SECURITY details of Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State had to spirit him out of danger zone on Friday as shootings aborted his visit to communities where Boko Haram insurgents killed scores of people two days ago.
The situation came as President Goodluck Jonathan on Friday declared that Nigeria is at war in the north-eastern part of the country. The military also began a major offensive against Boko Haram insurgents on Friday.
There were reports on Friday afternoon that gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members attacked the governor’s convoy during his visit to Shuwa in Madagali Local Government Area of the state, where the sect killed scores of people on Wednesday.
But Nyako said in Yola, the state capital, that his convoy was not attacked.
“After addressing the villagers, some soldiers approached me as I was about to enter my car and said that Boko Haram members were coming. The soldiers were shouting: ‘They are here! They are here!’ So, I asked them: ‘Who?’ They said Boko Haram members were around.
“After that, one of the soldiers started shooting. So, the first thing we needed to do, naturally, was to get out of the scene,” explained Nyako.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), four shots were fired by the soldier, prompting the security personnel to take position while others drove off with the governor.
The villagers were also said to have scampered in different directions for safety.
On the entourage of the governor were the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Alhaji Ahmadu Fintiri; Commissioner of Police, Mr John Abakasangha; Secretary to the State Government, Chief Kobis Thimnu, and some other commissioners.
Other eyewitnesses to the incident, however, told Saturday Tribune that while the governor was addressing the crowd in Shuwa, two gunmen in military uniform emerged and shot twice in the air.
According to the eyewitnesses, there was already palpable tension among the people even before the two men in military uniforms surfaced, as rumours were already doing the round that Boko Haram insurgents were coming.
People then, out of fear, ran in different directions for safety. Even vehicles rammed into one another, as everyone was desperate to get out of harm’s way.
The governor’s security details then promptly spirited him away in one of the cars and took him back to the capital.
Safely back in Yola, the governor addressed reporters, where he stressed that what happened in Shuwa earlier showed how serious the threat to lives and properties in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states was.
He reiterated his earlier call on the military hierarchy to deploy more troops, arms and ammunition to the troubled regions in order to contain the insurgents.
While commenting on the development, the Chief of Staff to the governor, Alhaji Abdulrahman Jimeta, said he (Nyako) had to be whisked away to avoid any reprisal attack from his security details. The Director of Press Affairs, Alhaji Ahmed Sajo, also corroborated him.
Saturday Tribune recalls that Governor Nyako had on Thursday, while addressing the press after the Yobe killings, lamented that the killings by the sect was getting out of hand and that checkmating them required new approaches.
He had criticised the Federal Government for failing to foil the Yobe school attack that seemed quite predictable, since school children had previously been murdered that same in the state.
‘No attack on Adamawa governor’s convoy’
However, the Defence Headquarters on Friday gave a somewhat different account of what happened. Apparently embarrassed by the reports that filtered out on Friday afternoon that the Adamawa State governor’s convoy was attacked by the Boko Haram insurgents, the Defence Headquarters issued a statement describing the purported attack as untrue.
The Director of Defence Information, Major-General Chris Olukolade, said in the statement that the truth was that Nyako visited Michika and Shuwa areas of the state to sympathise with the communities that were attacked by terrorists recently.
According to him, the governor was returning when his convoy came across a “noticeable pandemonium,” which he said resulted from the alarm raised by some people who had mistaken a convoy movement of troops on patrol at Kirchinga village for another impending attack by terrorists.
According to him, in the ensuing stampede and confusion, people scampered into the bush ostensibly to escape from those mistaken for terrorists.
He said, “The incident, which was presented as a ‘Breaking News’ and scrolled on television, is therefore not a true reflection of what actually happened. The report is capable of causing unnecessary anxiety and heightening tension.
“The military authorities, therefore, find it necessary to put the records straight and call on residents to go about their normal activities while remaining vigilant.
“The operations in the North-East are being consolidated and every effort is (being) made to stop the terrorists from continuing their atrocities in that part of the country.”
Nigeria is at war —Jonathan
Speaking through his Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Public Affairs, Dr Doyin Okupe, on Channels Television on Friday morning, Jonathan described the situation in the North-East as “very bad.”
“We are in a war situation. The situation in the North-East is a bad one, very bad; but we will overcome,” he declared, amidst apprehensions across the country following a week-long bloody insurgency acts in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.
The president, who admitted that the nation is “dealing with a very serious enemy,” however, expressed his belief in the capacity of the military to defeat the insurgents.
While stating that “we are more or less in the dying phase of this problem,” the president reminded Nigerians that Boko Haram was in several states at the beginning, “now it is confined to fringe attacks.”
“There was a time they were striking Abuja at will and people were afraid, even to go out to church. Now they are in the fringes,” he said.
While stressing that the military had been putting in its best to stem the tide of Boko Haram attacks, Jonathan added that “for every insurgency activity carried out, several others have been aborted.”
To buttress his point, he revealed that at a time, “Governor Babatunde Fashola’s father (before he died) was earmarked for assassination (but) it was foiled by the security forces. This was not in the media.”
He called for greater collaboration with state governments in the affected states, stressing that this is not the time for buck-passing.
“We should stop buck-passing. It is not a North-East war situation; it is a Nigerian situation. If there is a problem in Adamawa, Borno, everyone must fight it jointly. We have a duty to safeguard the lives and property of Nigerians,” the president said.
Meanwhile, as the military stepped up attacks on Boko Haram insurgents, heavy military deployments were observed in Yola, Adamawa State capital, on Friday morning.
“There is an unusually heavy military deployment ongoing now from the Yola airports; war planes moving out every 30 minutes,” a Saturday Tribune source living close to the airport said while observing that a major military operation was underway in the “war zone.”
Military arrests more Boko Haram members, kill 13
Military authorities have, however, announced that they arrested undisclosed number of members of the Boko Haram sect, while 13 of them died during a raid on their make-shift camp between Borno and Adamawa states.
Major-General Olukolade said, “The troops were on assignment to block a discovered entry and exit point of terrorists into the country through the state.”
The 23 Army Brigade Command in Yola, Adamawa State, also on Friday reviewed the curfew imposed on Michika and Madagali local government areas of the state.
A statement issued by the Army Public Relations Officer, Captain Jafaru Nuhu, in Yola, noted that the review followed the recent upsurge of insurgent attacks in the affected areas.
“The curfew is now from 7:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. each day until further notice, instead of 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. This review affects all towns and villages in the two affected local government areas with effect from Friday, February 28, 2014,” the statement read in part.
Nuhu urged the people of the state to report any suspicious persons and movements to the nearest security post, while calling on the people of Adamawa “to be law-abiding and comply strictly with the curfew.”
‘FG’s tactics not working’
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), led by Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, has urged the Federal Government to review its current strategy in tackling the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, which it said was not working.
In a statement signed by Amaechi and made available to the media in Abuja on Friday, the NGF condemned the spate of killings by the sect and called for a more effective strategy.
It said: “We in the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) hereby condemn the recent spate of killings in some parts of our country – Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states – by the Boko Haram sect.
We are alarmed by the slaughter of 29 students at the Federal Government College in Yobe and the unprovoked attacks against defenceless people in those states.
“We commiserate with the people and government of those states, the families of the victims, and pray God to give them and indeed every Nigerian the fortitude to bear the loss.”
The statement advised the Federal Government to comprehensively review its tactics and come up with a stronger and more effective strategy.