From Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
Some mortar bombs fired by Boko Haram landed near some children in a densely populated Gwange ward at the heart of Maiduguri, Northeast Borno State. The sound reverberated in most parts of the city. The huge cry from the scene tells more about the extent of tragedy that had occurred.
It was on February 23; around 6:00p.m and most residents were just returning homes after the day’s activities. More deafening sounds from bombs, rocket propelled grenades and artillery guns followed. Security sources said that the firing of artillery guns and infantry firearms by the military troops was to push back the terrorists from causing more havoc or entering the city.
Parents of the children who are victims soon converged on the accident and emergency wards of the state Specialists’ Hospital and University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH). The crowd was unusual even as hospital attendants had hectic time cleaning the blood-stained lobby and evacuating the victims’ torn clothes.
There was pandemonium in the city. Mothers cried while in search of their children while many residents called to ascertain the safety of their loved ones.
“When do we get over this Boko Haram problem,” a middle-aged woman asked rhetorically as she pulled up by the road side apparently unsure if it was safe for her to keep driving home.
Residents said that they sighted some Boko Haram insurgents with their assault rifles around the areas bordering the city outskirts an hour after the gunshots have ceased. Some said that the attack underscores the dire security situation in the state.
In 2017, the military gained significant success in the counter-terrorism operation as more communities were liberated. The insurgents were restricted to around Lake Chad shores where they occasionally entered remote communities in neighbouring Chad and Niger republics.
The daring attacks
Before the February 23 attack on Maiduguri, Boko Haram had recaptured Marte and raided Dikwa, two Borno’s central towns. The two towns were reputed for high production of wheat, rice, tomatoes, pepper and onion. The town was liberated from the terrorists in 2015. Chief of Army Staff, Maj.-Gen Ibrahim Attahiru on February 20 described the attacks as a distraction to military counter-insurgency operation.
“Obviously when troops are making successes, the adversaries will want to distract you. That is exactly the example of what happened at Marte and Dikwa,” the COAS said in an interview with journalists in Maiduguri.
He visited Dikwa the following day and gave order for the clearance of Boko Haram from the area and retaking of Marte.
Sunday Sun reliably gathered that the insurgents laid strings of explosives and mines along roads to Marte before the troops’ clearance operation.
They returned to Dikwa, home to about 100,000 people again last Monday. The attack was initially repelled by the military forces, but the insurgents returned shortly after midnight in a manner described by many as daring.
“We all thought Boko Haram no longer has the capacity to seize or hold on to a territory, but the attack on Dikwa proved otherwise,” Ali Ciroma, a journalist who has been covering the crisis for a decade, told Sunday Sun.
He said that the ease at which the insurgents stayed in Dikwa without confrontation showed that they were daring.
He also said that the earlier pressure mounted on the insurgents by military forces appeared to have waned, a development that gave the terrorists boldness to carry on their act till Tuesday morning.
They, however, left the town before midday, leaving offices of aid organizations, public buildings and hospital in ruins. Scores of aid workers were also trapped in the attack.
Insurgents held talks, shared monies
Residents of Dikwa said that the insurgents came in a gun truck and about a dozen motorcycles, gathered them on Tuesday morning in front of the palace of the traditional ruler where they held talks.
“They said they heard the governor shared money and foods to the people and they have also come to share money,” a resident of Dikwa told Sunday Sun on condition of anonymity.
Some said that the elderly ones in the town were selected by the insurgents as beneficiaries. The newspaper could not authenticate the claim as at press time.
Governor Babagana Zulum had distributed food items and money to the people on Thursday before the attack.
He also told the people to defend themselves against Boko Haram attack.
Aside porous borders in Borno, which encourages free movement of arms, security experts have attributed the lingering Boko Haram crisis to influence of collaborators and informants. They said that many locals have continued to act as enemies within, providing information on troops’ movement and operation. The Dikwa attack, sources claimed, was one of such acts of the enemies within.
Sunday Sun gathered that some residents could be responsible for providing details of vehicle movements along the Maiduguri-Damaturu highway, which often allow precision in the insurgents’ attacks.