By Ndahi Marama, Maiduguri
When last weekend the leader of the Islamist group Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, said Gwoza in Borno State had been declared an ‘Islamic Caliphate’, following its alleged capture, the military was quick to deny the claim.
Yet the question on the lips of may concerned Nigerians is why the town has become so vulnerable to Boko Haram attacks, having been invaded severally in the past.
Gwoza is a Local Government Area of Borno State. Its headquarters is Gwoza, a border town about 135 kilometres south-east of Maiduguri.
It has an area of 2,883 km² and a population of 276,312, going by the 2006 census.
The terrain, rocky and hilly, with the height of about 1300m above sea level, provides scenery and is made up of ranges of mountains known as the Mandara Mountains. These mountains form a natural barrier between Nigeria and Cameroon, starting from Pulka. They overlook the Sambisa game reserves by meandering towards Mubi and beyond in Adamawa State.
Gwoza LGA has been called “a notorious hide out for the Boko Haram insurgents,” who arrived in the area in 2009 from Maiduguri. The area has suffered considerable violence as a result of the Islamist insurgency, and, in 2014, saw an influx of Boko Haram fighters fleeing Sambisa forest.
In June 2014, reports indicated that Gwoza was under attack. The reports could not be substantiated because most telephone masts in the town and surrounding villages had been vandalized by insurgents. Security operatives and residents reported that “roads out of the region are extremely dangerous and phone connections are poor to non-existent”.
Following the efforts displayed by the military to take over Damboa Local Government Area of Borno State from Boko Haram, sources said the insurgents ran away and wreaked havoc on neighbouring Gwoza in August, a situation that led to the taking over of the town and surrounding villages of Pulka, Ashigashiya, Limankara and the National Police Mobile training camp by the insurgents.
Infact, what took place in Damboa between the military and the insurgents before the former reclaimed the town could be described as “a farmer, who instead of killing pests in his farmland, only drives the pests into another person’s farmland”.
There are many reasons insurgents find it easy to operate without confrontation in Gwoza and other communities in Borno. While some of the reasons may be natural, others could be human -made or artificial.
The natural scenery and surrounding Mandara Mountains as well as the porous borders with Cameroon Republic make it easy for proliferation of arms and ammunitions into Nigeria. The physical features of the area is another reason because of the long mountain range which provides an escape route for Boko Haram.
Likewise, the hilly environment with vegetations serves as hideouts and caves to insurgents that take the advantage of using ‘hide, hit or run’ into their caves making it difficult for ground troops and the air force to locate and bombard them whenever they strike on military formations or residents.
Another natural factor, according to investigation, has to do with the terrain itself that the military finds difficult to penetrate with their vehicles, while the terrorists, conversant with the area, use bicycles, motorcycles and sometimes operate on foot to perpetrate their evil and run away.
A man- made or artificial factor, which sources described as the major headache of the military in curtailing the insurgents, has to do with “lack of zeal by government and the security forces to end the insurgency as both benefit from the crisis politically, economically socially.”
According to sources, apart from the fear of being attacked or killed for giving intelligence reports to security agents on the hideouts and modus operandi of the sect by residents, one other factor is the sympathy by some Gwoza indigenes for Boko Haram. Right from the time the group came into being, many of them, due to poverty and fanatism in the land, were recruited and played major roles in unleashing terror on the rest of the society.
It is natural therefore that when Boko Haram was chased out of town and its members fled to Sambisa forest, which borders Gwoza and Damboa, some indigenes of Gwoza in particular were in no position to give intelligence on their area to the military which made the town an easy target.
Another reason is lack of motivation and proper or adequate life insurance scheme for security operatives in the battle field. Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State was recently quoted to have said that “ lack of motivation for troops by the Federal Government was the reason Boko Haram remained undefeated”.
Shettima added: “Boko Haram are better armed and are better motivated than our own troops, and, given the present state of affairs, it is absolutely impossible for us to defeat Boko Haram”.