reason for his visit to the community. “We will overcome the challenges by being vigilant and adaptive. By asking questions of things that are not normal; things that failed to follow the original conduct of human behaviour; by asking questions from people who are strangers in our midst, seeking to know where they came from and what their purpose was among us. We must no longer keep quiet. I am sure that if we do these simple things, all will be well with us,” Fashola said.
With various attacks recorded in different parts of the country, the Boko Haram insurgents are, no doubt, causing a lot of anxiety and fears across the country with their threats and sheer intimidation. Besides, the sect has promised not to limit its terror campaign to the North. The fear of a possible attack on the venue of the national conference by the sect gripped the members on Monday, June 30, when Mike Ozekhome, SAN, a delegate, said he had received a message on his telephone of a possible attack on members in Abuja during the week. Ozekhome read out the message which said: “News got to us that our enemy is planning something bigger than Nyayan bomb blast between Tuesday and Wednesday in Abuja. Mind your movement and be careful. The date is still unknown. Please, pass it around to save loved ones.” Instantly, the issue became a topic of discussion among conference members who wondered when the bombings would stop. One of the delegates remarked: “We are in trouble in this country. Bombings everywhere. When will this stop? Even here, we don’t know what is going to happen. Things are very bad in this country. Things are very bad.”
The same fear of terror attack was heightened in some parts of the South-East on Sunday, June 15, following the arrest of 486 persons suspected to be Boko Haram members in Abia State.
The suspects, including eight women, were said to have been arrested along the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway by soldiers attached to the 144 Battalion of the Nigerian Army, Asa, in Ukwa West Local Government Area. Their arrest occurred some hours after security operatives detonated improvised explosive devices planted in the premises of a branch of the Living Faith World Bible Church (a.k.a. Winners Chapel) in Owerri, Imo State.
Rasheed Omolori, a lieutenant colonel and commander of the 144 Battalion, Nigerian Army, who announced the suspects’ arrest, told journalists at a news conference that his men intercepted a convoy of 33 buses conveying the 486 suspected insurgents aged between 16 and 24 around 3:00 am on Sunday. The suspects, according to him, claimed to have come from different parts of the North in search of jobs. Omolori claimed that two of the 33 buses escaped with their occupants and that the incident had been reported to the Defence Headquarters in Abuja.
Before the arrest, the South-East governors had paid a solidarity visit to President Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja during which they pledged not to allow Boko Haram to attack the zone. It is now evident that President Jonathan will require more than such assurance to save the nation from being run over by Boko Haram insurgents. According to analysts, Nigeria would also need the support of the international community to win its war against the terror group. The cooperation appeared to have started in June 2012, when the United States’ government imposed sanctions in on Abubakar Shekau, the terror group leader, who dismissed it as an empty gesture.
In June this year, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions against the leader of the Islamist militant organisation and Ansaru, its splinter group. A month after, the powerful UN body designated the dreaded outfit as a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda. The Security Council’s al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee approved the addition of Shekau and Ansaru to its list of individuals and entities subject to the targeted financial sanctions and the arms embargo. “The Committee stresses the need for robust implementation of the Al-Qaeda sanctions regime as a significant tool in combating terrorist activities, and urges all member states to participate actively by nominating for listing additional individuals, groups, undertakings and entities which should be subject to the sanctions measures,” a statement said.
As a result of the new listings, any individual or entity that provides financial or material support to Ansaru and Shekau, including the provision of arms or recruits, is eligible to be added to the Al-Qaeda Sanctions List and subject to the sanctions measures.
The statement added that under Shekau’s leadership, Boko Haram has maintained a relationship with the Organisation of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM, and gained knowledge on the construction of improvised explosive devices from AQIM.
A number of Boko Haram members fought alongside al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Mali in 2012 and 2013 before returning to Nigeria with terrorist expertise. But it appears that cutting off the sources of funding for the extremist group has not made any impact on its activities. Reuters, an international wireless medium, reports said that Shekau had been able to avoid detection because he had been using “hard-to-track human couriers to move cash, relying on local funding sources and engaging in only limited financial relationships with other extremist groups. It also has reaped millions from high-profile kidnappings.
“Our suspicions are that they are surviving on very lucrative criminal activities that involve kidnappings,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, was quoted as saying in an interview. Although the US officials have been reluctant to discuss the issue, the wireless news medium said the US had stepped up its cooperation with Nigeria to gather intelligence on Boko Haram. “But the lack of international financial ties to the group limits the measures the United States can use to undermine it, such as financial sanctions. The U.S. Treasury normally relies on a range of measures to track financial transactions of terrorist groups, but Boko Haram appears to operate largely outside the banking system. To fund its murderous network, Boko Haram uses primarily a system of couriers to move cash around and inside Nigeria and across the porous borders from neighbouring African states,” the Reuters report said further.
For instance, the group was said to have made $3.15 million when it snatched a Frenchman, Tanguy Moulin-Fournier, his wife, four children and his brother while they were on holiday near the Waza national park in Cameroon, close to the Nigerian border, in February last year. Their release was negotiated by French and Cameroonian negotiators before the hostages were released.
Apart from that, Boko Haram is widely believed to be receiving support from wealthy individuals and religious sympathisers inside the country. But contrary to the federal government’s posture that it would reveal those behind the group, this has not happened. Some analysts believe that Boko Haram operations have been so deep-seated that it does not require huge amounts of money any more. According to them, this would make tracking and intercepting funds meant for its operations very difficult or even disrupt its campaign.
According to Peter Pham, a Nigerian scholar at the Atlantic Council think-tank in Washington, Boko Haram has developed “a very diversified and resilient model of supporting itself. It can essentially ‘live off the land’ with very modest additional resources required,” he told a congressional hearing on June 11. Besides, Pham said in an interview that Boko Haram was not interested in high sophisticated weapons as wrongly believed.
“We’re not talking about a group that is buying sophisticated weapons of the sort that some of the jihadist groups in Syria and other places are using. We’re talking about AK-47s, a few rocket-propelled grenades, and bomb-making materials. It is a very low-cost operation,” Pham told Reuters.
The assessment seems to have corroborated what Mike Omeri, coordinator, National Information Centre, disclosed on Monday, June 30, that the Nigerian military has more sophisticated weapons than the radical Islamist sect. The coordinator, who made the assertion while speaking at a news conference in Abuja, refuted insinuations in some parts of the country that Boko Haram was more geared than the Nigerian Army.
Notwithstanding the superior firepower, the militants are also said to be paying few naira notes to local youths to track and report on Nigerian troop movements. Besides, a study has revealed that much of Boko Haram’s military hardware were not bought, but stolen from the Nigerian military. A case in point was the raid by its fighters on a remote military outpost on Gwoza hills in North-Eastern Borno State, where they allegedly looted 200 mortar bombs, 50 rocket-propelled grenades and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. In some of such raids, the militants were said to have swept soldiers aside by driving trucks, motor bikes and even stolen armoured vehicles and by firing rocket-propelled grenades.
All these seem to have helped the militants’ daring moves in recent months in which hundreds of innocent Nigerians have been killed. Besides, the group has more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls abducted on April 14, this year, in its custody. Despite the security challenges, President Goodluck Jonathan has said that no stone would be left unturned to reinforce the nation’s defence against terrorism. Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Honorary International Investor Council, HIIC, meeting at the Banquet Hall of the State House, Abuja on Monday June 30, Jonathan, who was represented by Vice President Namadi Sambo, said his administration was committed to securing the lives and property of Nigerians and others resident in the country.
He said: “This administration remains committed to ensuring security of the lives and property of Nigerians and all those that reside in this country. Our security forces are confronting terrorism and insurgency that seeks to undermine the security of the nation. We will remain unyielding and will continue to reinforce our defences so as to rid the country of terrorism and the forces of evil that threaten our peace and development.”
To that extent, Vanguard newspaper would like every Nigerian to join hands together against the insurgents. In its editorial of Monday, June 30, the paper said: “The choice of soft targets like schools, markets, entertainment centres and churches has become a signature of these attacks. The terrorists want attention, and bigger headlines. Our security agencies need to do more. Failure of intelligence and armed actions against terrorists are not as bad as the unwillingness of many top Nigerians who can exert pressure on them to do so.
“We cannot bring terrorists to account when we place personal and political considerations above millions of lives at risk. The lives at risk could be anyone’s as the indiscriminate attacks .have proved. The war against terrorists can be won when we are pulling together. Any group that can murder so mindlessly, including children, is a risk to everyone, even to its avowed supporters.”
Ebongabasi Ekpe-Juda, a security expert, said the situation has gone beyond security matter. He said Nigerians should expect more attacks from the militant group as the nation moves towards 2015 general elections. “We should expect more of such attacks the day President Jonathan announces that he wants to run for a second term. They have politicised the Boko Haram insurgency and we should not expect a quick fix as long as Nigerian politicians want to wrestle power from President Jonathan. My counsel is that we should stay away from crowded areas. The insurgents have infiltrated the South; they are just waiting for an appropriate time to strike.”
That assertion is not likely to give Nigerians any hope that the war against the insurgents will end soon. But whatever the case may be, Nigerians can take solace in what Wole Soyinka, a Nobel laureate and professor of literature, told Reuters in a recent interview in which he asserted that Nigeria would not break up on account of religious intolerance foisted on the nation by the Boko Haram sect. Soyinka said the horrors inflicted by the Boko Haram insurgents had shown Nigerians across the mostly Muslim north and Christian south that sticking together might be the only way to avoid even greater sectarian killings. “I think, ironically, it’s less likely now. For the first time, a sense of belonging is predominating. It’s either we stick together now or we break up, and we know it would not be in a pleasant way,” Soyinka said adding: “The (Boko Haram) forces that would like to see this nation break up are the very forces which will not be satisfied having their enclave. (We) are confronted with an enemy that will never be satisfied with the space it has.”