By Ndahi Marama, Maiduguri
It has ben a string of attacks since Sunday, January 13 when Kawuri in Konduga LGA, Borno State was invaded by suspected Boko Haram insurgents, sacking about 37 communities with thousands of residents displaced taking refuge in Cameroon Republic and villages in Chibok, Damboa, Gwoza, Konduga council areas as well as Maiduguri, the state capital.
The sacked communities include Goskari Gana, Limanti, Mairari, Kwaljiri, Alau, Kaya, Wala, Ngawo Fate and Mude while the latest Kawuri attack has posed many unanswered questions, particularly to residents and traders who were in the town on Sunday, January, 26, a market day.
Prior to these attacks, gunmen, numbering about 80, suspected to be members of Boko Haram, invaded Wala village, a Christian community in Gwoza LGA Borno State and the country home of a federal lawmaker, representing Chibok, Damboa and Gwoza constituency, Hon. Peter Biye, and shot dead two persons, while several others sustained gunshot injuries. The gunmen set shops and residential houses ablaze before carting away livestock and food crops.
10 people were also killed by suspected insurgents in Njaba village in Damboa LGA while eight others were killed in Kaya village also in the LGA when suspected insurgents attacked the village.
The January 26 attack was said to have been carried out by insurgents numbering over 50 who invaded Kawuri and set ablaze over 300 residential houses and shops after killing a soldier, a policeman, 51 civilians and wounding several policemen as well as civilians.
The attack, which happened at about 5pm, led to many traders and residents sustaining injuries and are now receiving treatment in Konduga and Bama General Hospitals as well as the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital.
Kawuri District is one of the big towns in Konduga, situated along Maiduguri-Bama Expressway, about 60 kilometres from Maiduguri.
This is the third time the town was attacked. The first time was October last year when some Boko Haram suspects clashed with vigilante youths. The incident led to the killing of 10 people, 18 injured and the burning of 48 shops and 200 houses.
Immediately after that clash, the state government enjoined youths of Kawuri to form their own Civilian JTF, a volunteer vigilante group, to protect their territory from Boko Haram attacks.
Thereafter, the people of Kawuri started receiving threat letters from the insurgents domiciled in their camps in Sambisa forest, about 30 kilometres away from the town, cautioning them that anyone of their sons/daughters who joined the Civilian JTF risked possible attack. The second attack was the one of January 13.
Governor Kashim Shettima, who was billed to visit the town on Monday morning, a day after the January 26 incident, had to suspend the trip following intelligence report that the place was not safe, as insurgents, who attacked the town the previous day, had planted improvised explosive devices (IEDs) targeting rescue workers and security operatives deployed to maintain law and order in the area.
Shettima on Tuesday, that is, two days after the incident, however, visited Kawuri. Residents of the town told the governor they had buried 53 bodies and were still counting, as they also recovered two more bodies and buried them that morning.
A survivor, Mallam Mustapha Modu, said the attackers wore military camouflage and disguised as soldiers, but it was easy to identify them as they they didn’t wear helmets on their heads, but a red and white headtie called in Hausa Rawani with tattered shoes, not military boots.
Another resident of the town said, “ I was in the market doing business. All of a sudden, we started hearing gunshot sounds coming from different directions. As I was about to close my shop to run for my dear life, I saw my little daughter, Aishatu, who I left them at home with others including my wife crying that our house was on fire. As we scrambled to reach home, we couldn’t due to smoke that enveloped every nook and cranny of the town.
“As I am talking to you now, I have not seen two of my children and my wife, but I pray they are still alive somewhere”.
The village head of Kawuri, whose house was also burnt by the insurgents, while briefing Shettima at his palace, said about seven mosques were razed. The Imam of Kawuri Friday Mosque, Alhaji Mele Kawuri, according to him, was slaughtered in his mosque alongside two worshippers by the insurgents before they set the building ablaze.
The Chairman of the Civilian JTF, Mallam Lawal Musa,told the governor his men were not deterred by the attack, as they were ready to die defending their territory.
He stated that during the attack, his men killed several of the insurgents, but stressed that he couldn’t ascertain the casualty on the side of the insurgents as, according to him, they are good in picking their corpses and going away with them in their operational vehicles, even as he said with the support they got from security agents in the area, some arrests were made in connection with the incident.
Councillor of Kawuri village, Dala Lawan, said about 40 persons with bullet and fire injuries were admitted at various health centres across Borno State where they were receiving treatment.
“We are still searching for and burying corpses. The first burial was 53 but more corpses are still being picked in the bush and some people with serious injuries also died. We just found two more corpses which brings the death toll to 55”, Lawan told Sunday Vanguard.
Sunday Vanguard saw women, children old and young men with burnt skins screaming in pains on hospital beds in Konduga town, about 10km away from Kawuri village.
A mother, Rabi Mallam, 46, who suffered second degree burns, said she, her son and grand daughter were hiding inside the room when the gunmen set their home on fire.
“We ran inside the house for fear of gun shots but they came and set fire to the house while shooting. I and the two kids could not come out because they were shooting, we were there for hours before they left thinking we were dead. I covered the kids with heavy blanket soaked in water, but the fire still burnt us,” Rabi said.
A new couple, Mallam and Mrs Abba Usman, while narrating their ordeal, said they lost everything in their burnt house.
Meanwhile, Shettima, in tears, urged Kawuri residents to take heart and consider the attack as an act of God, promising that his administration would rebuild all the burnt houses.
He asked them not to run away from their homes as government was going to provide them with adequate security. The governor announced a donation of N250,000 each to the families of those who lost their loved ones, and promised to settle the medical bills of the injured.