Armed Boko Haram insurgents
• APC cautions against politicisation of menace • CDS: Army working hard to tackle insurgency
Michael Olugbode , Muhammad Bello and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja with agency report
There appears to be no end in sight to the bloodletting in the North-east as the terrorist sect, Boko Haram, launched yet another attack Sunday night on a village in Borno State, resulting in the death of 35 people.
Sunday’s slaughter of innocent Nigerians in Borno was followed by a statement by the All Progressives Congress (APC) calling on the federal government not politicise the Boko Haram menace by linking the perceived enemies of the Jonathan administration to the terrorists.
However, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Marshall Alex Badeh, yesterday said the Armed Forces and other stakeholders were working round the clock to tackle the insurgency.
The latest surge of violence in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States has left more than 400 dead in recent weeks.
The latest attack hit the town of Mafa in Boko Haram’s historic stronghold of Borno State, which is witnessing one of the deadliest episodes of the group’s nearly five-year-old rebellion.
The militants had sent fliers to the town last week, warning of an impending attack, a tactic used by the extremists elsewhere in the region, AFP quoted Borno Senator Ahmed Zanna as stating.
Following the threat, some people fled, schools were closed and military reinforcements were deployed to the town roughly 45 kilometres northeast of the state capital, Maiduguri.
But when the attack began “the soldiers fled because they could not match the firepower and numerical strength of the gunmen,” Zanna told AFP.
The senator said the military authorities in Borno State had officially informed the state government that they could not account for seven soldiers deployed to Mafa.
A resident of Mafa, Modu Yuraim, who survived the attack in a phone chat with journalists said: “We have performed the burial of 32 persons, among them was a woman.”
Yuraim said the attackers came in various vehicles at about 8 pm and began to shoot sporadically. He added that most of the houses which had thatch roofs caught fire.
“They set on fire the entire village, sparing nothing. All houses, all shops and government buildings were razed completely; we have been devastated beyond what one can describe, he said”.
Borno’s Police Commissioner Lawal Tanko confirmed the latest unrest and said units were headed to Mafa to assess the damage.
A Mafa resident who requested anonymity said the attackers were armed with explosives, rocket-propelled-grenades and light weapons.
They razed several homes, he said, and warned that the death toll may still rise.
“Houses are still smouldering and we intend to search the debris for more bodies,” he added.
Nigeria declared a state of emergency in the North-east in May and launched an offensive aimed at ending the insurgency.
But many believe the military onslaught has intensified the violence, with the terrorists launching waves of reprisals, typically on defenceless civilians.
Boko Haram “is on a revenge mission,” the Mafa resident said, noting that many of his neighbours were still in the bush outside the town, afraid of yet another raid.
But as the carnage in the North-east grows in magnitude, the APC has urged the federal government to avoid the tendency of linking the perceived enemies of the Jonathan administration to the activities of the terrorist sect currently causing mayhem in the region.
APC’s charge came just as a non-governmental organisation, the Governance Watch Initiative, yesterday suggested the enlistment of the support of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) in an effort to checkmate the insurgents.
In a statement issued yesterday by its interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party made allegations of a failed attempt by the Presidential Adviser, Social Media, Reno Omokri, to link the suspended Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi to the heightened attacks by Boko Haram.
It said the action of the aide had shown that the presidency might be seeking to profit, politically and otherwise, from the insurgency that had dispatched thousands to their early graves.
“Omokri’s attempt to push an article he authored into the public domain, using a fake name, is the clearest indication yet that the presidency has a case to answer and may have been feeding Nigerians with doctored information,” it said.
It said the attempt to blame the recent spate of attacks by Boko Haram on Sanusi raises some pertinent questions on whether “the presidency is trying to gain political mileage from the death of innocent Nigerians, including school children, whom it could not protect?
“Could this be why the government has largely treated the insurgency with levity, especially in its early days? Does the presidency know more than it is telling Nigerians on Boko Haram? Is there a possibility that Boko Haram is acting on instructions from some quarters? Is anyone in government profiting financially from the battle against Boko Haram that they may be sabotaging efforts to end the insurgency?”
The party posited that the best way to know the answers to the questions is for the State Security Service (SSS) to immediately arrest and question Omokri on why he was trying to act by subterfuge to misinform Nigerians and what his connections were, if any, with Boko Haram.
The party said Omokri’s dangerous game should be seen within the context of some curious coincidence between several past Boko Haram attacks and certain low moments and/or at critical junctures in the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, giving the impression of an unseen hand playing the puppeteer.
Giving some instances, it said the January 20, 2012 deadly attacks in Kano that left about 162 dead occurred at the height of the fuel subsidy protests that shut down the country; the Christmas Day attack in Suleja that killed about 37 people and injured 57 seemed to have been a distraction from the series of deadly attacks that had rocked the country earlier; the fact that Boko Haram struck within days of the Alaemieyeseigha and Diyarbakir amnesty that attracted widespread criticism; and then the resurgence of Boko Haram that coincided with Sanusi’s suspension.
“The coincidences become even more curious when viewed against the apparently informed statements by two governors in the North-east, where recent attacks have been concentrated.
“First, Borno Governor Kashim Shettima called attention to the fact that we needed to do more to fortify our troops if they are to defeat Boko Haram, only for the statement to be twisted out of context and a vicious offensive launched against him by presidential attack dogs.
“Secondly, Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa, himself a retired military top brass, wondered aloud why the checkpoint near the FGC in Yobe was removed before the attack and who ordered the removal? Why the authorities have not been able to trace the deadly weapons being used by Boko Haram to the manufacturers? Who transports the weapons and how is that possible when the states affected are under a state of emergency?
“Why retired Gen. Shuwa was killed and the army failed to respond during the attack on his residence, and why the air force base in Maiduguri was attacked even with an army unit nearby?
“Thirdly, the fact that the attacks have spiked as we move closer to the 2015 elections, and a presidential aide is trying to link a perceived enemy of the Jonathan administration to the insurgency suggests the government may be viewing the terrorist attacks as a wild card to be leveraged one way or the other ahead of the elections,” APC said.
In its statement on how to stop the insurgency, Governance Watch Initiative urged the government to solicit the operational involvement and assistance of ECOWAS and the AU, including deploying multinational security operations across the Sahel to track and hunt down the Boko Haram operational chain.
“It is clear that Boko Haram is no longer a ‘Nigeria-only’ problem, but now a regional security menace that requires regional responses. Secondly, there has been an unchanged level of human casualties: Since 2011, the estimates of human (civilian) casualties from Boko Haram attacks stand at an average of 1,000-1,200 per annum (80-100 per month).
“This does not appear to have changed, despite the military offensive occasioned by the state of emergency,” the NGO observed.
While expressing concern over increasing casualties arising from the insurgency and its economic costs to the affected frontline states, the National Coordinator of Governance Watch Initiative, Mr. Rotimi Ogunwuyi, said government should as a matter of urgency commence the implementation of the findings and recommendations of the Turaki Kabiru-led peace committee on Boko Haram.
Meanwhile, the CDS, Badeh, has said the Armed Forces and other stakeholders are working round the clock to tackle the insurgency.
Badeh, represented by the Chief of Training and Operation, Defence Headquarters, Maj.-Gen. Eboiwei Awala, made the statement yesterday during the 2014 symposium for Senior Course 36 at the Armed Forces Command and Staff College, (AFCSC), Jaji, Kaduna.
“Our dear country, like most countries in the world, is having her share of terrorism and other contemporary security challenges,” he was quoted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) as saying.
He stressed the need for the students of Senior Course 36 to prepare adequately for the tasks ahead of them in the field.
“You must listen to all critiques, observations and suggestions that would be made after your presentations and use them not to just improve your papers.
“But more importantly to prepare your minds on the challenges you would be facing in the field after your course,” he advised.
Also, as part of efforts to augment the strength of the security operatives engaged in internal operations in the embattled states of the North-east, the federal government has deployed forest guards, who will join the military in its bid to flush out elements of Boko Haram from their hiding places.
This follows the January 2014 classification of the National Park Service (NPS) as a para-military organisation, the Conservator General, Haruna Tanko Abubakar, disclosed to the House of Representatives Committee on Environment, during the agency’s 2013 budget appraisal and 2014 budget defence yesterday.
Abubakar explained that this development became necessary in view of the NPS’ knowledge of the country’s forest terrains across the country, which covers a total land area of 24,000 square kilometres.
“The National Park Service has been playing a crucial role in intelligence gathering for the country’s military in the North-east and the forest bordering Chad and Cameroun,” the NPS controller general told the House Committee led by Uche Ekwunife.
Boko Haram members are mainly spread in camps in the forest of Sambisa, Mafa, Wulgo and the Kirenowa axis of Borno State.
Sambisa, a forest that spreads over a distance of 300sq km from Damboa up to Gwoza, Bama and the Cameroun border, has been a hideout and training camp for the sect.
It was reportedly first discovered early in 2013 when a military raid was launched there.
In her remarks, Ekwunife said: “We have to look inwards to find a way to protect our forests. It is regrettable that our forest have been turned into havens for insurgents.”