The dreaded Boko Haram sect has taken its territorial ambition to a higher level by declaring some towns and communities it claims to have captured in Borno and Yobe states part of its Islamic caliphate
| By Olu Ojewale | Sep. 15, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT |
THESE, indeed, are not happy times in Nigeria, the most populous country in black Africa. The country is currently embattled on two major fronts namely, the scourge of Ebola Virus Disease, EVD, and the territorial ambition of Boko Haram, a fundamental Islamic group, which is determined to break up Nigeria in order to establish an Islamic caliphate. While the country is battling to contain the deadly EVD imported into the country by Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian diplomat, on July 20, Boko Haram insurgents have intensified their attacks in parts of Borno and Yobe states with reckless abandon and senseless killings of thousands of Nigerians.
While government seems to have effectively contained the EVD from spreading, the Boko Haram insurgents are getting more daring and ferocious in their operations. To achieve its territorial ambition, the insurgent group has changed from its guerrilla strike operation to an outright battle for territorial control. In the last few days, it has made claims of having conquered some communities which have now become part of its Islamic caliphate. As at press time, no fewer than three of such communities were said to be under the control of the sect.
One of the major embarrassments for the government was the purported claim of its capture of Bama town, the second largest town in Borno State, about 70 kilometres from Maiduguri, its capital city. According to a report by Reuters news agency, the town had been overrun by the insurgents after a fierce battle with the Nigerian military between Monday night and Tuesday morning, September 2. The report said there were heavy casualties on both sides.
The attempt by Boko Haram to expand its Islamic Caliphate to Bama in the North-East, was said to have been met with stiff resistance from the Nigerian military, leading to the death of more than 50 members of the sect. The terrorist group had, about a week earlier, declared Gwoza town part of its caliphate. Its attack on Bama town with a population of about 500,000 residents, was said to have been repelled by Nigerian soldiers in a crossfire that lasted for several hours.
Security sources said 59 out of about 200 invaders fell to the superior firepower and tactics of the soldiers. The source said more than 30 other insurgents were injured while some were reportedly forced to retreat into the bush. But those who did not retreat into the bush fled at top speed via the highway.
Some residents of Bama, who spoke to journalists in Maiduguri, said they woke up early to heavy bombardment as gunshots rented the air. One of the residents said: “Everyone was thrown into pandemonium as we continued to hear deafening gunshots. We later learnt that over 200 Boko Haram terrorists attempted to capture the town. We also learnt that they stormed the town through Bama-Banki-Gwoza Road but they were intercepted by gallant military troops near the Bama Mobile Police Unit located about five kilometres away from the centre of the town. They were believed to have tactically attempted to enter Bama town in a convoy of military vehicles and motorcycles. Dressed in military uniforms, the insurgents were armed with sophisticated weapons and improvised explosive devices, IEDs.”
Reports said during the battle, gunshots were heard and there was heavy sound of explosions from rocket propelled grenades, RPGs, as well as bombs. The sound of explosions forced many residents to flee the town through bush paths and roads to neighbouring villages and towns, including Maiduguri and nearby Konduga.
One Mohammed Bunu Ahmed, another resident of Bama, told journalists on phone from the town that there was an attempt by the insurgents to enter Bama and capture it as they did to Gwoza a few days back. “But thank God for the good efforts of the troops stationed near the Mobile Police Unit who repelled the attack with the assistance of their colleagues from the 21 Brigade of the Nigerian Army. The troops successfully killed over 59 insurgents and injured over 30 of them,” Ahmed said. According to him, the frightening situation had forced many residents to flee to Maiduguri and Konduga, while others have taken refuge in some villages around the town.
Masa Bukar, another resident who fled to Maiduguri, said he woke up that morning to the sound of explosions in the whole town. “As early as 5.00 am, we heard gunshots and RPG shots around the Technical College and Mobile Police Unit along Banki Road. We were advised by the military and the civilian JTF to leave the town in order to allow them confront the insurgents with minimum collateral damage. This made us flee the town.” Bukar disclosed that many fleeing residents of the town stopped along the way in Kawuri or Goniri or Konduga, “but we decided to come straightaway to Maiduguri where the military presence is high. We were very afraid.” Bukar said he expected more people to seek refuge in Maiduguri because of the situation in Bama. He said he saw a convoy of military armoured tanks moving towards the troubled town.
Corroborating Bukar’s report, a resident in Bama, who did not want his name in print, told journalists that the people were excited by the efforts of the military in the area to contain the insurgency especially the relocation of the 21 Armoured Battalion to Bama. He said if it were not for the gallantry of the soldiers, Bama would have fallen to the terrorists. “Even the reinforcement being done by the GOC now is a clear indication that the military is serious and ready to rid the state of the insurgency unlike in the past,” he said.
But Ahmed Zannah, senator representing Borno Central in the National Assembly, has dismissed reports of the purported gallantry of the Nigerian military in repelling the Boko Haram attacks. He said on Wednesday, September 3, that Bama was still under the control of Boko Haram insurgents. According to him, the insurgents have started massacring teenage and adult males in their drive to expand their caliphate in the region. Zannah, who is a native of Bama, told Reuters news agency in a telephone interview that the Islamist fundamentalist sect had also seized Bara, a community in Yobe State.
Zannah is an embittered man. He said following the invasion of Bama town, he had lost two of his nephews during the Monday/Tuesday attacks. “As I am speaking to you, Bama has been captured and the insurgents are on the prowl for any male on sight. Everyone is a target as long as you are a male but for now, women and children are being spared.”
Puncturing the claim by the military authorities that Bama had not been taken over by the insurgents, the senator dared the state government, which also toed the line of the military, to take journalists to Bama to cross-check his claims. “Both the military and Borno State government are lying to Nigerians. To prove that I am the one misinforming the public, let them take journalists to the town to cross-check the fact,” Zannah said.
But a senior military officer who did not want his name in print because he was not authorised to speak, has dismissed Zannah’s claim insisting that Nigerian troops were still in firm control of Bama. He said the insurgents were repelled from Bama with fighter jets and ground troops of the Nigerian Army . The officer added that the military had since deployed more men and weapons in Bama. “The soldiers are in control of Bama and they are in the barracks now. Even the soldiers that came to Maiduguri from Bama who were at Sector 9 and Sector 10 are back there. The commanders have also deployed more men; more arms and ammunition have also arrived, so the soldiers are in the barracks now.
“Last night, two Air Force fighter jets and ground troops were used for the operation which led to their being dislodged from the town. It is not correct to say that only soldiers are there; not all the residents fled to Maiduguri, some that relocated temporarily are back to their houses. The air strike affected only military and security formations where the insurgents launched attacks,” the officer said.
In reaction to Zannah’s challenge, he asked the senator to take journalists to the town himself to do the verification. He said it was easy for politicians to talk and blow their trumpets when they were not the one facing the heat.
Similarly, Zannah Mustapha, deputy governor of Borno State, and Jubrin Gunda, chairman, Civilian Joint Task Force, CJTF, had also dismissed the report of the fall of Bama to the insurgents as false. Addressing a press conference in Maiduguri, Mustapha said the military was in full control of the security situation in the town. Although Mustapha was silent on the casualty figure, he revealed that more than 2,000 people who fled Bama , had been resettled in the National Youths Service Corps orientation camp and the Government Girls Secondary School in Maiduguri. “The attack on Bama yesterday (Monday) was very unfortunate; but I want to reassure our people that government is on top of the situation. Already, those in the camps are being taken care of and our security forces are engaging the insurgents in a fierce battle which is worthy of commendation,” he said.
The deputy governor also appealed to people to desist from creating unnecessary tension in the state. He said: “I am particularly happy with the cooperation we have so far received from Gombe and Adamawa state governments.”
At an earlier press conference in Maiduguri on Tuesday, Gunda had said that 35 insurgents were arrested in Bama. The chairman of the CJTF said the report by some media which quoted Senator Zannah as saying that the town had been overrun by the insurgents should be discountenanced. He said the insurgents only attempted to overrun Bama, but were subdued by the military at the periphery of the town. “However, we want to reassure the citizens of Borno State that, nobody should panic and no one should leave Maiduguri because all that have been said are mere rumours. All citizens should desist from making unguarded and false information which will further frighten the citizens unnecessarily,” Gunda said.
What seems to be incontrovertible, however, was the recent seizure of two towns of Bara and Gulani in Yobe State in addition to Gwarzo in Borno State. In seizing the Yobe towns, the insurgents were said to have killed two policemen after an attack on Toro Local Government Area. The insurgents who reportedly shot and killed the policemen at a mining station in Magama Gumau, also took their guns. “The militants went preaching in the whole town asking people to leave government work and join them to do the work of Allah,” Musa Abdullahi, a trader who escaped from Bara, told Reuters.
In Gulani, the insurgents allegedly occupied the local council secretariat complex and the lodge on Tuesday night. According to residents of the community, the attack recorded no death in the town as the insurgents claimed they came to preach Islam. Gulani is a border town with Buni/Yadi, which was earlier captured by the insurgents. It is about 164 kilometres west of Damaturu, the state capital.
Bukar Isa, a resident of the town, told journalists on Wednesday that “no one of us was killed during the Tuesday invasion. The insurgents have taken over our secretariat complex and lodge by noon, before telling us that they stormed the town not to kill, but preach and do the work of Allah (God), according to the Quran.”
Boko Haram insurgents seem to have a field day in Born and Yobe State because of apparent lack of patriotism and commitment of some members of the Nigerian security community. For instance, the Cameroon Radio Television reported on Wednesday, September 3, that 246 Nigerian soldiers and Customs officers had fled to the far north region of Cameroon during a gun battle with Boko Haram insurgents. It said the 246 Nigerian soldiers and customs officers had been officially handed over to the commander of the Nigerian military operations in the area. The media report quoted official sources as having said the clash was a fall-out of the fighting between Nigerian military and the insurgents at Bama. The report further said that the fighting led to the influx of refugees into the far North region of Cameroon.
Similarly, on Monday, August 25, about 480 Nigerian soldiers fighting the sect members had also fled to Cameroon in what Nigerian military authorities later described as “tactical manoeuvre.” Although the Radio/TV station did not name the Nigerian border town where the battle took place, it reported that 40 insurgents who also fled to Fotokol, the Cameroonian side of the border, were killed when they also engaged the Cameroonian gendarmes in combat. Two vehicles belonging to the militants were destroyed while a gendarme was injured during the encounter.
Apparently irked by the intensification of attacks by the insurgents, Governor Kashim Shettima cut short his official visit to Sudan and the United Kingdom and returned home on Wednesday. On his return, Shettima held crucial meetings in Abuja with appropriate authorities over the happenings in Bama and the rest of the state. He was also said to have approved the formation of a committee to coordinate the distribution of relief materials to the victims of attacks in the state.
Shettima, who left the state about a week earlier, was expected to visit some school authorities and more than 70 students recently sponsored by his administration to study Medicine and Petroleum Geo-Sciences in the UK and Sudan. Isa Gusau, a former media aide to the governor, said: “Shettima returned mainly to provide the needed leadership, be with his people, build public confidence, coordinate relief for victims, step up co-funding and provide psychological support to the military.”
Also on Wednesday, Abubakar El-Kanemi, the Shehu of Borno, called on all Muslim faithful in the troubled state to immediately start a three-day fasting and prayers for the return of peace to the state. El-Kanemi also appealed to Christians in the state not to stop in their prayers so that the insurgents who had invaded Bama could be warded off.
As part of the efforts to end the incessant killings by Boko Haram insurgents, foreign ministers of Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic as well as representatives of the United States, Britain, France, Canada and China met on Wednesday, September 3, in Abuja to draw up new strategies. The meeting also had officials of the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union, ECOWAS and the Organisation of Islamic Countries in attendance.
Part of the resolution at that meeting was that Nigeria, its neighbours and other partners should ensure that the sources of arms supply and funding to Boko Haram were cut off. Participants at the meeting regretted that in spite of efforts by the federal government and its international partners, the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted since April 14, by the sect were still in captivity.
Aminu Wali, Nigeria’s minister of foreign affairs, who briefed journalists after the talks, said the parley underscored the need to effectively address the sources of funding for and the supply of weapons to Boko Haram. “The meeting called for greater cooperation of the international community to assist in tracking these sources with a view to putting an end to these practices and all forms of illegal transfer of arms and ammunition,” he said.
Wali said that the participants also called for strict implementation of relevant UN and other international sanctions against terrorist groups, especially Boko Haram. It similarly called on all concerned to redouble efforts by giving the critical importance of intelligence sharing in the fight against terrorism. The minister said the participants asked for support for the implementation of multi-dimensional measures adopted by the Nigerian government to combat terrorism and called on regional governments and multilateral development institutions to intensify socio-economic cooperation aimed at poverty eradication, economic upliftment and inclusive development.
Earlier on Tuesday, September 2, President Goodluck Jonathan had charged African leaders to take “action-oriented approach” against the activities of terrorists on the continent. Speaking at the 455th African Union Peace and Security Council meeting at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, KICC, Nairobi, Kenya, Jonathan said that the AU had what would take in terms of legal, political and normative instruments to deal with the rising sophistication of terrorists and tasked leaders on the continent to ensure effective use of the instruments.
He regretted the increasing wave of violence perpetrated by Boko Haram, Al Shabbab and Lord Resistance Army, LRA, on the continent. Jonathan, who read the speech of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, chairman of the African Union, at the occasion, also called on African countries to fulfil their earlier commitments with respect to legal measures, border control and exchange of intelligence. He said: “While both member states and the Commission deserve to be commended for their commitment and efforts, nonetheless, much remains to be done. The atrocities that continue to be committed by the terrorist groups active in the Sahel- Saharan region, Boko Haram, the LRA, Al- Shabaab and other terrorist groups, bear testimony to the long road ahead of us.
“The first (solution) relates to the need for enhanced cooperation among member states and between the continent and the rest of the international community. Indeed, the problem we are confronting is global in nature. Terrorists and organized crime syndicates operate in networks that can only be defeated through concerted action and cooperation.
“The African Union and its various instruments and mechanisms provide the framework within which we should combine our efforts and pull together our scarce resources. The second point pertains to the need for action- oriented approach. We are now well equipped in terms of legal, political and normative instruments. The tasks ahead of us will be to ensure their effective implementation. The countries concerned should take the steps required to become parties to the relevant African and international instruments. We should as member states fulfil our commitments and obligations, particularly with respect to legal measures, border control, exchange of intelligence and other related measures.”
Unlike the concern of the international community, Boko Haram insurgency has become a political weapon for opposition politicians in the country. For instance,Ali Modu Sheriff, former governor of Borno State, on Wednesday, September 3, scolded the All Progressives Congress, APC, and Stephen Davies, the Australian negotiator, for linking him with the sponsorship of Boko Haram activities in Nigeria. Addressing a press conference in Abuja, Sherriff lamented that he was wrongly linked with the violent group, as he had no relationship whatsoever with the sect. The former governor claimed that he had been a victim of the assault of the sect because he had lost not less than eight close relatives in the insurgency.
Sherriff, who distanced himself from the activities of Boko Haram, pointed out that he never met the late leader and founder of the group before he was arrested and killed in circumstances that were being investigated by security agencies. He said: “It may interest you to know that it was the government of my predecessor in office, the late Alhaji Mala Kachallah that introduced Sharia law in the state in the year 2000. Interestingly, the late Mohammed Yusuf, leader of the Boko Haram sect, was a member of the Sharia law implementation Committee, among other Islamic scholars.
“If, indeed, there was an agreement between the sect and my predecessor on the issue of Sharia implementation, I am not aware of it, as I was neither in government then nor was I a party to it. Let me state categorically at this point that I do not share the ideology of the Boko Haram sect, which is against western education, western culture and modern science or any other sect with similar ideology.”
Sherriff threatened to sue the APC and Davies for making the allegation against him, without sending his so-called findings to the federal government, which he claimed hired him to do the job. Sherriff said: “”It is rather curious that the campaign against me is becoming more stringent at the time I decided to take Borno into mainstream national politics by joining the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.” Sheriff also said he was ready to face any probe panel that may be set up to investigate the allegations.
The APC had demanded that Sheriff and Azubuike Ihejirika, a retired lieutenant-general and former Chief of Army Staff and others mentioned by the Australian negotiator as sponsors of the Islamic sect, should face trial at the International Criminal Court, ICC, for their alleged complicity in the sponsorship deal. The APC advised President Jonathan on Monday, September 1, to hand over the duo and others for their alleged sponsorship of Boko Haram.
The party, through John Odigie-Oyegun, its national chairman, made the call at a press briefing in Abuja. The party said that the Department of State Security Service, DSS, and the Directorate of Military Intelligence, DMI, could not pretend that they were not aware of their alleged complicity in the matter. “The truth is finally out. We have been vindicated. We have no hand in the Boko Haram insurgency. The raison d’etre of our party is the well-being and security of Nigerians. The sponsors of Boko Haram are within the PDP and the Presidency. They are known friends of President Jonathan. He knows them and they know him.
“The man who exposed these Boko Haram sponsors is a Jonathan-appointed negotiator. He has no axe to grind, neither does he have any motive to shield the APC or portray the PDP/Presidency in bad light. In fact, if he had any sympathy at all, it is for the man who hired him, President Jonathan,” Odigie-Oyegun said.
Both Sheriff and Ihejirika have denied the charge by Davis, 63, who has been working for government to secure the release of more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls abducted from the dormitories since April 14, this year. Worried by the unfolding development, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, in a communiqué at the end of its 10th all editors conference in Katsina, Katsina State, on Sunday, August 31, said the high level of insecurity, insurgency and kidnappings across the country which has created an atmosphere of fear and apprehension, would not guarantee free, fair and credible elections in 2015. It in order to strengthen the nation’s democracy and instil good governance, the current state of insecurity must be addressed with a view to creating a conducive environment for development.”
Indeed, it is generally believed that the insurgence in the North-East is assuming a political dimension because the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, recently warned President Jonathan that unless the Chibok girls were released by October 13, the president should forget about seeking re-election in 2015. But whether that would stop the president from fulfilling his second term ambition is yet to be seen. As at the last count, no fewer than 8, 000 support groups across the country have registered their willingness to enlist in the ongoing campaign for President Jonathan to seek re-election in 2015.
But in view of its political dimension, the Boko Haram attacks in the three North-Eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, are likely to be more intensive than ever before in the weeks and months ahead. For now, the prayer of every Nigerian is that the insurgence should be dealt a fatal before next year’s general elections. That, probably, looks a forlorn hope, but the “good book” makes us to understand that with God, nothing is impossible.