By Ndahi Marama, Maiduguri
For 14 days beginning from February 11, the people of Borno, particularly those residing around the bushy Sambisa Forest, have seen what could be described as ‘hell on earth’ following deadly attacks, bombings, killings and destruction of property. No fewer than 500 people were reportedly killed, 15,000 residents displaced/sacked, 200 still missing, while property worth billions of Naira including houses, shops and vehicles were destroyed all in the name of insurgency.
In fact, one would wonder where security operatives were when suspected Boko Haram insurgents struck. Before February 11, the sect members stormed Kawuri District of Konduga Local Government Area and killed over 50 people while sacking the community. The insurgents also invaded the villages of Wala, Warabe, Ngoshe, Alau, Ngurosoye, Kaleri, Gulumba, Ashgashiya, Mude, Waga, Chakawa, Limanti, Kwaljiri, Kaka, Ngawo Fate among others engaging in killing spree. During the February 11 attacks, the insurgents invaded Konduga and killed 57 residents, burnt houses and vehicles while abducting some female students in one of the secondary schools. A day after the Konduga incident, that is, February 12, insurgents also visited Izghe village of Gwoza council area. They ambushed soldiers in one of their posts and killed nine on the spot. On February 15, some gunmen visited Izghe and killed over 150 residents.
Four days after the Izghe incident, some insurgents invaded Bama Council headquarters. The attack, the deadliest, claimed the lives of over 170 people including about 70 of the attackers during the air strikes launched by security forces.
Governor Kashim Shettima visited the communities attacked to sympathise with them. Shettima, at the mass burial of the Konduga victims, released N100 million to enable the surviving residents buy relief materials. He also promised to rebuild all the houses, mosques, and markets destroyed. A Konduga resident, who gave his name as Kyari Modu, said, prior to Shettima’s visit on Wednesday, a village near the town recovered and buried 18 unidentified corpses of victims.
Our correspondent also learnt that relief materials and food items were procured for distribution at resettlement camps of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) along the Maiduguri-Bama Road on Thursday. Speaking on the governor’s directive to rebuild the destroyed houses in the attacked communities, the state Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Alhaji Baba Kaka Bashir Garbai, said the N100 million released was for the procurement of building and relief materials for victims.
He said the rebuilding exercise includes 80 per cent of the destroyed houses in Konduga, the central mosque, the market, and the district head’s palace razed by the insurgents.
“The procured relief materials are to be distributed by NEMA officials at designated resettlement centres on Maiduguri-Bama Road, while the rebuilding of destroyed houses and market commences today (Thursday) in Konduga; with the personal supervision of our governor, Hon. Kashim Shettima, who directed me to release N100 million on Wednesday, when we paid a sympathy and condolence visit to the destroyed township”, the commissioner said.
Shettima, at the Wednesday burial ceremony in Konduga and inspection of destroyed houses, said: “It was an unfortunate incident but we implore our people (locals) to remain strong because this is our land,we have nowhere to go, come rain, come shine. We have to remain in Konduga ; we have to remain in Borno to salvage the situation. I have ordered the release of N100m to start rehabilitation work and purchase of humanitarian items like food, blankets and so on for the victims of this madness.
“We went round together. You have seen that many people have been killed and over 80 per cent of the town has been razed ….most facilities have been burnt, but we are willing to expend whatever resources we have to restore those facilities. If it will cost us N400m or N500m, so be it because this is our land and we must remain here.”
On the incessant attacks in Borno, he said: “Frankly speaking, officers and men of the Nigerian Army and the Nigeria Police are doing their best, given the circumstances. But you and I know that the Boko Haram insurgents are better armed and better motivated but, honestly, our security men on ground are putting in their best. There is the need for additional troops and additional support for the military. I am an eternal optimist; I hope and pray that, very soon, the Federal Government will rise to the challenges of the day.”
He, however, noted that dialogue should not be foreclosed to resolve the Boko Haram challenge..
Shettima said: “We will continue to call for dialogue because unless we want to engage in an endless war of attrition, we don’t have any other option than to talk to the moderate elements of the Boko Haram to lay down their arms and be reintegrated into the society.
“As J. F Kennedy rightly said, we should never negotiate out of fear but we should never fear to negotiate. We are willing to talk to the moderate elements. But look at the lunatics that burnt a mosque… They are burning down churches, so I don’t know whether to call them criminals or whatever, I don’t know, honestly. In Kawuri, they burnt five mosques. So, the issue of people even linking them with the religion of Islam should not arise.”
On security and rebuilding of destroyed houses and shops at Kauwuri, Benisheikh, Gashigar, and Mainok village, the governor said: “Security or no security, I am ready to stay with my people. Whoever wishes to go anywhere can do that but I will remain with Borno people and share their pain.
“Nobody should bring the suggestion that any part of the state is not safe for me to go to. I am ready to face the problem with my people and together we will find solution to it. Whatever resources it will cost us” .
The district head of Izge, Mallam Bulama Apagu, and Madagali Council Chairman, Mr Maina Ularamu Monday, said the death toll in the penultmate Saturday attacks and killings in the vullage had increased from 106 to 121, following the recovery of more bodies in destroyed houses, nearby bushes and farmlands for burial. Speaking in a telephone chat with our correspondent, Ularamu said 60 bodies were buried last Sunday evening, including the 31 bodies of people recovered from the market square.
He said the recovery of other bodies by some volunteer group were from houses and the nearby bushes, which the victims fled to when the insurgents arrived. The distract head, however, noted that more bodies could still be recovered by the volunteer group, as some residents fled in different directions as the town burned for over five hours.
On displaced residents, Ularamu said: “The killings of many people in Izge terrified survivors, mainly the elderly, women and children. The attacks forced some of them to flee to the nearest safe place, like Gulak, the council headquarters of Madagali Local Government Area of Adamawa State. You know that Gwoza is also not safe for the fleeing residents to take refuge. This is why more people of Izge are fleeing on foot, bicycle and motorcycle to the administrative headquarters of Madagali Council, 30 kilometres away from Gwoza in Borno State.”
He added: “As Monday morning, when I visited the temporary resettlement camp, we have over 10, 000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) there and more are coming into the camp because the people of
other villages of Yazza, Bita, Waga Chakawa, Sabon Gari, Gori and Jaje with a population of over 1, 500, are still trooping into Gulak town for safety and relief materials from the state or Federal
Apagu said the withdrawal of troops by the 23 Armoured Brigade, Yola, after the killing of 10 soldiers in a clash with insurgents on Thursday, February 13, left Izghe vulnerable to the insurgent attacks and killings. “I cannot speak further to you on these multiple attacks on my people that had done nothing against these gunmen who seemed bent on wiping out the town and residents. We need more soldiers and policemen to protect us against insurgent attacks and killings”, the district head said.
He said because of the increase in the number of people killed, the volunteer group was burying the bodies in mass graves of 15 each, as the ground was hard to dig to accommodate more bodies.Governor Shettima, on Tuesday, visited Izghe to sympathise with the victims. The governor, accompanied by the senator representing the affected community, Mohammed Ali Ndume, and some government officials, also announced N100 million to complement the N100 million earlier released by the state government for the victims.
Shettima and Ndume shed tears on seeing the magnitude of the damage to human lives and property as well as the displacement of over 10,000 residents. The governor urged the people of Borno and the country at large to continue to pray for restoration of peace and unity in the North-east in particular. While addressing the victims earlier, Ndume called on the fleeing victims to return as government was aware of their predicament and will take a stance to see to it that such unfortunate incident did not repeat itself.
Shettima, who could not hide his feelings over the killings in the Borno villages, had accused the Presidency of insensitivity to “the sorrowful plights” of the people and the state government since the Boko Haram insurgency started in 2009 claiming over 365 lives and property this year alone.
The statement was apparently in reaction to the one by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe. The governor said the Presidency was unfair.
Okupe had, on Tuesday, dismissed Shettima’s assessment and reminded the governor that the war against insurgents was not conventional, insisting that there was ample evidence to show that the armed forces were on top of the situation in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states.
In a statement in Maiduguri, Borno State capital, Shettima’s media aide, Mallam Isa Umar Gusau, said he had just learnt of the “unfortunate remarks” by Okupe.
Gusau said: “The statement was rather unfair and insensitive to the sorrowful plight of Borno people and its government.
It is an irony to realise that while Okupe didn’t find it worthy to hold a press briefing in sympathy with the people of Borno and to join in condemning the horrible serial attacks that left nearly 300 innocent citizens killed in February alone, he found it very urgent to try to take advantage of an honest opinion just to show his face on television in the name of doing his job.
”At the end, it is Okupe that would attract ill the feelings of the people towards the presidency and not his targeted prey. First let me say with emphasis that Governor Kashim Shettima has the highest regard for the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and appreciates the president’s continued efforts in the last tww and half years at tackling the Boko Haram insurgency.
”Governor Shettima equally holds the Nigerian Armed Forces in very high esteem and he has since proved that by his devoted support of them as successive leaders of the forces have differently confirmed.”
As the governor exchanged words with the Presidency, insurgents intensified their attacks as they struck in Bama Council again. The death toll of the Wednesday attack in Bama increased from 47 to 132 following the recovery of more bodies and new grave yards as well as the bombing and killing of over 76 of the insurgents by ground troops supported by airstrikes.
This is even as the Shehu of Bama, Alhaji Kyari Umar Ibu Ibrahim Elkanemi, whose palace was set ablaze during the attack, had to relocate to Maiduguri, on Thursday. The Shehu confirmed that the military and other security agencies were incapacitated to fight Boko Haram. At the General Hospital Bama where some of the injured were admitted, the Chief Nursing Officer, Mall am Emid Mohammed Shuwa, told our correspondent: “We received over 200 victims. Out of the number, we were able to treat and discharge many, 45 are still on admission while 17 died in the process today (Thursday). Those who sustained serious gunshot injuries have been referred to UMTH.”
When our correspondent visited Bama Motor Park together with the Shehu of Borno, the Chairman of National Union of Road Transport Workers ( NURTW), Mallam Moroyi Mustapha, told the monarch that 116 commercial vehicles were set ablaze by the insurgents in addition to uncountable number of private vehicles burnt in houses and streets of the town.