Malum Usman held his three-year-old boy firmly as he disembarked from the back of a truck and crossed to the other side of the road near a popular motor park along Baga road in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
The time was about 10:00a.m and the wintry weather in the Northeast state was biting harder. Malum’s wife and other members of the family; eight in all, joined him shortly. They appeared famished and unkempt.
“We are from Baga. We left the town completely,” he said while responding to enquiries from some journalists. “These are not all, many are still coming,” he added, pointing at the crowd of locale disembarking from the truck. It was a huge crowd of people last week. Residents of the area said hundreds of people that fled Baga, Borno border town in aftermath of Boko Haram invasion of the town on Wednesday December 26, 2018, started arriving Maiduguri last weekend in droves. “Some of them don’t know where to go again,” Aisha Bulama told Sunday Sun.
As at noon last Sunday, some of the IDPs camps like Teachers’ Village camp in Maiduguri were populated again as hundreds returned to the place they left a year ago to their ancestral homes.
The recent upsurge in Boko Haram attacks have forced scores of people to flee their homes in Baga, Cross Kauwa, Kukawa, Gudumbali along the Lake Chad again to the state capital. Security experts said the recent attacks put a big question on the successes initially achieved by the military in the counter insurgency war.
Within two months, Boko Haram has carried out more than 15 attacks on military locations and communities in Borno and Yobe State. Aside the November 18 attack on Metele in Abadam Local Government where 23 officers and soldiers were killed and many arms carted away, Boko Haram has raided military locations and communities at Gudumbali, Malam Fatori, Makalama and Bolakla near Chibok, in Borno State; Kukareta, Katarko and Buni Gari in Yobe State. The spate of attacks and killings drew national outrage even as many in the volatile Northeast region expressed concern over the development, coming weeks before the 2019 general elections.
“It appears like a repeat of pre-2015 elections,” a senior government official in Borno State who preferred anonymity said. The source said upsurge of attacks came at a time residents thought insurgency was getting off the area. “It was as if Boko Haram just got a new vigour while we were still happy its end has come, especially with military efforts,” the source said, adding that “we knew something went wrong somewhere.”
Boko Haram: Unending war?
Boko Haram which started like an insurrection has metamorphosed into a full-scale terror act as it entered its tenth year. Some residents said the insurgents are still invincible because of the geographical location of Northeast Borno and Yobe states. Borno in particular has land area of about 72,609 square kms, second to Niger State which has about 76,363 sq kms, the largest in the country. The northern and central Borno which have about 17 local governments, more than half of the landmass, are mostly desert area and in some places, muddy in the rainy season, making military operations in such areas very difficult.
Yet Borno is the only state in the country that shares border with three African countries; Chad, Niger and Cameroon with long history of political unrest, armed conflict and violence. Dauda Suleiman, a humanitarian assistant, attributed the unending Boko Haram conflict to poor understanding of the geography of the area.
“Our troops are fighting Boko Haram in a very difficult terrain. Most of them have poor knowledge of the geography of the area and don’t forget these insurgents know the area well. That’s why it is easier for them to strike somewhere and flee elsewhere,” he explained.
He also identified “weak civilian-military relations or cooperation” which he said hamper provision of credible information by the locals to the security agencies, lack of understanding of the insurgents’ evolving tactics, “poor counter-insurgency strategies” by the military and corruption in the system and inadequate arms as reasons the violence has persisted since 2012.
“On the international angle, there is the problem of weak regional cooperation and coordination, weak intelligence gathering and sharing, delayed in weapon procurement because of allegations of human right abuse, strategic and conflicting interest of world super powers in the Lake Chad region,” he stated.
He maintained that all these factors helped in making the crisis to continue.
The “war” within
Some also attributed this to what they called politicization of security issue.
“In Nigeria, we waste much time debating security issues based on our political interest thereby causing unnecessary distractions to the security agencies. We fight ourselves. It is like another war within and this helped indirectly the insurgents to regroup, re-strategize and launch more attacks,” an ex-military personnel, Illiyasu Ahmed said.
Army spokesman Brig. Gen Sani Usman said circulation of fake news and Boko Haram propaganda have become major challenge to military operation in the Northeast.
He said that such acts could demoralize troops in the frontline, urging Nigerians to show more concern and support to the troops.
“The main challenges are inaccurate reportage, fake news and misinformation, as well as mischievous propaganda that tend to eulogies the criminal Boko Haram terrorists and concerted efforts to denigrate the leadership of the military and demoralize our troops. We want the public to discountenance fake news and misinformation, continued support, encouragement and cooperation,” Usman said.
The threat to 2019 poll
There are concern in the state about the conduct of the February elections in most local governments in Borno. Aside the local government headquarters, most communities in Kukawa, Mobbar, Abadam, Gubio, Moguno, Marte, Ngazai, Ngala, Kala Balge, Mafa, Dikwa, Bama and Gwoza are still volatile with some of the insurgents hiding in the surrounding bushes.
However, the fright or trepidation which Boko Haram attacks often brought in the past has dropped. “People fear Boko Haram not because the insurgents are that powerful or have high technology arms, but because they instill fears in people whenever they come for attacks. So the people often look for places they believe are safe whenever Boko Haram attack,” chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Borno State, Baba Sheik Haruna said. He expressed hope that renew vigour by the military would ignite more courage in the people before next month’s election.
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