May 19, 2014
The Boko Haram sect appears to have opened a new frontier in Bauchi and Jigawa states by setting up camps in forests, infiltrating rural communities, engaging in recruitment drive and launching regular attacks in towns and villages.
A Daily Trust investigation shows that at least 15 towns and villages in the two states have seen presence of suspected Boko Haram men, who move around freely wielding guns, preaching their strand of religion and trying to financially induce young men to join the sect.
The “strange” men were first noticed late last year, and villagers said they reported to authorities but little seemed to have been done since then.
Because of that, the group’s numerical strength appeared to have swelled, and its members got emboldened.
Since January, deadly attacks have been launched in many towns and villages in the two states.
Many vehicles have been seized by gunmen along the highways; banks have been raided; while police and school buildings, as well as telecoms installations, have been destroyed.
The presence of these people is also blamed for several cases of kidnapping-for-ransom recorded in some of the areas. In one instance, up to N20 million was said to have been paid to secure the release of an abducted man.
Bauchi and Jigawa states are neighbours to Yobe and Borno, the hotbed of Boko Haram activity in the past four years.
According to investigations by Daily Trust, Jigawa villages that have seen Boko Haram presence and activity in varying degrees include Gwani, Kadale, Zimburun, Fagam, Basirka and Tage villages, all in Gwaram Local Government Area. Gwaram town itself has seen a deadly attack last month.
In Bauchi, places affected include Shadarki, Dodwu, Soro and Miya in Ganjuwa LGA; Yelwan Darazo, Shadarki and Darazo in Darazo LGA; Burra in Ningi LGA; as well as in Jama’are and Itas-Gadau LGAs. Insurgent attacks have also been recorded in Shira and Misau LGAs.
Locals, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Daily Trust that the insurgents have set up camps in Balmo Forest in Darazo LGA and Yuga Forest, in Ganjuwa, both straddling the border with Jigawa State.
They estimate that there may be up to 1,000 insurgents camped in the forests. But this claim could not be independently verified.
A community leader in one of the affected places said the sect members started camping their members in the Darazo forest in December with only about 50 of them, but their number has swelled as they recruit youths from the villages.
“They have been going from one village to the other preaching and recruiting youths. Any youth who agreed to join them would be given a brand new motorcycle and N50,000 as incentive,” the man, who requested anonymity, told Daily Trust last week.
“In February, they asked villagers to stop attending school and stop allowing their children to take polio vaccines…. In some of these villages they move freely with their guns.
“They also have informants and whenever a stranger comes to the community, those informants will tell them. They will come after that stranger.”
He said only recently the sect kidnapped a prominent community leader in Ganjuwa LGA and this fetched them N20 million in ransom.
He also said it the sect members appeared to have informants even within security personnel. “During their preaching at one of the villages (penultimate Thursday), they told the locals that soldiers were coming to engage them on Monday and that they (villagers) should not be afraid because they (insurgents) are well prepared for the battle,” he said.
On the Monday they referred to, three soldiers were killed in Basirka when a roadside bomb exploded destroying the vehicle they were driving.
‘Socialising with locals’
When our correspondents visited Gwaram, Fagam, Gwani and adjoining villages, people were seen going about their normal businesses. But there is a sense of apprehension over the activities of the gunmen. Residents told Daily Trust that during the sect members’ recent stay in the villages, they were socialising with locals.
“There was a time one of them even attended a wedding event,” a resident said.
Another man said: “They move freely with their guns. They did not even care to hide their identities. At a point they were praying with us more especially on Friday(s).
“They started forcing people to close their businesses and attend to their preaching. But they do not preach war or violence; it was a normal preaching. The only thing is that they normally close all the entrances during their preaching.”
Daily Trust learnt that the sect members were aged between 18 and 20, and they were from several ethnic groups.
“Some people alerted the security agencies but nothing was done…. They used to go to our market and buy some things and even petroleum,” a resident said.
Whenever the sect members carried out an attack somewhere else and returned to the village, he added, they would say: “We just came back from God’s work.”
In Gwaram town, the activities of gunmen culminated in the attack on a Unity Bank branch, a Sharia court and a Police station last month. But events that led to this began two months earlier, locals said.
“Two months ago some of our people who patronise markets and go deep into villages in Gwani, Kadale, Zimburum, on the border with Darazo, were coming to Gwaram with reports of strangers and strange movements in those places,” a resident said.
“I know that report through the traditional authorities and the local government council reached the government in Dutse but we don’t know why they did not act.”
He said in the April attack, the gunmen raided Gwaram from 1am to 3 am.
“The guard of the Sharia court…narrowly survived. He told me that when they stormed the court, they asked him to show them the house of the judge and he told them that the judge used to come from Kano. They then broke the padlock to gain entrance, and brought out all copies of the Qur’an inside before setting the courtroom ablaze,” he added.
In Gwani village, 41 kilometres from Gwaram, the insurgents moved freely for about two months, according to residents.
One source told Daily Trust that they “virtually took over” the Gwani central mosque where they preach every Friday.
“We were forced to listen to their preaching after Juma’at prayers,” he said.
“Those of them preaching are usually dressed in white robe with a turban. Those not preaching were stationed outside the mosque premises with their machine guns and others stayed in strategic locations until the end of their preaching session. They don’t force anybody to join them. At the end they succeeded in recruiting just one boy from our village. He followed them and never came back.”
A source told Daily Trust that the sect members first appeared in Kadale and Zimburum, before heading to Gwani.
“You know Gwani is much bigger than Kadale or Zimburun but these two are closer to Darazo through which the insurgents came. They never terrorise the villagers. They initially sneaked to the village to look for essentials like food and drugs,” he said.
“It is those villagers who go to the bush to cut firewood that first saw them in bush before they banned them from coming to the bush. After some time they said they don’t want polio immunisation in that area. For some time now, no polio immunisation was conducted in Fagam, Gwani, Kadale and Zimburum.”
He added: “They always carry guns. There was a time we saw one of them completely dressed in Nigerian military uniform.”
In Bauchi State, cases of abduction, attack on schools and construction sites, as well as carjacking have been recorded in the past two months.
Police records show that on May 1, one Habu Yusuf, 26, of Unguwan Gambo in Itas-Gadau LGA was abducted in front of his house, but he was rescued a day after in an uncompleted building at Jama’are.
In another incident, gunmen attacked a policeman guarding the residence of the Bauchi assembly speaker at Miya, Ganjuwa LGA and took away his rifle.
Last week, eight armed men in military uniforms seized a bus at Dodwu village, Ganjuwa LGA, along Bauchi-Maiduguri road, and drove in to the bush.
Beginning of the end?
The grip on these communities by the insurgents began to fade after their attack on Gwaram last month, a source told Daily Trust.
“The JTF took the battle to the bushes where these insurgents were hiding and they succeeded in killing many of them,” a man said.
“In one operation the JTF seized their Hilux on which they mounted machine gun. Many of their motorcycles were also seized. When they attacked Shira they succeeded killing a lot of them. For now we have not seen a single one of them for about three weeks now.”
A spokesman for the Jigawa State Government, Umar Kyari, said government had been proactive on security situation. Last week, the state government announced that 60 insurgents were killed in the bushes by the Joint Task Force.
The Jigawa police spokesman Abdu Jinjiri told Daily Trust reports from the Gwaram axis indicate that normalcy has returned.
Also, Gwaram LGA chairman Hannafi Yakubu urged people to remain calm and continue with their businesses.