The Defence Headquarters (DHQ) has debunked the assertions by the Borno Elders’ Forum (BEF) on Wednesday that Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, is under siege and has been surrounded by Boko Haram terrorists, thereby causing panic amongst the residents some of whom are alleged to have fled the city.
It has also assured Nigerians that the ongoing offensive through sustained aerial bombardment and complementary ground assault has helped to halt the terrorists’ advance with most of their structures and strongholds destroyed in North-east towns like Gwoza, Bama, Michika and others.
DHQ was responding to an exclusive report by THISDAY yesterday in which the forum announced that the Borno State capital had been surrounded by the insurgents and called on the federal government to save the state and others in the North-east from total destruction by the marauding sect.
The forum had decried the horror, death, destruction and misery that had been visited on North-eastern Nigeria and particularly Borno State by Boko Haram, warning that the sect had strategised and completely surrounded the city of Maiduguri.
BEF further warned that it was apparent that the sect’s imminent target was to take the city of Maiduguri, noting that almost half of the population of Borno now resides in Maiduguri.
However, DHQ’s claim that Boko Haram had been uprooted from Bama was debuked by fleeing residents from the town who alleged that the military was disseminating half-truths about the true position of things in Borno’s second largest city.
This is just as the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) group, 150 days after the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram from Government Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State, yesterday called on the federal government to intensify efforts to rescue the girls.
Reacting to the statement by the Borno elders, the Director of Defence Information (DDI), Major-General Chris Olukolade, in response to THISDAY inquiries yesterday, said such statements are designed to create a sense of insecurity in the city.
“The statement on Maiduguri was clearly intended to cause panic in the city and the nation,” Olukolade said.
He assured Nigerians that “all facets of the security arrangements for the defence of Maiduguri have been upgraded to handle any planned attack or attempt to disrupt the prevailing peace in the city and its environs”.
According to the Defence spokesman, “This kind of statement is alarmist and uncalled for in view of the efforts and state of alertness.
“Citizens are nevertheless enjoined to remain vigilant as they go about their lawful businesses.”
DHQ, through a statement on its twitter handle, further assured Nigerians that the military had made crucial gains in the contested towns of Michika, Gamboru Ngala, Gwoza and Mubi, amongst others.
The Defence authorities said most of the affected areas had been stabilised and the insurgents decimated.
According to the statement @DefenceInfoNG: “UPDATE: Situation in Mubi, Michika, Bazza, Gulak, Gwoza, Bama, Gamboru Ngala and other parts of the North-east is being stabilized…as highly coordinated Air & Land OPs are ongoing.
“The efforts are yielding impressive results in the overall move to rid the areas of terrorists.”
FG Deploys 500 Troops
The military’s efforts also got a boost yesterday when the federal government announced the deployment of about 500 military personnel to combat the insurgency in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno States.
Coordinator of the National Information Centre (NIC) and Director General of National Orientation Agency (NOA), Mr. Mike Omeri, confirmed the deployment at the centre yesterday in Abuja.
Omeri said the deployment was contrary to stories making the rounds, suggesting that there was no military presence in the affected states.
He stated that normalcy had returned to Mubi and other cities claimed to have been taken over by the Boko Haram sect.
“We just have one issue today about reinforcement of military troops as part of the effort to check the Boko Haram challenge in the country, the Nigerian military has continued to enforce its presence in the challenged communities in the North-east,” he said.
He added: “Contrary to the media reports, the military has confirmed the new redeployment of more than 500 troops to support the expectations around that area including Gulak and Michika, among others.
“We believe with this commitment and effort, the situation will be brought under control.”
According to Omeri, the situation report yesterday indicated that Mubi town was calm while troops including the police and other service personnel were on patrol in the area.
Residents: Military Has Not Recaptured Bama
However, despite the federal government and military’s claims on the recapture of Bama, a group of fleeing residents of the town yesterday said the military was telling half-truths by insisting it had recaptured Borno’s second largest city from the sect.
The residents, who have fled to Maiduguri as a result of the Boko Haram siege on the town, said contrary to the military’s claims, the town was still under the occupation of the insurgents.
The residents, under the aegis of Bama Development Foundation (BDF), while addressing a press conference in Maiduguri, said despite the effort of the military to push out the insurgents, they remained in control of the commercial town.
Led by the chairman of BDF, Mallam Mohammed Hassan, the fleeing residents said on the attack which took place on September 1, the Nigerian army resisted the insurgents for several hours, but were however overpowered which led to the takeover of the town by the terrorists.
Hassan noted that after the takeover of the second largest town in the state, several people lost their lives, some were drowned in the River Yadzaram in the course of fleeing while others were shot dead.
He said apart from those in captivity that had no way of escaping, particularly women, children and aged persons, many persons were still missing, displaced and had been killed in nearby villages.
“As a matter of fact, we are calling on the state and federal governments to expedite action on reclaiming Bama from the hands of terrorists, as those in captivity are under serious trauma, starvation and distress, with serious degrees of injuries, while on the other hand, those that have lost their lives are yet to be buried.
“Eleven days after the incident, no search and rescue operation has been conducted,” Hassan stated.
He appealed to the federal government to deploy more troops to Bama so that the people could go back and resettle in their communities.
BBOG to FG: Find Chibok Girls
Meanwhile, 150 days after the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls from Chibok in Borno State, the BBOG group, yesterday called on the federal government to intensify rescue efforts.
In a statement issued by the group, it said despite their advocacy for the campaign for the release of the girls, which has since turned into a movement, the response from the government has not yielded the result that most Nigerians want as the girls are still in captivity.
The statement, which was issued by the Co-founder, Youth Hub Africa, Mr. Rotimi Olawale, and signed by 60 representatives of the group including the forerunners of the BBOG campaign, Hadiza Usman, and former Minister of Education, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, read in part: “On this 150th day since the abduction of the Chibok girls, we members of the #BringBackOurGirls movement sign this declaration and call on all Nigerians to do the same so that we can come together to save the nation.
“Our advocacy has always been for a singular purpose, that our government and security agencies act to save the girls and all other Nigerians in distress.
“The response from them has not yielded the result that most Nigerians want. The reality on the ground today is that the terrorists are well armed, they are motivated and they seem to have a game plan for carving out their vision of an Islamic Caliphate from Nigeria and its neighbours.
“This must never happen. Over and above the Chibok girls, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Nigerians are in danger of falling into organised bondage, torture and death in the hands of the terrorists.
“This is happening because our armed forces are not sufficiently armed or motivated to fight the terrorists. The result is that the rampaging insurgents are conquering more and more of Nigerian territories.
“With over 3 million Nigerians displaced from their homes by the ravaging terrorists, no sane person can question the capability challenges that our armed forces have.
“It is clear today that our call for action was not heeded because the capacity to act had diminished. Yet we cannot continue to go down the path of the dismemberment of the country.”
It urged the federal government to reconquer and reclaim lost territories as well as re-establish sovereignty over the nation and security for the Nigerian people.
The group also called on President Goodluck Jonathan to show leadership, warning that should he fail to do so, Nigeria “will fall into the dangers associated with alternative action that could lead to chaos or further loss of our sovereignty”.
The group said the dangers inherent if the government does not act quickly and effectively is that of communities arming themselves through local militia.
It added: “Already, we saw signs of these last week when a massive congregation of hunters, ex-servicemen and civilian JTF in Maiduguri demanded for arms to save their communities from the terrorists.
“They declared that given the evident challenge within the military, they should be allowed to procure arms and save their community from the terrorists. This solution might appear viable but we believe it is a dangerous one.
“We must take on board the contemporary lessons we have learnt from arming militia to fight a cause in Libya and Syria. Yes they can start the fight and even achieve early successes but they will not stop the fight and allow the state to operate subsequently thus creating anarchy in the land.
“We cannot afford to take the risk of arming the militia because they can become just as bad as the terrorists.”
It also warned against over-reliance on the Western powers to solve Nigeria’s problems, noting: “We have invited the Western countries to join us in the search and rescue operation of the Chibok girls but although they came, they have made it clear that the core work is our responsibility, which we have to carry out.
“They have also said that they cannot work with our military so clearly we have to rely on our own armed forces.”
Proffering solutions, the group said the best option was that dictated by article 14(2)(b) of the constitution, which states that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”.
The group further said: “If government has not been carrying out its primary purpose, we should come together to create conditions under which we can solve our problems.”
Sect under Scrutiny over Foreign Fighters
In a related development, Cameroun’s claim this week that two Tuareg fighters were among the dead when its troops bombarded Boko Haram positions have sparked fresh interest in the group’s links to the wider jihadi network.
The country’s Communications Minister, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, did not elaborate on the nationality of the foreigners, who were among the more than 100 killed during an attempted cross-border raid at the weekend.
But with the Tuareg spread across Mali and Algeria, which are both home to Islamist groups, the claim is coming under close scrutiny, reported AFP.
Boko Haram was designated an Al-Qaeda-linked terror group earlier this year while its recent land grab in Nigeria’s North-east has prompted comparisons to Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.
Analysts remain sceptical, though, about the extent of its direct operational links with outside groups, despite claims that some fighters were trained in Mali and that arms are being smuggled from Libya.
Andrew Noakes, coordinator of the Nigeria Security Network of analysts, said it was “plausible” that Boko Haram had fighters from beyond the lands populated by its Kanuri tribal base.
“There is most likely a relationship of convenience between Boko Haram and AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), which may stretch to sourcing militants from outside the insurgency’s traditional area of recruitment,” he told AFP by email.
“But we should retain a healthy degree of scepticism about the particular claim of Tuaregs fighting with Boko Haram.”
Security sources in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, said Boko Haram has hired mercenaries for some time from neighbouring countries such as Chad, Niger and Cameroun.
“These fighters are paid allowances after every raid, which ranges between N50,000 ($300) and N150,000 for each fighter,” the source told AFP in a recent interview.
Others said the recruitment was to be expected, given the increase in violence this year that has left thousands dead and prompted hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee.
But Kyari Mohammed, a Boko Haram specialist from the Centre for Peace Studies in Yola, Adamawa State, said he questioned how many foreign guns-for-hire had been recruited.
“When you are fighting this kind of war you expect an influx of mercenaries, especially in this region where we have porous borders and a history of violence,” he said.
“There could be infiltration of mercenaries across these borders but not on a huge scale.”