Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
Thick smoke from heavy firing by Boko Haram filled the sky as the insurgents pushed to enter Maiduguri, the capital of Northeast Borno State from the outskirts five hours after President Mohammadu Buhari left the city.
President Buhari departed Maiduguri at about 4:00p.m after a sympathy visit to the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Garbai El-Kanemi, and the people, over the recent massacre of about 30 travelers at Auno, a serene community on Borno highway.
He had promised to tackle the escalation of terror attacks in the Northeast. But as dusk approached, Boko Haram struck again through the Jiddari area in the southern axis of the city. It was the 12th attempt since 2013, when the insurgents’ group was forced out of the capital by the state-backed youth volunteers, Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF).
The streets were chaotic. Dozens of motorists drove pass hundreds of fleeing residents in neck-breaking speed. Mothers held their children as they scampered for safety. Some men were seen with few luggage moving into different directions apparently not sure of their destinations. Some children, unguarded by any adult, wandered aimlessly amid the confusion. The sporadic gunshots were still intense and no one could tell the exact point where the insurgents were firing from.
“The shooting is much, it could worsen. I can’t take any chance,” Musa Tella, a trader in the city suburb, said.
Some military vehicles with troops speeded off along the Jiddari Polo road. Special Police force and CJTF men followed few minutes later. Residents said they were gripped with fears and uncertainty.
“Kai!” an old man who was nearly knocked down by a tricycle while running, raised an alarm. “When are we going to experience peace in this land?” he asked the teenage boy who helped to pull him up from the ground. There was no reply.
Boko Haram has renewed attacks on major highways and on vulnerable communities in about two months now. It raided Kwarangulum near Chibok in southern part of Borno on Tuesday and reportedly abducted some locals. Before then, it attacked communities in Askira-Uba Local Government, in the same area. The insurgents also turned to Maiduguri-Damaturu highway, where they carried out about seven attacks, including the February 9 Auno attacks on travellers. All these, residents said underscored that insurgency was far from being over. They said the crisis could linger on for a longer time than they earlier thought.
“This thing (Boko Haram) is not defeated. There are indications it may continue in the next five years, God forbid,” Kachalla Mohammed, an ex-security personnel told Sunday Sun.
He cited similar situation in Mali, Afghanistan and other countries struggling with terrorism, saying that the Boko Haram war has become a wall, overshadowing quick return of peace to the Northeast.
ISWAP/Lake Chad factor
Many Nigerians are unaware that the Lake Chad region, a very vast agricultural area, which thrusts into Nigeria (in the Northeast) and her neighbours, Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Mali with their peculiar porous borders, has become attractive to the IS, Islamic State; the international terror group, especially after the group was squeezed out of their stronghold in the Middle East.
Theatre Commander of the counter-terrorism war in the Northeast (Operation Lafiya Dole), Maj.-Gen Olusegun Adeniyi warned about this. “We can’t pretend about this. IS and its baby ISWAP may be finding the Lake Chad region for hibernation having been dislodged from the territories they once held,” he said.
The Lake Chad region, with its peculiar features, covers approximately 6, 875 square miles (about 17, 800 square kilometers).
Adeniyi said that more military and economic cooperation are required by member-nations of Lake Chad Basin to ensure the terror group do not find the area their abode as is being reportedly taunted by IS and its offshoot, ISWAP. “We must go beyond rhetorics,” he warned.
He, however, maintained that Boko Haram has been “militarily degraded,” pointing out that the current security situation in Borno and Yobe states was not sign of escalation of the violence, but Boko Haram’s move to create fears.
“It is not as if the Boko Haram has returned, but what we are witnessing now is an attempt to create fears,” he said at a recent briefing with journalists.
“They have been militarily degraded and now back to their first love of kidnapping for ransom, hit and run attacks. They can no longer hold territory,” he added.
For one, Boko Haram does not hold any territory in the Northeast. In fact, military sources said that sustained offensive against the insurgents have forced them out of their enclave moving to different locations to carry out attacks on vulnerable communities.
Poverty, poor infrastructure persist
Chairman, Network of Civil Society Organisations in Borno, Ahmed Shehu said that poverty and absence of basic infrastructure were prolonging the violence, adding that many youths often join Boko Haram because they saw it as an alternative to the present condition.
“The crisis has existed longer than necessary and this is because of its complexities. There is issue of survival strategy due to long years of bad governance. People do not have assess to basic needs of life; foods, water, medication and Boko Haram is using these to enlist more youths,” Shehu said.
He said that about seven million people are currently affected by the crisis in the Lake Chad region.
He also said that failure to improve infrastructure in the Northeast, create more employment for the million of unemployed youths, improve education and agriculture could aggravate the already worsening security situation in the area.
Alleged foreign conspiracy
Like most residents of Borno and Yobe states, Shehu said that he believes in the claim of foreign conspiracy theory in the lingering Boko Haram war. “There are claims that some foreigners in international humanitarian organizations in the Northeast may be working to undermine Nigerian security in the Lake Chad to decimate stability of the most populous African black nation ahead of some French-speaking countries.
“We can rule out truth in this claim, but I cannot also confirm it. There was a time some Nigerians protested in Abuja, alleging France was tactically supporting Boko Haram,” Shehu said.
France colonized Chad, Niger and Cameroon, Nigerian neighbours with less Boko Haram attacks. Security sources said the insurgents were known to hibernate in the northern parts of these countries where they plan attacks in the Northeast states.
CJTF ex-state Coordinator, Abba Khali urged the Federal Government to ignore some of the foreign organizations in the country.
“The military has been trying and they have achieved a lot in the counter-insurgency war, but in most cases, the foreign interest is the problem. Imagine Amnesty International will not say anything when Boko Haram set fire on civilian and their houses or slaughter people and soldiers, but when soldiers kill Boko Haram or their informants. You will then be talking of human rights,” he said.
Experts on crisis and conflict situation identified group or individual economic benefits as one of the direct consequences of war. While Boko Haram is believed to be using ransom collected on its abductees to finance its terror activities, there are allegations that some individuals in the system may also be profiting from the insecurity.
Sunday Sun could not immediately establish the claim. Residents have also bemoaned the international NGOs for their operations.
While carrying out humanitarian supports in the state, many of the NGOs were reported to have rented accommodation in the capital for about three to five years, an action residents tagged an attempt to stay longer with the crisis in the state.
However, some said that a change of strategy in military operation could accelerate end of insurgency in the Northeast notwithstanding the introduction of “Super Camps” by the military, which allow troops’ concentration at designated camps.
“But some residents wished the security institutions should be strengthened for Nigeria to overcome Boko Haram.
“We’ve done several researches on the Boko Haram crisis and working with some alliance groups, including the security agencies and faith-based organizations, but the major reason the crisis is prolonging is the ineffectiveness in the institution, especially the military,” former Director, Centre for Peace and Development, University of Maiduguri, Prof Haruna Dlakwa, said.
Last week, Sunday Sun reporter sighted about 100 troops near Kawuri along volatile Maiduguri-Bama road returning from an offensive against Boko Haram at the fringes of Sambisa with huge arms, including armoured tanks and about 20 gun trucks.
It was a scene to behold as the troops celebrated their two days bombardment of Boko Haram right on the road.
As residents of Jiddari return to their homes in fear of Boko Haram after last week’s assault, they expressed hope that the military would step up offensive to halt the insurgents from wreaking more havoc.