By Abdullahi Umar, Agency Report, By George Agba, BY MOHAMMED ISMAIL, Kareem Haruna
The presidential convoy that conveyed members of President Goodluck Jonathan’s advance team, including security personnel and other key workers attached to his office, is trapped in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State capital, following an attack by Boko Haram.
The insurgent group had launched an offensive in some parts of the state barely 24 hours after President Jonathan rounded off his campaign rally on Saturday.
LEADERSHIP gathered that the members of the president’s advance team in the convoy, which was billed to return yesterday (Sunday), were currently taking refuge at a safe place in the state.
At the time of writing this report, they were still taking solace at their hiding place with no inkling that the might leave the town yesterday.
The convoy was said to have been escorted on Friday by about 10 heavily armed soldiers from Bauchi and was scheduled to return to Abuja on Saturday after the Jonathan’s campaign rally held at Ramat Square.
The advance team, however, could not make it to Abuja following security alert given to them by both the military and officers of the DSS.
“We are taking cover at the DSS state command office after getting wind of information that there is serious fighting going on between the insurgents and security forces. Security men are battling to repel the insurgents,” one of the officials in the convoy told our correspondent.
The personnel, who preferred not to be named in print, later told LEADERSHIP that normalcy was gradually being restored in Maiduguri by security operatives who, at the time of filing this report, were still working to clear the roads and villages.
He said, “They said they had to comb the bushes to get rid of the insurgents and they said they might not finish today – meaning that we cannot leave today (yesterday).
“The security information at our disposal has it that the entire convoy of the president remains a major target of the insurgents who are bent on attacking the team in order to embarrass the presidency. Those trapped in the president’s steam are members of the media crew, medical and security personnel. Members of the protocol team took a risk and left on their own; that was before the terrorists started advancing.
“We wanted to join them but we were warned by the security agents. The protocol vehicle believes it’s riskier to join the convoy because it will attract the attention of the Boko Haram terrorists. We are now regretting not following them,” he added.
When our correspondent contacted the official in the advanced team again at about 5:30pm, he said that the state was under some measure of control at the moment.
“We were able to get food in a nearby bus park. We are still in the neighbourhood of the Directorate of State Services (DSS) office. The security people said they have chased the insurgents out of town. They (insurgents) also attacked Konduga which has now been reclaimed with heavy casualties on the part of Boko Haram,” he noted.
Since the Maiduguri airport is yet to be thrown open to commercial flights, the presidential convoy was said to have embarked on a 10-hour trip to Maiduguri.
24-hour curfew imposed on Maiduguri
The attempt by the insurgents to take control of Maiduguri and some other parts of the state compelled the military authorities to impose a 24-hour curfew in the state capital. It will, however, be lifted today following the troops success in repelling the insurgents. Maiduguri had been under 12-hour curfew for the past one year now
Scores killed as Boko Haram attacks Maiduguri, Monguno hours after Presidential visit
Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, came under attack less than 24 hours after President Goodluck Jonathan visited the city and made a campaign promise that he would soon crush the terrorists if re-elected in next month’s presidential poll.
Sources in military circles confirmed that both soldiers and Boko Haram terrorists died in the deadly battle for the control of Maiduguri.
As the fighting was going on, the insurgents were simultaneously attacking Monguno, another major town in Borno, located 180 kilometres northwest of Maiduguri.
Boko Haram terrorists had attempted to invade Maiduguri town at about midnight on Saturday but the troops put up a stiff resistance and engage them till dawn yesterday.
A top security officer, who confirmed the incident to LEADERSHIP but wished not to be quoted in this report, said the terrorists attempted to invade the town from several directions.
“We had a sleepless night,” he said. “The terrorists wanted to gain entry into Maiduguri around Dalwa axis but our forces repelled them after hours of engagement. They also made another attempt around the outskirts of Limanti and they met another resistance. This (yesterday) morning they now took the major route that leads into Maiduguri and we are still engaging them at Njimtilo Jimti, and our soldiers are doing well given the situation report we have received as at 7am.”
Njimtilo is less than 20 kilomtres west of Maiduguri. Residents living around Njimtilo were forced to flee in their hundreds into the city’s downtown.
An air force jet was seen hovering over the town at about 9am.
Though many residents of Maiduguri from the city centre were not aware of the happening at the outskirts until about 8am, the soldiers had barricaded major roads of the city, which forced residents to return to their homes while some restricted their movement to nearby offices and business premises.
Details of casualties have not been ascertained for now, but witnesses in the Maiduguri Teaching Hospital said dozens of wounded soldiers were brought to the hospital at about 10am.
“We are still receiving injured soldiers but we haven’t recorded any dead soldier yet said a hospital worker who begged not to be quoted.
A ranking soldier who spoke to LEADERSHIP from the scene of the attack near Njimtilo confirmed that many soldiers as well as Boko Haram terrorists were killed in the intense fighting.
“We were able to repel some of the terrorists and things have calmed for now. People who fled their houses are now returning but on foot because the curfew does not permit vehicular movement,” he said.
As the gun battle was going on in Maiduguri, at the time the people of Monguno, a town 180km northwest of Maiduguri, were also being attacked by the militants.
A local vigilante official, Abbas Gava, confirmed that “all is not well in Monguno; we have just heard that the town may have been seized by the Boko Haram terrorists. They attacked the town at midnight and soldiers of the 21 Armored Brigade engaged them, but we were not sure if they were able to repel or defeat them.”
Spokesman of the Nigeria Defence headquarters, Major General Chris Olukolade, had in his twitter handle announced that a 24-hour curfew had been imposed on Maiduguri.
He tweeted: “Troops are repelling a simultaneous attack on Monguno and Maiduguri. Coordinated air and land operations are being conducted now. Curfew has been imposed in Maiduguri with immediate effect.”
Maiduguri had been under 12-hour curfew for the past one year now.
Scores killed as Boko Haram attack Adamawa border villages
Several people have been reportedly slaughtered by Boko Haram insurgents when they raided some border villages of Michika local government, local and security sources disclosed.
Fleeing residents disclosed that many of the border villages have suffered intense attacks by insurgents who raided the areas in their attempt to encroach further into the state.
A resident of Garta, in Michika LGA who preferred to be called Sini Zira, said his village was among the places recently attacked by the insurgents. According to him, the insurgents arrived around 6pm, shot sporadically and razed homes and shops. They also slit the throats of many residents who were trapped in their houses.
Zira disclosed that the insurgents carefully looted many residential houses and shops before finally setting them ablaze and killing whoever they came across. They abducted an undisclosed number of young men and women.
Confirming the attacks, the lawmaker representing Michika in the state House of Assembly, Mr Adamu Kamale, said that the insurgents are still holding sway in Michika villages, killing and maiming residents at will.
Borno elder blames FG over Maiduguri attack
Borno elder and former head of the state’s civil service, Bulama Mali Gubio, yesterday claimed that the attack on Maiduguri and Monguno towns by Boko Haram was a political vendetta taken too far by the federal government-controlled Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
He asserted that the central government cannot pretend about not having a hand in the incident that claimed the lives of over 200 and dislodged yet another local government area in the state.
Gubio, who said he was speaking in his own capacity as a concerned citizen of the country, declared the attack by Boko Haram was allowed to happen in order to prevent the former military head of state and presidential candidate of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) from coming to campaign in Maiduguri.
The Borno elder, who spoke to journalists yesterday in Maiduguri, said the federal government had been playing lip service to the issue to tackling Boko Haram in order to achieve a selfish political end.
“It is very surprising to see that the Boko Haram (insurgents) move around in thousands freely with their weapons and choose their targets, kill people, burn places, loot shops and houses and take away people’s children and do whatever they want to do with them within this country,” said Gubio.
“They are being watched by everybody, including the government and her agents. It is enough for one to say that they have the backing of the government of the federation; otherwise, I cannot see why millions of Nigerians cannot move freely and are subjected to hardship, while a few thousands of Nigerians and their foreign collaborators have been crisscrossing this country at will at any place and time they want, and they go back safely. I think this is highly questionable.”
Noting that the latest attack came immediately after the visit of the president, he said: “If you remember, the governor of Borno State was on television and radio pleading with the people of Borno State to give maximum respect to the person of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He told the people of Borno that Jonathan was not coming only as a candidate of the PDP but also as the president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Nigeria; therefore, he deserves our loyalty, respect as our leader. This appeal was carried out to the letter by the people of Borno State. Mr President came in safely, conducted his affairs peacefully and safely and left Maiduguri.
“The following midnight of the day the president left Maiduguri, Boko Haram struck around Dalwa in their thousands and have been engaged the armed forces from midnight to the early hours of this morning; up to 9-10am, there were exchanges of fire.
Gubio insisted that the only reason the insurgents were so daring was “because they have the backing of some people who do not want peace. And as political activities are going on, we all know earlier that there was a time table released by the APC which shows that General Muhammadu Buhari, the presidential candidate of the APC, will visit Maiduguri on the 24 of this month. That time table came out much earlier than that of PDP, but PDP hurriedly said the president will be in Maiduguri on the 24, the same day Buhari was meant to be in Borno.”
Maiduguri attack: Gov Shettima commends military, calls for calm
Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, yesterday bemoaned the simultaneous attacks by Boko Haram on Maiduguri and Monguno towns even as he hailed Nigerian soldiers for saving the state capital.
The governor also called on all residents to be more patient and prayerful so as to earn the mercies and intervention of God.
Speaking to journalists in Maiduguri, the governor said he would remain resolute in his commitment by supporting the Nigeria armed forces currently prosecuting the war against Boko Haram insurgency.
He said he also feel pained by the attack in Monguno, headquarters of Monguno local government area in northern part of Borno State, “which might have resulted in loss of lives and the exodus of many citizens that are now taking refuge in different parts of the state, with some of them sustaining gunshot injuries in addition to losing property.
“Our armed forces gallantly repelled attacks on parts of Borno State today (yesterday). We must commend their patriotic efforts. We are very much in touch with the leaders of the security forces and we will continue to accord them all the support they need as we have always done from our first day in office till date.
“So long as we have the resources, we will continue to regard the efforts to reclaim peace our number one area of commitment. I want to reassure the good people of Borno State that we will never abdicate our responsibility as those they entrusted with leadership.”
Many civilians at grave risk in Borno – Amnesty International
The failure to protect hundreds of thousands of civilians could lead to a disastrous humanitarian crisis with reports of two large-scale attacks in major northeastern city of Maiduguri as well as the nearby town of Monguno, Amnesty International has said.
Amnesty International’s Africa director, Netsanet Belay, said that attacks by Boko Haram were significant and grim news.
“We believe hundreds of thousands of civilians are now at grave risk,” Belay said. “People in and around Maiduguri need immediate protection. If the military doesn’t succeed in stopping Boko Haram’s assaults, they may be trapped with nowhere else to turn.