The series of events in the last few days may have depicted Borno state in very dangerous light never imagined and if care is not taken, Nigeria could lose the battle, writes Ohia Isreal
Something nastier than Nigerians dreamt about is fast becoming a pastime in the troubled state of Borno given the recent stories about Nigerian soldiers 480 of whom had flee Borno to Cameroon. The story also hinted that the Army spokesman, Lt Col Didier Badjek, said the soldiers had been disarmed and were also accommodated in schools. As gathered, Boko Haram on a recently released video said it had established an Islamic state in the towns and villages it controls in north-eastern Nigeria.
Besides, just recently a group of soldiers refused to follow orders to go and fight Boko Haram, saying the militants were better equipped as thousands of civilians are also said to have fled across the border. It is also important to note that some analysts say that Boko Haram is seeking to encircle the state capital according to Reuter news.
Residents in Bama and a local politician said on Tuesday that 400 troops, some of them without weapons or boots, had fled after a military jet mistakenly bombarded the town’s barracks during intense fighting. Nigeria’s military countered that it had pushed back the militants, who in recent weeks have moved from indiscriminate and retaliatory hit-and-run attacks to seizing strategic territory in Borno State.
However, Ali Ndume, a Nigerian senator, said thousands of people were seen fleeing Bama, contradicting the military’s claims that they had repelled an attack on the town.
Some analysts have predicted that by seizing territory, Boko Haram is seeking to encircle the state capital, Maiduguri, 70km away, to make it the centre of an Islamic state. “Nigeria is losing control of large parts of the northeast region,” said Andrew Noakes, of the Nigeria Security Network of experts in a report that warned of potential knock-on effects. It would be a major victory for the fighters if Boko Haram has seized Bama, the second largest city in Borno State.
Establishing control over Bama would leave the way open to attack the Borno State capital of Maiduguri that is also the military headquarters of the fight against Boko Haram. “If Borno falls to Boko Haram, parts of [neighbouring] Yobe and Adamawa [states] can be expected to follow. Parts of Cameroon along the border area would also probably be overrun,” Noakes said.
Meanwhile, following the ongoing military offensive against the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, over the capture of Gwoza Local Government in Borno State, and making it an Islamic caliphate, the sect members have abandoned the caliphate. Over five thousand people from Bama and Konduga Local Government areas have fled their homes in the early hours of last Monday as Boko Haram militants who fled from Gwoza are making effort to enter Bama.
The multitude that gathered along the Maiduguri-Bama road and in front of the University of Maiduguri told ABC News that the Boko Haram fighters stormed their towns in the early hours of last Monday, at about 5am. With the latest development, it’s clear that Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, is gradually coming close to being attacked by the Islamic terrorists group, Boko Haram.
A Commander of the terrorists group who captured Gwoza town in Borno State and Madagali in Adamawa State told residents that were being held hostage that they were warming up to attack Maiduguri. According to a source, the insurgents in Madagali have over 50 Hilux vehicles and 11 Armored Personnel Carriers, which they have seized from the Military in Gwoza and other operatives.
The source that was among government officials who took relief materials to victims in Madagali also said that a Commander called Abu Suleiman also told the people that they are going to march to Maiduguri when they are ready.
“He said, they have over 16,000 fighters from different camps in Marte, Ngamboru Ngala and Dikwa in the north of Borno; Gwoza and Madagale in southeastern part of Borno, Damboa, Hawul in southern Borno and Buni Yadi in Yobe State from western part of Borno. They hope to capitalize on their population to capture Maiduguri from all sides.”
Also, a top security official said to reporters last week to relocate family members out of the state capital in view of the unfolding situation, which has continued to give residents of Maiduguri sleepless nights. It was also observed that there is fear among Christian communities and other residents over the advancement and takeover of Dikwa, a local government, which is about 100 kilometers from Maiduguri, the state capital.
Even as that happened, it was also gathered that about 250 Nigerian soldiers stationed in Banki, a Cameroonian border town with Nigeria, again fled into the neighboring country, according to reports from Cameroonian soldiers in the area. The account says that the Nigerian soldiers left their duty post and fled with their arms, first into a neighboring village called Amtide, before surrendering to their Cameroonian counterparts.
The soldiers were being repatriated to Mubi, in Adamawa State, following debriefing by Cameroon. It is the second time in two weeks that Nigerian troops have defected into Cameroon. Of the first, on August 25, military spokesman General Chris Olukolade downplayed the issue. “The Nigerian troops that were found in Cameroon was as a result of a sustained battle between the troops and the terrorists around the borders with Cameroon which saw the Nigerian troops charging through the borders in a tactical manoeuvre,” he explained.
However, during the first fleeing, the Nigeria Defence Headquarters in a statement said that the over 480 Nigerian soldiers found in Cameroun were on a tactical manoeuvre. The military spokesman, Maj.-Gen. Chris Olukolade, said it was not true that the soldiers had fled to Cameroun to defect as he said that they are on their way back to the country.
According to Olukolade; “The Nigerian troops that were found in Cameroun was as a result of a sustained battle between the troops and the terrorists around the borders with Cameroun which saw the Nigerian troops charging through the borders in a tactical maneuver. Eventually they found themselves on Camerounian soil. Being allies the normal protocol of managing such incident demanded that the troops submit their weapons in order to assure the friendly country that they were not on a hostile mission.
“Following necessary discussions between Nigerian and Camerounian military authorities, the issues have been sorted out. Subsequently, the troops are on their way back to join their unit in Nigeria.
“The reference to the incidence as a defection is therefore not appropriate considering the discussion between the two countries’ military leadership and the series of contacts with the soldiers who have confirmed that they are safe.
“Meanwhile, troops are repelling a group of terrorists who are trying to enter the country through Gamborou Ngala. A group of them who fizzled into the town is being pursued.”
However, one is poised to ask what is happening to the Nigerian Soldiers who are known to have excelled in international engagements, as analysts believe that there is more to it than meets the eye?
However, while the Nigerian army has been running away from the Boko Haram militants, Cameroon’s army claimed recently to have killed more than 40 Boko Haram fighters who tried to storm a strategic border crossing from Nigeria, the same day several hundreds of Nigerian troops fled Bama, now occupied by the insurgents.
Heavily armed fighters “attempted to cross the bridge at Fotokol” in the extreme north of the country and opened fire on Cameroonian soldiers, the ministry of defence told state radio. “Cameroon defence forces energetically reacted to this assault which lasted three hours,” the ministry said, adding that one soldier was wounded by mortar shrapnel.
There was no independent confirmation of the battle. Gamboru Ngala, the Nigerian town on the other side of the bridge, fell to the Islamist extremists last week after they reportedly overran the Nigerian garrison there.
For several days people living in towns and villages in northeast Nigeria recently captured by Boko Haram have been fleeing towards Cameroon to escape the militants. The extremists, who have waged a bloody insurgency for five years in northern Nigeria, seem to have changed tactics in recent months, going from spectacular kidnappings, massacres and suicide attacks to attempting to conquer territory.
In another report, the Cameroonian army was reported to have killed 27 members of the Boko Haram Islamist sect near a northern town, state radio said on Wednesday, in a sign of growing cross-border activity by the militants. The Boko Haram fighters crossed the border into Cameroon earlier this week, after attacking a military base and police station in Nigeria and apparently sending some 480 Nigerian troops retreating across the frontier.
“Cameroon soldiers have killed 27 Boko Haram elements during an attack in a locality near Fotokol in the far-north,” state radio CRTV said, adding that the deaths occurred on Monday and Tuesday. There was no word on any Cameroonian casualties.
A Cameroonian soldier in the region said the militants had been pushed back into Nigeria, with calm returning to the area last Wednesday. In recent weeks, Boko Haram has stepped up attacks in Cameroon, leading the central African country to increase deployments along its jungle border.
But Cameroon has not always been successful in fending off Boko Haram raids. President Paul Biya dismissed two senior army officers last month following attacks in which at least seven people were killed and the wife of the vice prime minister was kidnapped, according to Reuter news.
As it is the All Progressives Congress (APC) has described as an unprecedented national embarrassment the increasing seizure of Nigerian towns by the terrorist group Boko Haram and the reported fleeing of 480 Nigerian soldiers to Cameroon during an attack on a military base in Gamboru-Ngala on Monday.
In a statement issued recently by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party called on President Goodluck Jonathan to urgently address Nigerians on the worsening security situation in the northern part of the country that has allowed Boko Haram to proclaim its rule over a part of the nation’s territory.
It said in the face of the biggest threat to Nigeria’s unity and territorial integrity since the country’s civil war, President Jonathan must also put partisanship aside and rally the nation against Boko Haram, which by all indications seems to be getting bolder and stronger, to such an extent that the group is now hoisting its flag over parts of the nation’s territory.
APC also restated its call for an urgent national stakeholders’ conference on security that will cut across party lines to help fashion a solution to what has now become a clear and present danger to the survival of Nigeria, while pledging its unalloyed support for any sincere effort by the Federal Government to end the insurgency as quickly as possible.
As an immediate first step, the party calls on President Jonathan to immediately halt the illegal electioneering campaign by his Ministers, other appointees and supporters, saying Nigeria must survive as a nation before any party or individual can rule over it.
“These campaigns, ostensibly by the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN), but in truth being bankrolled by the Federal Government, offend national sensibilities at a time our citizens are being daily slaughtered and our troops are struggling against the terrorists who are bent on Balkanizing our nation. Needless to remind Nigerians that over 200 schoolgirls still remain missing more than 130 days after they were abducted,” the party said, adding: “The President must put politics aside for now and lead the nation to defeat Boko Haram.”
It also charged the military high command and its civilian leadership to quit politicking and fashion out ways for the military to live up to its constitutional responsibility of maintaining Nigeria’s territorial integrity.
APC said it is a shame that while the Minister of State for Defence, Musiliu
Obanikoro, has been prancing around in Ekiti and Osun States marshaling troops to harass the opposition during the elections in those states, Nigeria has been losing territory after territory to Boko Haram.
Equally worrisome, the party said, is the development that has seen some defence chiefs become the chief campaign managers to President Jonathan, an action that is a clear violation of the military’s professional ethics and which has embroiled the military unnecessarily in politics, at a time they should be rallying the troops against Boko Haram.
“Nigeria has never had it so bad. The country’s military that was being hailed worldwide for its sterling performance at global peacekeeping missions has now reached a level where its troops are deserting, engaging in mutiny or simply unwilling to fight.
“There is no way to spin what happened on Monday, when 480 Nigerian soldiers escaped to Cameroon. The Ministry of Defence called it ‘tactical manoeuvre’, but did not explain how soldiers fighting insurgents along Nigeria’s border with Cameroon will foray 80 kilometres into Cameroon! Also, if the Nigerian troops’ foray into Cameroon was in the spirit of the cooperation between the two countries in the fight against the terrorists, as some spin doctors have said, why were the Nigerian soldiers disarmed and then herded into schools in Maroua, 80kms from the Nigerian border?
“The issue that should agitate the minds of Nigerians now is whether our troops are adequately equipped to battle Boko Haram and, if not, what has happened to the funds allocated for such in the past? As we said in our earlier comments on this issue, between 2010 and 2014, a total of US$14 billion was allocated for defence, security and the police. What has happened to these funds?
“Nigerians must start asking questions rather than just blaming soldiers. Nigerians must ask why the alarm raised by Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno concerning the low morale and lack of necessary fighting equipment by the military was dismissed on the altar of partisanship. Nigerians must ask what next, if a rag tag band of marauders are now carving out territories for themselves in our nation. Things cannot and must not continue like this,” APC said.