Boko Haram insurgents are daily becoming more daring in their attacks, moving into strategic towns and villages, killing, maiming and sacking residents in northeast Borno State.
The militant group has widened its tentacles and is now in control of more than half of the entire communities in the state.
“The more we thought the security situation would become better, the more the attacks on communities,” says Abba Kakami, Borno State chairman of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ).
Kakami’s view only captures the feelings of Borno residents and others in the two North-east states of Adamawa and Yobe where Boko Haram exert more presence. “Each day is like traveling on a long lonely road in apprehension with a faulty vehicle that could break down anytime,” a resident of Maiduguri who did not want his name in print told Sunday Sun, adding that residents had been living in perpetual fear.
“About a year ago, our hope was brightened when young men with sticks arrested Boko Haram militants. We thought the end has come but it is clear now we haven’t seen the end,” he added. The residents lamented that their initial optimism was gradually waning especially as Boko Haram had found safe havens in southern part of Borno and neighbouring Bauchi state to launch more attacks.
Boko Haram insurgents have been very strategic in their operations since 2010 when full scale insurgency was launched in Borno, its birthplace. While in Maiduguri, its initial operational base, the sect expanded its base and camps to Marte, a border community in northern Borno, hilly Gwoza area, southeast of the state, Mubi area in north of Adamawa and Gujba, eastern part of Yobe where it occasionally attacked communities. By late 2011, it began full scale attacks in northern Borno, sacked almost all the communities and by early 2013, it took on the central part of the state, starting from Alao near Maiduguri, Borno State capital. It moved gradually to Konduga, Kawuri, Bama, Pulka junction, to Gwoza. The insurgents burnt down almost all the towns and villages around the area and subsequently moved to the southern part of the state. Residents believed the hilly and good vegetation of the Savannah southern part of Borno provides a fertile ground for Boko Haram activities including establishment of camps and operational base. It stepped up its attacks on communities and educational institutions in Borno and Yobe late 2013 and early 2014, leading to the massacre of over 40 students of College of Agriculture Gujba, Yobe State, over 60 students of Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, St Joseph Seminary School, Shuwa, Adamawa State and then, the April 14 abduction of over 200 Chibok schoolgirls, which attracted international outrage. Gujba and Gulani in Yobe and Mubi as well as Madagali in northern Adamawa share border with southern part of Borno where Sambisa Forest, a major Boko Haram camp and Chibok are also situated.
Boko Haram’s new-found haven
Until now, residents of Borno believed the Christian dominated southern part of the state was insulated from Boko Haram attacks but with the kidnap of the schoolgirls in April and subsequent attacks with less restriction from military forces, it became obvious that the terrorists have found a new haven in the friendly southern area. A security source told Sunday Sun that the insurgents shifted their activities to the southern part because of persistent pressure on them and killing of their fighters by Nigerian military troops. “We didn’t give them breathing space. We smoked them out and rooted their camps in Marte. So they decided to move to southern Borno where they can get cover with the vegetation there,” the source explained. He also disclosed that all the nine local governments areas in that axis are easily linked from Sambisa. “I think it was a clear operational strategy by the terrorists. They simply established their camp at Sambisa, a very large area, to continue their terror in the area having been chased out of the northern and central parts. From this point too, they can easily move to Adamawa by the north and Yobe-Bauchi axis by the east,” he stated.
He, however, admitted that the attention of the military “was actually on Sambisa and communities around the general area,” adding that they “did not consider possible attacks” in places like Chibok, Hawul or Askira-Uba “because of the understanding that their children are not easily recruited into the sect due to their level of education.” That purported wrong assessment of the Boko Haram activities, gave the sect opportunity to plan and execute attacks on communities in the area.
Boko Haram’s newly captured areas
A recent daring attack on a newly established military base in Damboa, also in southern Borno, about 85 kilometres from Maiduguri, the state capital by Boko Haram, presumably gave away the control of the muddy town to the insurgents. Just last week, the insurgents sacked the town, burnt down almost all the houses and killed over 25 people. The northeast zonal office of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said 15, 204 people have been displaced. Damboa, mostly peopled by peasant farmers and traders, has a population of about 231, 573, according to 2006 Nigeria census. Fleeing residents of the area said two-third of the total 6, 219 km2 landmass that made up Damboa Local Government, have been taken over by Boko Haram with unverified claims of the sect hoisting its flags in the area. Other communities in the local government taken over by the insurgents include Kimba, Madaragrau, Chikwar Kir, Mandafuma, Bomburatai and Sabon Kwatta.
In Hawul local government area, most communities around the Kwajafa district have been largely deserted after incessant attacks.
Chairman of Hawul Local Government Area, Dr Andrew Malgwi told Sunday Sun on phone that the residents of Gaggirang village are now taking refuge on a road around the area after the insurgents took over their homes last Sunday.
“The attackers burnt a woman in her house, shot many and set the whole village ablaze after carting away their food items and livestocks,” he disclosed.
Boko Haram have also sacked half of communities at Askira-Uba, another major local government area, in the southern part of the state. The insurgents killed over 40 people in Dille recently after previous attacks on five villages while Biu, headquarters of Biu Local Government Area, about 100 kilometres to Damboa, remains the only major town still standing in the area, although it has equally witnessed deadly attacks in the past.
The insurgents have ravaged Gwoza Local Government Area, about 135 kilometres from Maiduguri as all the autonomous communities behind the hill are deserted. These communities, which are located along the Cameroon borders include Attagara, Aghapalawa and Aganjara. Over 2,000 residents of the area are now in two camps in Maiduguri at present.
Only Shani, Bayo and some parts of Kwaya Kusar local government areas out of the nine council areas in the southern Borno are enjoying relative peace.
More than half of the communities in Konduga, Bama, Dikwa and Mafa local government areas in the central district have been destroyed.
So how large is the area destroyed and/or taken over by the insurgents? A lecturer at the University of Maiduguri who preferred anonymity, said Boko Haram have destroyed more than half of the communities in the state. “Geographically, Boko Haram’s presence can be seen and felt in almost all part of the state though with more control of the southern and central districts, which translate to more than half of the state.” He also said there are isolated communities in some instances, which are not attacked by the insurgents because they offer some gifts to Boko Haram to pacify them. He declined to mention the villages. “Mentioning them could be counter-productive because the insurgents may go back there to attack them again for leaking what ought to be an agreement between them but of truth, such accord for protection actually happens in some villages,” he stated.
Many residents said they believed the military was capable of tackling Boko Haram insurgency but expressed concern over what they described as unwillingness of the authority to nip the terror act in the bud. “The Nigeria military is capable of handling the situation but it appears there is conspiracy on the part of the leaders not to do so,” Abdullah Ahmed, a social crusader said. There is military presence in most of the major towns in Borno but residents said they often said they have not received instruction from their superiors when alerted to Boko Haram attacks in nearby communities. “We found this very awkward because it looks like an excuse not to act and that is why Boko Haram often attack people and communities for hours without resistance from any troops. It happened at Dille in Askira Uba at Chibok Local Government Area and lately in Damboa,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, the Defence Headquarters has stepped up actions against the Boko Haram, while assuring that it would not allow any group to annex any part of Nigeria.
The Director of Defence Information, Major General Chris Olukolade said the military had ordered troops to up the ante against the sect in Damboa and other vulnerable areas.
He said: “We have put in place necessary machinery, including the patrol of vulnerable areas, to check the insurgents. Activities are being stepped up to curtail the menace.”
Olukolade, however, declined to explain the military activities, saying: “I won’t go into details on the actions we have taken. I cannot disclose military plans.
“We will not say when troops will take charge of Damboa to avoid a repeat of the last ambush of these committed and loyal soldiers. But we are firming up deployment of troops to Damboa and other places.
“We are ready for the insurgents but we will prefer to keep our strategies to ourselves because of the nature of the battle ahead.”