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Tough times as Boko Haram tightens noose on Maiduguri

There has been a notable resurgence of Boko Haram activities across the three Northeast states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, and especially around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, trying to cut it off from surrounding cities and environs.

The insurgents are becoming more daring as they terrorize on a rather frightening scale, the 129-kilometer Damaturu-Maiduguri highway, the main artery through which the bulk of economic activities flow to Borno State and by extension, the neighbouring countries of Chad, Niger and Cameroon.

Their activies appear to be stifling the economy of the region, or, as is evident, strangulating free flow of economic activities through the route.

The Theater Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Maj. Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi, the joint military taskforce charged with the responsibility of checking the insurgency in the region, told newsmen in Maiduguri last week that the military had re-strategized to secure the route for normal flow of economic activities.

About 18 hours later, the terror group engaged troops in a fierce fight at Mainok, a community about 60 kilometers to Maiduguri.

The troops reportedly lost eight men and the terror group lost five men in the encounter which the Federal Special Anti-Robbery Squad of the Nigeria Police joined to help. The FSARS reportedly recovered four gun trucks, some of which reportedly belong to the military from the fleeing insurgents.

These happenings have evoked grave concern among not only people of the region but all stakeholders in the management of the humanitarian crisis in the region.

Boko Haram  has returned with escalating attacks on communities and the main economic link-road between the far Northeast population and other parts of the country.

The rise in attacks may not be exactly reminiscent of what obtained between 2013 and 2015 when the insurgents raged across the region with seeming intractability, conquering territories to carve out a caliphate.

But they have recorded some unprecedented deeds, and show more inclination to renewed styles of terror.

More security personnel, aid workers killed

The insurgents, either from the Shekau or Albarnawi factions, storm communities and ambush highways, not necessarily to kill civilians, but to burn down houses, business places and public buildings, seizing food and other provisions, rustling cattle, kidnapping people, seizing vehicles they choose, and killing without any delay, security agents including members of the Civilian JTF and aid workers.

The attacks on communities and roads have been so numerous as some are unreported from remote, unaccessible locations, but for instance, in Central and Southern Borno, Northern and Central Yobe and Northern Adamawa, there might have been no fewer than 50 attacks according to sources, between mid December 2019 and January 2020.

Highway attacks under guise 

A focus on the Damaturu-Maiduguri route, which evokes the severest of public concern shows that between December 2019 and January, 2020 attacks on the communities of Benisheik, Mainok, Jakana, Auno, Mallam-Bukaranti as well as highway ambush under the guise of stop-and-search are almost daily.

“They would stop vehicles along the road for stop and search, and commuters would identify themselves, if there are soldiers or policemen among them, they would be pulled out to be killed. That is how they identified and killed four soldiers and policeman in December,  Makinta Abba, the chairman of Kaga Local Government CJTF, said.

“They would seize vehicles and kidnap commuters that fancy them, but there have been instances where they would later return aged commuters to the highway and tell them to find their way, while still seizing the vehicle.

“At a recent attack on Mainok, they burned down an Airtel communication mast and a dispensary and went away with motorcycles. In another attack on the highway they burned two Dangote Cement trucks, one containing cement and the other empty,” Makinta said.

The Civilian JTF leader attributed the incessant attacks on the Damaturu-Maiduguri highway and other communities around Southern Borno to the evacuation of troops from the fringes of the Alagarno forest.

He said this had given the insurgents the ease to storm out of their enclaves in the forest, unleash terror,  burn structures, seize provisions, rustle livestock, kidnap people and disappear into the forest.

How they operate

The Theater Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Gen. Adeniyi, explained the current operations of the terrorists along the road.

“They come to the road in stolen Hilux vehicle dressed in Nigerian Army desert-colour camouflage, pretending to be Nigerian Army soldiers on patrol and stop-and-search duty, but it is when the motorists come near them that they would know that they are not of the Nigerian Army but have run into an ambush by Boko Haram.

“In their attacks, they steal food, rustle cattle and kidnap people,” he said.

Maj. Gen. Adeniyi gave reasons for the current resurgence. He said it was due to their failure to establish their phantom caliphate which they wanted to establish at the beginning of the insurgency.

“With their failure to establish this phantom caliphate, they now transformed themselves, they now resorted to being full terrorists, coming to the road, kidnapping for ransom and running away.

“What they are doing is out of desperation to prove to the international public that they are

still relevant, but what they have resorted to doing now is the result of the military defeat on them, this is what is driving them to the road.”

But the Theater Commander also allayed the fears of the public on the current resurgence.

“Since their failure to establish a caliphate, Boko Haram have lost identically, operationally and tactically, Boko Haram want people to tremble, but no one should tremble. I hereby tell Nigerians not to fear Boko Haram.”

Checkpoints banned

With more resources, officers and troops deployed to secure the Damaturu-Maiduguri route, he said all checkpoints outside the towns along the route – Kukareta, Ngamdu, Benisheik, Mainok, Jakana and Auno – have been banned, warning that henceforth, motorists plying there should only stop at the checkpoints within the towns to prevent terrorists from taking them unawares.

‘Attacks affecting lives, businesses’

Observers view the terrorists’ current massive descent on the Damaturu-Maiduguri route as part of an attempt to cut off the far Northeast, especially Maiduguri, from the rest of Nigeria, at least economically.

“The incessant attacks on the road has seriously crippled the economy of Borno,” Alhaji Aminu Abubakar, a trans-border general merchandise businessman at the Monday Market in Maiduguri, lamented.

“At normal times, no fewer than 200 vehicles, and this is just the least, convey commuters and goods to and out of Maiduguri daily to and from Mano and other parts of Nigeria, now that number has drastically reduced, I can’t tell you to what number it has reduced, because it fluctuates.

“Many motorists dread plying the route to avoid their vehicles being seized and many commuters fear being kidnapped. Many large-scale businessmen fear hiring trucks to haul their goods from Kano and other parts of Nigeria to avoid the goods being seized by terrorists.

“Consequently, some products are now in short supply in the markets and prices have increased. Many petty traders are now idle because they can’t afford the products they used to sell,” he said.

Wealthy passengers travelling from other parts of the country to Maiduguri have now resorted to air transport, leading to a considerable rise in air fares.

Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that the Abuja-Maiduguri air fare that used to be about N40,000 is now N50,000 and above, and flights are always more fully booked than before.

“I paid N56,000 from Abuja to Maiduguri on Wednesday, but today, I bought my ticket at N65,000 for my flight back to Abuja tomorrow, airlines are having a brisk business now in spite of the hazy weather,” a traveller told our correspondent.

The terrorists now kidnap civilians more for ransom or to subject them to slavery, tilling their farms, carrying out sundry other labours for them and the females, for forced marriage than to kill them, in spite of several unreported killing of civilians across communities over time.

Killings continue

There have, however, been some killing of civilians for ‘strategic and political reasons’, according to observers.

Notable among such killings is that of 12 aid workers over the recent months, a Christian clergyman at Michika, Adamawa State and the most recent, although unconfirmed, over 30 aid workers in an attack on the humanitarian hub at the Nigeria-Cameroon border town of Ngala in Borno State on Saturday, January 18.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon, strongly condemned attacks against the main humanitarian accommodation in Ngala.

“I am outraged by the extremely violent attack on this key humanitarian facility where five United Nations staff were staying at the time of the incident,” said Kallon.

“I am shocked by the violence and intensity of this attack, which is the latest of too many incidents directly targeting humanitarian actors and the assistance we provide.

“Such incidents have a disastrous effect on the lives of the most vulnerable people who depend on our assistance to survive. Many of them had already fled violence in their areas of origin and were hoping to find safety and assistance in Ngala. This also jeopardizes the ability for aid workers to stay and deliver assistance to the people most in need in remote areas in Borno State,” he said in a statement made available to Daily Trust on Sunday.

“I call on all parties to the conflict to respect the principles of humanity, neutrality, independence and impartiality which guide the assistance the humanitarian community delivers in the states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe,” Kallon said.

Rising security concerns

Amidst the escalating attacks, civil society organizations in Borno State have asked President Muhammadu Buhari to fulfill his electioneering campaign promise to the Northeast by securing the region against the terrorist organization.

“Of recent, the state of insecurity has continued to deteriorate in the region, exposing the lives and property of people in severe danger,” Ambassador Ahmed Shehu, the Chairman and Executive Director of the Borno Network of CSOs, said at a news conference in Maiduguri on  Monday.

The current situation, according to Amb. Shehu, who was flanked by officials of many of the over 178 CSOs, has led to slaughter, abduction and maiming of defenseless citizens along the Damaturu-Maiduguri highway, mounting of illegal roadblocks, increase in the pace of attacks in towns and villages in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.

Socio-economic activities paralyzed – CSOs 

The civil society organizations observed that the situation has led to displacement of people from their towns and communities and paralyzed socio-economic activities in the region.

“The civil society network in the Northeast in general and Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states in particular wishes to draw the attention of the President and Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, Muhamnadu Buhari, to expedite action in bringing a definite end to the lingering security situation in the region,” they said.

The CSOs said in spite its policies and programmes at combating Boko Haram across the Northeast, much is still needed to be done in terms of strategy by the administration to win the fight against insurgency.

“We are demanding the security of life and property of the citizens, you promised us security, we voted for you for security and we are demanding security.

“We urge you to take special interest in securing the lives of citizens which is the primary purpose of government as enshrined in Section 14 (2) (b) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended),” the CSOs said.

As in the Mainok encounter, the military, with the help of the police, are ‘doing their best,’ but the terrorists appear too pushy in their bid to achieve their aim in the Northeast, and Nigeria.

Attacks frequent in Adamawa

Small attacks on remote villages by Boko Haram insurgents have been frequent in especially Madagali area in Adamawa State along the border with Borno State and Cameroon. The insurgents often loot grains, medicine and valuables  from rural shops and stores.

Residents often blame the attacks on members of already  weakened and poorly equipped cells who are hiding in the surrounding bushes, looking for food, medicine and other supplies to steal.

Attacks on remote villages where there is no military presence give the insurgents opportunity to loot foodstuff and sometimes domestic animals from their victims.

However, the resurgence of more organized attacks by heavily armed Boko Haram cells using gun trucks and sophisticated weapons raised new concerns about security of the area which had fallen under Boko Haram control in 2014  until its liberation by Nigerian soldiers in 2015.

Security had improved in the general area between 2016 and 2018 when many of the displaced persons returned, despite continued efforts by the insurgents to regain control of the territory.

More attacks, displacement of residents 

In the past one year or more, the insurgents have attacked several villages including Bakin Dutse, Kirchinga, Koppa, Bitiku, Sabongari and Shuwa, displacing residents.

For fear of attacks, farming activities are limited to fields located near settlements for fear of Boko Haram.  Several farmers were killed while working  on their farms.

“Many people have been displaced for the second time. When peace returned around 2016, we returned home and started rebuilding our lives but the recent attacks sent some of us away. We appeal to the government for additional soldiers to protect  our villages because we live in fear. We understand that the situation is better than what it was in 2015 because at that time all the flashes were deserted, no commercial vehicles, no farming, no business activities. Now we can travel to  Yola without fear on the road. The only problem are the attacks which normally come in the evenings. My fear is that if government allows the attacks to continue,  we are going back to 2015,” said a resident of Madagali, Ibrahim Beto.

No attack holiday at holiday season

End of the year attacks destroyed the hopes of many  who travelled home from far places  to come home to enjoy the holidays with their family members and kinsmen.

The insurgents crossing from Borno have since December carried out a number  attacks in Madagali and  Michika axis in northern Adamawa,  causing destruction and loss of innocent lives while disrupting farming and business activities. Several villages in the larger area and parts of Southern Borno were affected and some of the residents moved to bigger towns including Uba and Mubi for safety.

In anticipation of possible festive period violence, the military had erected new check points and fortified the existing ones as part of measures to control infiltration of the militants and suicide bombers into the territory.

Soldiers were seen along the roads leading to Madagali and southern Borno assisted by vigilantes sand-filling sacks and arranging them across the roads.

Boko Haram fighters who attempted  to cause havoc in  Bakin Dutse in Madagali were repelled by soldiers and vigilantes.

Although no casualty was reported, the incident created fears during the holidays.  The militants also attacked Kappa village in the same area. Two days into the new year, the insurgents riding  on military trucks and  several motorcycles thronged Michika, headquarters of the local government area and engaged the military in a fierce encounter outside the town.

After heavy exchange of fire, they were forced to withdraw into the bush while soldiers pursued them, reportedly killing nine of them. A gun truck, several motorcycles and arms were seized from the attackers, according to eye witnesses.

“We saw four corpses of Boko Haram men out of the nine reportedly killed. Two corpses are lying around Marwa in Michika and another two on the road to Kappa village. There is no casualty on the side of the military”, a source told our correspondent shortly after the gun fight.

Residents reported that sounds of gunshots and explosions lasted for a few hours, forcing many to flee toward Uba town and nearby mountains for safety.

Immediately after the incident,  Yakubu Nkenki, a member of EYN Church told Daily Trust on Sunday that a church leader and branch chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Michika area, Pastor Adimi Lawan, was missing and his family members fled to his village near Chibok. He was later executed by Boko Haram.

Condemning the attacks, Adamawa State Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri  lamented the resurgence of violence in Michika and Madagali  areas, restating his commitment to improved security.

In a press release signed by his press secretary, Humwashi Wonosikou, he expressed concern on the resurgence of Boko Haram attacks in recent times, saying his administration would continue to support the military to ensure security of lives and property.A few days later, Boko Haram released a video of the abducted cleric in which he commended his captors for taking good care of him and appealed to Adamawa State governor, Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri to secure his release from the insurgents. When negotiations for his released commenced, his family and friends were hopeful he would return home safely, unfortunately the talks broke down mid-way after the insurgents rejected N50 million ransom.

They got upset with the amount which they regarded as too meagre for such a high profile captive and pulled out of the talks.

Then a Boko Haram representative called Mr Adimi’s wife to inform her that her husband would be executed on Saturday, January 18.

Adamawa CAN chairman, Bishop Dami Mamza, disclosed the development in an interview with journalists in Yola on Tuesday, saying the captive wad beheaded on January 20.

He said the captors demanded for €2 million and rejected the N50 million offer.

His captors subsequently released a video in which he pleaded with Adamawa State governor, Umaru Fintiri, to ensure his release.

“Negations were still ongoing when they stopped calling. They were offered N50 million but they rejected it,” Mamza said.

“They called his wife last week informing her that they would be beheading him on Saturday, but somehow, they waited till Monday,”  Bishop Mamza disclosed.

Governor Fintiri appealed for calm in the affected areas and assured the people that the military was working in their interest.

Following the beheading of Pastor Lawan, Mamza called for the removal of military chiefs in the country, saying they had run out of ideas.

Boko Haram had controlled seven local government areas and threatened more in Adamawa between 2014 and 2015 before the liberation of the areas by Nigerian soldiers with the support of local hunters. Since then, the group has launched several attacks on civilians, including suicide bombings.

Renewed attacks put Damaturu residents on edge

The renewed attacks have put Yobe residents in fear and confusion. Though the security situation within Damaturu metropolis has relatively improved, residents are still worried as the insurgents are targetting neighboring villages.

In the past few months, the insurgents attacked Babbangida, headquarters of Tarmuwa  Local Government Area three times and made many attempts to infiltrate Damaturu but were thwarted by security operatives.

The state government recently launched Operation Haba Maza and donated 30 Toyota Hilux vehicles to support its operations.

The frequent attacks have affected economic activities, as many residents have abandoned their businesses and farmlands.

The busy Damaturu to Maiduguri road is becoming deserted by each passing day as a result of apprehension over killing and abduction along the road.  Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that a few days ago, a man called Ari Manguno was abducted along Auno, a some kilometers from Maiduguri, after leaving Gashu’a where he visited a friend.

A resident of Damaturu, Yusuf Ali, described the road as a death trap.

He said It was no longer news that in recent times there had been heightened security challenges on the highway which has become a target of the insurgents.

Motorists said the insurgents normally blocked  links to nearby villages such as Jakana and Mainok.  “The Boko Haram come to the highway to launch attacks on soft targets and ambush. The is a huge economic loss  to Borno and other parts of the Northeast in supplies and businesses,” he said.

He added that he feared that if the Maiduguri-Damaturu road falls under the control of Boko Haram, the insurgents would have effectively won the war because the Borno State capital would have been practically cut off from all access by land.

Ali said he doesn’t  want to believe that the military is loosing the war after so many successes had been recorded over the years.

He urged the Chief of Army Staff, Lt .Gen. Tukur Buratai, to urgently intervene and come up with a lasting solution.

According to him, the Maiduguri-Damaturu highway is very strategic and troops must secure it at all costs.

The Yobe Network for Civil Society has condemned the situation on the road. In statement signed by the Executive Director Alhaji Baba Shehu, the network charged the government and security agencies to ensure safety of motorists plying the road.

Shehu said the Network of Yobe Civil Society Organizations observes with total dismay, the growing insecurity in the Northeast in recent weeks, especially on the Damaturu-Maiduguri Highway where innocent travellers are brutally killed daily.

He said the government chose to be almost in total silence without a proactive measure to curtail such.

“We wish to remind the government that as citizens, we have rendered every support required by the security forces on ground to curb the insurgency in our state and region, even at the expense of our fundamental rights which has faced serious abuses, all for us to live in peace and security. But, it seems our lives are taken for granted by tolerating insurgents to continually feast on,” he said.

He noted that government should equally be reminded that security is a priority need of the people. According to him government has not done enough to provide security, especially to those in Yobe and Borno who are always preys not only in their communities but along the roads.

“We are all witness to the heavy security deployments whenever top government officials visit our cities, exposing us to unnecessary hardships throughout their stay.

“Therefore, we consider the lackluster attitude in securing our highways and communities by the government as hypocritical and the height of irresponsibility and as such we are calling on them to take proactive measures in ensuring the security of our lives and properties,” the group added.

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