Inside Boko Haram’s Hideout: The story of Sambisa forest

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The well fortified camps of terror group

By Ndahi Marama, Maiduguri

Sambisa is a vast area of land located south of Borno State. The thick forest area with swampy condition during rainy season is believed to be harbouring make shift- camps of suspected members of Boko Haram Islamists.

sambisa-1It has boundaries with Chibok, Askira Uba, Damboa, Gwoza, Konduga, Dikwa, Bama and other local government areas of the state.

There is a games reserve situated in the heart of Sambisa forest,  but when members of the terrorist group were dislodged by the military and vigilante youths from Maiduguri, Borno State capital, most of them relocated to the Sambisa and destroyed the games reserve last year killing some of the staff and settling there.

Although the military has told the whole world  severally that during their offensive against Boko Haram, they were able to kill many of the insurgents and destroyed their camps,  people question whether it is true that security forces actually were able to enter Sambisa. This is because of the several number of attacks and killings in Sambisa and surrounding villages.

The games reserve, according to findings, is located 14 kilometres of Kawuri village, along Maiduguri-Bama road which came under a deadly attack last month, leaving 85 people killed with property worth millions of naira destroyed.

It has an area of approximately 518 square kilometres.  It harbours a sizeable population of wildlife, typical of savannah habitat/ environment; like monkeys, antelopes, lions, elephants, as well as bird species such as ostrich, bustard, etc.

Contrary to what many think that Borno is a desert area, there are sizeable parts of the state, especially southern Borno, Sambisa inclusive, which vegetation is savannah by nature.

Prior to its destruction by insurgents, the games reserve was handed over to the Federal Government through the National Park.

The Chibok incident, which sparked global outrage, saw over 200 schoolgirls of a government girls secondary school being abducted, and still missing with extensive search and rescue mission into the Sambisa forest.

*Ordeal in Sambisa
Parents of the abducted school girls, at the weekend, recounted their experiences in the Sambisa forest in search of their daughters.

The aggrieved, traumatised parents, who spoke when Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima visited the school, also disputed the figures provided by the state government of the victims who  escaped from their kidnappers.

The parents had vowed, last week, to storm the forest because the military had purportedly failed to enter the place and rescue the children.

Narrating his experience, Mallam Amos Chiroma, who was among the parents who combed the Sambisa forest, told the governor: “We saw a lot of strange things in the Sambisa forest but we will not be able to disclose all for security reasons. Borno and indeed this country require prayers from all and sundry.

“While we were in the forest with over 200 volunteers who only had cutlasses, bows, arrows and sticks, we came across different make-shift camps suspected to be owned by terrorists. It is however unfortunate that we had to turn back when we met one good Samaritan in the forest who advised us that it was in our own interest to go back because the area we were approaching in the forest was a dead zone dominated by terrorists.

“If soldiers had accompanied us to the forest, we would have been optimistic that our missing children would have been rescued, or we would have been satisfied if we could just see the bodies of our daughters”.

Another parent, Mallam Shettima Yau Haruna, said since the incident, he and other affected parents had been having sleepless nights and they summoned courage to enter the Sambisa forest.

He told Shettima: “We want to seize this opportunity to thank you for the visit and identify with us at this sorrowful moment. But the truth of the matter is that only 39 out of about 250 students have so far been rescued contrary to official reports that 44 students were rescued out of 129 who were abducted as they were preparing to write their senior secondary school certificate examinations.

We want to emphasise that we are not happy with this development. While we continue to pray for the safe return of our daughters, we therefore appeal to government and our security operatives to please intensify the search for our missing innocent children”.

Our correspondent, who visited the school, last week, observed that the entire structure and vehicles in the school were set ablaze as well as the council secretariat and the residence of the caretaker chairman.

The governor, while addressing parents of the abducted students, sympathised with them and promised to deploy all human and material resources towards the safe release of the missing students.

He, however, called on all and sundry to continue to pray and fast for the release of the abducted girls.

*Soldiers, vigilante groups hunt for kidnapped girls
Meanwhile, Shettima’s spokesman, Isa Gusau, said that soldiers and vigilante groups were hunting “around the clock” for the terrorists holding the schoolgirls hostage.

Gusau said that 52 students had escaped so far, after seven more girls were found safe, last week.
Two ran to the state capital, Maiduguri, while five others found their way home, he said.

“With this development, we now have 77 girls still in the custody of their abductors,” he said.

“This is the most trying moment Governor Shettima has faced in the last three years. A security (operation) has been put in place to rescue the remaining girls and this included soldiers and members of a civilian force that was formed last year to help the military fight Boko Haram.

“We are working round the clock to ensure all of them are freed unharmed,” he said.
Gusau’s figures were disputed by the school’s principal, Asabe Kwambura, who said she was working with parents to compile a complete register of those taken.

She said, “A total of 230 names were registered by parents. So far, 43 girls have escaped. We still have 187 missing.”
Residents of Chibok also appealed to Boko Haram to show mercy and release the girls.

“We are appealing to Boko Haram to show mercy and release these girls,” said Chibok resident Haladu Sule, adding: “The people of Chibok will know no peace until they are freed.”

Members of the community criticised the rescue mission, claiming they had not yet seen a large build-up of troops in the region or any indication that the military had mobilised a major search effort.

Some of the girls who escaped said the Islamists took the hostages to the Sambisa forest.

*Borno women to storm forest
In the meantime, Borno State coalition for women’s right groups, last week, expressed willingness to mobilise thousands of women to embark on a voluntary search and rescue mission into the Sambisa forest, to secure the release of the abducted girls.

The women, under the auspices of BAOBAB Women’s Right, said they were ready to storm the  hide-out of the Boko Haram insurgents where the abducted girls were believed to have being held hostage.

Spokesperson for the group, Prof. Hauwa Abdu Biu, in an interview, said they resolved to embark on the expedition when it was evident that no reasonable progress was being achieved in the rescue of the kidnapped girls.

“We are ready to go into the forest and search for the girls. In fact, we are prepared to risk our lives and reach up to to Boko Haram camp and appeal to them to release the children to us so that they can re-unite with their parents”, Hauwa declared.

“There is nothing extra- ordinary in our quest to enter the dangerous forest. We learnt that some men in Chibok earlier embarked on such mission, which later turned out to be fruitless.

“We feel that as mothers, we are in a better position to have the sympathy and concern over the fate of the missing girls. All we are after is to see to the successful release of the girls unhurt”.

The group urged security forces to put in more efforts in the search and rescue mission.

She described the abduction of the school girls as inhuman, abuse of human rights, capable of scuttling the efforts to enhance the girl-child education in Borno and the country at large.

 

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