By Emmanuel Bagudu
…we apprehend rusttled cows by Bokoharam almost everyday, says Army General
….Army takes more rescued abductees to Bama Camp making IDPs now 36,000
….I ply round Maiduguri day and night without fear says Commercial Tricycle operator
Bokoharam Insurgents in Northeast Nigeria are now dissipated, TNG authoritatively gathered in Maiduguri.
After losing a move to establish a Caliphate in the Northeast, the daredevil insurgents have now resorted to operating a mere miniature criminal franchise after losing out to Nigerian Troops and the joined military forces in the lake Chad basin. “….You won’t see anyone in Sambisa forest….They are now in the fringes of the lake Chad basin, in the ISWAP area… and we will crush them….”Major General Olusegun Adeniyi, Theatre Commander Operation Lafiya Dole Maiduguri told Journalists on Investigative tour.
This piece explores the bitter-sweet experience in the counter Insurgency drive by the Nigerian Army in Northeast Nigeria and the Lake Chad basin. TNG’s correspondent Emmanuel Bagudu reports.
Strict adherence to international laws on counter terrorism seems to be the norm in the operations of the Nigerian Army fighting Bokoharam Insurgents in the North East.
While the Insurgents are not bound by any rules, the Nigerian Army is forced to obey laws like “the International Human Right Laws (IHRL)” which Nigerian Goverment agreed to obey during the 32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC) which held from 8th to 10th December, 2015, in Geneva, Switzerland.
This is a serious barrier the troops have to contend with. “The law mandates us to ensure the welfare of suspects, we can’t shoot the ambulance of the enemy proceeding to the hospital, we must feed our suspects, we must protect our suspects and grant them access to their loved ones….. All these must be obeyed by us, but you all know the enemies (Insurgents) are not bound by any laws, while we protect their rights, they don’t do anything in our Favour”. Brigedier General Aladeniyi Abiodun, leader of the tour told Journalists.
For five days TNG’s Correspondent interacted with both locals and Army operatives in Maiduguri, Borno state capital, a now calm and serene city that was once threatened by activities of Bokoharam Insurgents. First was a trip to Bama local government area a former enclave and spiritual headquarters of the Insurgents. It was an adventurous journey led by a heavily armed Army escorts filled in two hilux vehicles. The leading hilux vehicle was made of both armed Army men and army engineers who scanned the road to dodge any planted Improvised Explosive Device (IED) on the road incase of any. “Please anywhere the first vehicle follows is where you will follow because they are all scanning for IEDs,” an Army Officer told the drivers following the first vehicle.” The Journalists were in a 52 Seater Coaster and an 18 seater bus together with senior Army personnel who gave them details of the terrain.
The journey to Bama meant to be an hour plus, took us two and half hours because the army personnel regulated the vehicles speed to educate Journalists on the terrain. Kodunga local government area is on the road to Bama. About 3 villages in the local government were shut down by Bokoharam; communication masts and other public facilities damaged beyound repair. Journalists took pictures of burnt houses and damaged public infrastructures. “Less than two years ago you can’t come here, you can see how vast and flat the land is, everywhere here is a road, the Insurgents can come from anywhere to attack and it’s their home. But all these are now history…. ” Bigedier General Abiodun said. According to Abiodun four local governments host Sambisa Forest, operational base of Bokoharam now captured by the Nigerian Army. The local governments includes Kodunga, Bama, Damboa and Gwoza. “these local governments are now free from Insurgents Abiodun said.
Although damages done by the Insurgents remains conspicuous, touring the attacked villages reveals the obvious dissipation of the Insurgents. Major complexities in the counter terrorism drive which most Nigerians don’t know about became conspicuous to the journalists.
Environmental features from Maiduguri to Kodunga alone speaks volumes. The entire terrain is a flat land with several road networks that are either motorable or can be plyed by motorcycles and bycicles. “Now look at the roads, look at the land, apart from this, Sambisa forest alone is bigger than Lagos State (everyone exclaimed), this is the home of the Insurgents, they know the road more than the Army operatives, even if you bring three hundred thousand soldiers they won’t cover Sambisa, “Colonel Ola Majoyegbe (retired) told Journalists. “This reveals the galantry of the Nigerian Army. Majoyegbe added.
Arriving Bama ushered in another special scenario; heavily loaded trucks with goods enroute to Cameroon parked on the roadside. “Some of these trucks can’t proceed to Cameroun due to Border closure, a trader (name withheld) told TNG correspondent.
Bama is the former spiritual Headquarters of Bokoharam. Bama hosts the 21 Special Armoured Brigade, Nigeria Army led by Brigedier General ST AUDU. “No Armoured Brigade is referred to as “Special” except this one in Bama”. Brigedier General Abiodun said. Located in the Shehu of Bama’s palace, the 21 special Armoured Brigade seems to be indeed special considering the peculiarities of the town. “This Town (Bama) is very strategic in Army operations against the Insurgents, it is just a year plus since the locals returned. You will recall that the Bokoharam Insurgents have once raised their flag here ousting out everyone but that is now history, locals started returning since April 2018”. Brigedier General ST AUDU told Journalists.
According to Audu the Army in Bama are proactive and don’t take things for granted. “We have tried our best to provide health and water facilities destroyed by the Insurgents, there are special personnel in charge of scanning the roads to get rid of Improvised explosive devices on daily basis” Audu said.
Asked on the reasons behind absence of economic activities like filling stations in Bama, Audu said the reason is to deny the Insurgents opportunities of getting fuel and other petroleum products to aid their Operations. “Do you know that we are living with families of Bokoharam Insurgents in this Bama?, they still provide aids to the Insurgents who are in the bush” Audu said. “we have seen their wives with maggi(cooking ingredients) in the bush, when we ask them they will say they are going to farm, but we know they are taking it to their people (Insurgents) in the bush”. Audu added. This is just one of the few complexities in the counter Insurgency drive which Audu said are all summountable.
In Bama’s Internally Displaced Persons Camp, IDPs are now numbering thirty six thousand. “We use to be fifteen thousand before, but now we have a primary school and we are now thirty six thousand in number, Ahmed Buala one of the IDPs told TNG.
Asked by TNG why the number keep increasing, Brigedier General Audu said it is because of the increased number of rescued hostages captured by Bokoharam. “When we rescue them we bring them here” Audu Said. TNG’s further investigation reveals children are born in the Camp which also contributed to the increase in the number of IDPs. Attempts by TNG correspondent to speak to pregnant women in the camp proved abortive.
In the Bama Market, locals are trading comfortably. Traders interacted freely with Journalists who patronised their goods. Outside the Market square were Trucks loaded with goods enroute to neighboring Cameroon, Adamawa, Taraba states and Eastern and Southern Nigeria. “Some of the truck drivers bound for Cameroon claimed they will require clearance before embarking to Cameroon due to Border closure.
THEATRE COMMANDER GIVES FULL UPDATE ON COUNTER INSURGENCY OPERATIONS OF THE NIGERIAN ARMY
For Major General Olusegun Adeniyi, the Theatre Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, Maiduguri, things are not as bad as people are thinking. Thank God “you people have seen for yourselves….” “Bokoharam have been defeated since they can no longer take charge of any community in the north east”
According to Adeniyi, the Insurgents wanted to establish a “Fantom Capital” in the north east but are now tamed and forced out of their desired targets. The Theatre Commander said reckless preacher Mohammed Yusuf started the Bokoharam movements but his intentions have been thwarted. “We must now learn to give them the right name, Bokoharam are now Kidnapper, rustlers, rapist and a mere criminal franchise. They just attack while everywhere is serene, but having spent up to 5 years here in the Northeast, I now know their Operations and who they are, and very soon they will be forced to come for negotiations or I will kill all of them” Adeniyi declared.
MAIDUGURI RESIDENTS CONFIRM ARMY’S ONGOING SUCCESS AGAINST INSURGENTS
TNG’s correspondent who witnessed the release of 983 repentant Boko Haram suspects by the Theatre Command Operation Lafiya Dole report that Maiduguri residents and neighboring Communities have returned to their normal way of lives. In a special ceremony at Giwa Barracks Maiduguri, the detention centre of suspected Insurgents, families of the suspect who spoke to TNG said peace is now in Borno state. “we have forgotten about bokoharam, we have not seen any attack for some few years now”, Garga Musa told TNG. Another woman who pleaded anynomity expressed happiness re-uniting with her husband who has been in detention. Outside the Giwa barracks were normal activities of citizens. Kamal Shehu is a commercial trycicle operator also called Keke NAPEP, he said he plies Maiduguri’s roads commfortably day and night without any fear of Bokoharam attack. Shehu who spoke to TNG in Hausa called on Nigerians to return to Maiduguri to invest as normalcy has since returned.