From TIMOTHY OLANREWAJU, Maiduguri
The loud deafening sound that reverberated through most parts of Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno State, in the early hours of penultimate Saturday, expectedly created panic among residents who had been enjoying the relative peace emerging in the troubled State for nearly two months.
Two suicide bombers targeting the NNPC Mega Station and a camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and blew up themselves near the two public places, killing nine people and injuring 24 others. The military troops around the area also gunned down a suicide bomber who was attempting to scale the perimeter fence of the same IDP camp barely 24 hours after the first twin explosions. Only the bomber died.
At least 16 people including military personnel, civilians and vigilante were killed in three separate attacks in Borno last weekend within 72 hours!
It was a black weekend for residents of Maiduguri, who had savoured the air of freedom and peace in the last three months as relations and families of the victims of the bomb attacks besieged the State Specialist Hospital in search of their loved ones. Two days later, another explosion involving a group of suicide bombers occurred near a military checkpoint along Gubio road, about 82 kilometers north of Maiduguri. All the eight suspected bombers onboard the Bedford pick-up van, primed with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) including suicide vests were killed. According to a statement by Army spokesman, Col Sani Usman on Tuesday, when the incident happened, the driver of the pick-up vehicle attempted to force his way through the checkpoint but “met stiff resistance from troops who insisted that the vehicle be thoroughly checked.” The police also said the vehicle conveying the bombers “emerged from a bush path to join the road to Gubio town.” Some residents said Boko Haram might have resorted to deploying suicide bombers to the towns to renew its violence.
“Boko Haram may have returned with bombs,” says Usman Bukar, a humanitarian aid worker: “The succession in the occurrence of bomb attacks in recent times is an indication that Boko Haram hasn’t given up its terror acts despite the much publicised negotiations with the Federal Government which led to the release of 21 Chibok schoolgirls,” a university don who preferred anonymity also said.
The don also recalled the ambush on military troops by Boko Haram at Ugundiri village while returning from clearance operation at remote Ajirgin and Talala villages in Damboa Local Government last Sunday, saying the attack punctured claims by the military that it had degraded the insurgents. “How can you say you degraded Boko Haram and the insurgents are still attacking even your troops?” the university teacher queried.
Some analysts, however, blamed residents for their failure to protect and sustain the emerging peace. “It is a failure of everybody. Security is a collective responsibility and should not be left in the hands of the security agencies. We should be honest to take responsibility for our failure to sustain the emerging peace. We were lax and forgot that our major enemy, Boko Haram, is still around, watching us but we got carried away by the air of freedom permeating the land,” Mohammadu Goni, a resident of Maiduguri said.
Goni said residents no longer exhibit high security consciousness as they did in the heat of the insurgency. “We became so loose to the extent that we allow Boko Haram to penetrate,” he stated. He said security checkpoints were mounted in different parts of the state in the past with residents watching over the movement of their neighbours and strange persons in their neighborhood, adding that the situation has now changed because people feel very free.
“We no longer conduct search and checks on people in our mosques, churches, markets and even cemetery like before and Boko Haram informants may be watching all these lapses from us,” he said.
Has the military also failed, Goni was prodded? Goni believes Boko Haram has truly been degraded. He said the insurgents no longer have the capacity to organise coordinated attacks on communities. “That is why they send bombers to sneak into the city and towns to cause havoc,” he argued. He also urged Nigerians to understand the challenges of insurgency. “Insurgency or terrorism won’t fizzle out just like that. Iraq and Afghanistan are still confronted with bomb attacks up till now despite the U.S. military might and intervention in those nations,” he added. This view was also shared by United States early in the week, urging President Muhammadu Buhari to keep up the pressure on Boko Haram.
“From our experience, insurgency and terrorist groups can be very resilient, can move and again reconstitute themselves. So, it’s absolutely critical that both the federal and state levels of governments partner very closely with the military campaigns to ensure that they can provide security, services and good governance for the country as Boko Haram is pushed out particularly in the neighbourhoods. At the same time, Nigeria needs to put pressure on Boko Haram,” said United States Under-Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, Sarah Sewall, in an exclusive interview with Sunday Sun in Maiduguri.
However, many residents want the military to step up security at the entrance and exit points to the city as well as other liberated towns. They also harped on collaboration between the military and civilians. “Residents should collaborate the more with Civilian JTF and security agencies for surveillance and vigilance. People should not relax and think the crisis is over because Boko Haram can capitalise on our sense of freedom to sneak into the city and cause greater harm,” Adamu Abatcha counseled.