erhaps nothing attracted so much attention last week than the gruesome happenings in Auno village where hapless travellers were massacred by the Boko Haram insurgents. Many of them had come over long distances, that infamous Sunday, 9th February 2020, to arrive at the brink of entering Maiduguri only to find the gates shut at the check point by soldiers. It was curfew time and no vehicle was allowed into Maiduguri beyond that time. Many I guessed merely sighed and shrugged their shoulders and got themselves ready to spend the night there. After all it was an everyday occurrence for vehicles and their contents, citizens of all ages and classes and valuable goods of all ranges, to spend the night in that open, unsecured ground around Auno village.
That night, on shutting the gate, the soldiers were reported to have retreated into the night elsewhere, as they were wont to do, leaving the citizens and their vehicles at the mercy of the elements and the insurgents. The victims knew they were sitting ducks and what they feared happened in the worst-scenario proportions. The insurgents came in the dead of the night to carry out one of the worst massacres of these terrible times. They spent hours, unchallenged, killing and maiming. They ransacked the vehicles for all they could carry. And what they could not carry they set fire, entrapping many of the travellers, incinerating them and setting the stage for some of worst tragedies you could ever contemplate.
Many of us who travel regularly on that highway had foreseen this scenario and reported on it. About two years ago, I was on the Damaturu/Maiduguri road going from Abuja and recall recording my fears in my column of 22 May 2018. That day I deliberately opted to travel by road from Abuja to pick up one or two observations for the readers. The journey took me through Keffi, Jos and Bauchi. The journey took a frightening dimension as we approached Potiskum. I was aware that just ahead after Damaturu were the villages of Mainok and Auno the last two settlements close to Maiduguri. This was where the insurgents were reported to have struck recently with grievous consequences. In any case the stretch from Ngamdu (a short run from Damaturu) to Bensheikh and Auno provided a convenient link between Sambisa and Northern Borno. I wrote:
“We rushed through Potiskum and were soon at Damaturu. Dusk was approaching and I learnt that the portion of the road to Maiduguri was not in the best of conditions. After Damaturu the road was fast thinning of vehicles and beyond Ngamdu and Mainok the dual carriage way came to an abrupt end. From there and particularly after Jakana the road was in a terrible state.
Darkness had set in. We carried on in that frightful state of mind through potholes and gullies apprehensively looking sideways into the dark bushes. After what seemed an eternity we drove into Auno and were finally at the military checkpoint the locals dub ‘Jeddah’ leading into Maiduguri. We arrived after 7pm the official curfew time and would have been made to spend the night in the open grounds. Nevertheless, after some sympathetic considerations we were allowed to proceed into Maiduguri.”
What now happened at Auno was a disaster foretold and waiting to happen. Even if it did not happen at Auno it would have befallen citizens in any of the entry points into Maiduguri manned by military men. The clamp down on Maiduguri had been building up in the last one and a half years. Though things had quietened down since the blitz of 2015 that dislodged the terrorist groups from all their strongholds, yet they remained visible somehow. Since they were not vanquished they became irritants as occasional suicide bombers and making forays into unsecured outlying villages to forage for sustenance.
When in the last quarter of 2018 the insurgents started causing mayhem in the areas around Lake Chad Baga, Doro, Kauwa, down to the fringes of Monguno, the whole nation took note. Refugees streamed to Maiduguri. As matters worsened, Kashim Shettima then Governor of Borno State had to lead a strong delegation of Borno Stakeholders to the Presidency, in January last year, to urge the Commander-in-Chief to stem the resurgence of the Boko Haram terrorists. It was widely reported that Kashim Shettima was so overwhelmed by his emotions at the meeting that he wept openly. As I said in my column of 15 January 2019, ‘it is not the most edifying sight to witness your elected leader shed tears’.
The call to the President to act continued throughout the year, particularly in the 9th National Assembly where members from the affected areas were vociferous in these demands. Now that what had been feared had happened, with the tragic event pointing to what will continue to be, if nothing is done. It is necessary for all parties to sober down and continue to knock on the President’s door because that’s where the solution lies. The President, a tested General who is having the privilege of commanding the armed forces for the second time was also once a GOC in that region and a Military Governor of North-Eastern State. He had selected indigenes of the North-east, equally tested Generals to lead the Army, Air Force, and the National Security in this historic fight. They know the terrain like the back of their gardens. Now if these whole bunch can’t uproot these bandits, it is only honest to ask who can?
From my mail bag:
BUHARI HASSAN: “Your last two columns on the security situation in Borno read like some HANSARD reportage of the National Assembly. You gave so much space to those Assembly members with the exception of very courageous few who hardly have a first-hand experience of events in their constituencies. Governor Zulum has successfully put a lie to all their grandstanding in the National Assembly by visiting all the 27 Local Government headquarters of the state and even staying the nights in most of them. How many of them have visited their constituencies and interacted with the traditional and religious leaders to ascertain the security situation in those areas? Have they done so, I am pretty sure they would have been able to find out how indoctrinated young men of the areas frequently visit with brand new motor cycles and flush with sudden and unexpected cash to pay heavy dowries for new brides. Comfy in their Abj abodes they take to the airwaves under parliamentary privilege and bore us about the failure of the intelligence community in finding out the flash points and prevent their occurrence. They are as much detached from the theatre of the events as some mischievous journalists who regurgitate stale second hand reports as if they are talking about outer Mongolia and not about a distressed part of our country. Those with absolutely no first-hand knowledge of the situation come out with their long knives and blame just about everyone. If only they knew how the ordinary Borno person would give anything to get that peace to carry on with his daily lives. Perhaps it is that sadistic part of human nature in all of us. When next you are visiting Maiduguri I will urge you to listen to the young urchins peddling their wares at about one or two prominent security stop points between Damaturu and Maiduguri you will know what I am talking about. Unlike our cultural practices those youngsters will look at you straight in the eyes and say things which will disturb you. You do not need any sleuth to know the underlying facts.”