A Chronicle of How 20 Local Government Councils in Borno State were Taken by Boko Haram from the Nigerian Government: Terrorism in Review
Dr Johnson I Agbinya
This is a story of an abandoned people and region, rendered ungovernable by both Boko Haram and government. While one side gained territories, looted and killed, the other side lost them and feels quite contented to leave the territories in the hands of terrorists. This also is a story of suffering citizens who have lost hundreds of family members in the cruellest form of death. Some of them were beheaded, while others were shot at close range in the head. Others were taken to bridges, lined up like goats for the slaughter, hands tied at the back and shot in the head and their bodies dumped down the bridge one after another into the river below while the terrorists shouted in sheer euphoria at the crimson red seas of blood of dead Nigerians. A lot more others were burned alive in their houses, invaded by foreign elements from Chad and from the Maghreb region while our government went under and cowered by fear to defend our brothers and sisters. They sent soldiers to the war front but they were neither well trained nor well-armed to fight back. They abandoned their posts in great numbers and when they complained they were court marshalled and sentenced to death.
This is the story of a war budget not used for the purpose it was allocated. It is the story of a silent strategy to render a region ungovernable to ensure it is eventually cut off from the rest of the country. This is the story of a group of people bent on seeing Nigeria divided into two countries while at the same time pretending it was fighting to keep Nigeria one. It is the story of a neighbour bent on ravaging its more affluent neighbour by stealing not just land and wealth but also taking slaves of our sisters and brothers. Some were sold into slavery, others into forced marriages while our government remain unable to rescue them. A rescue was not even attempted. This is a story of the political class that is clueless on governance but has perfected incompetence and corrupt practices.
This is also a story of a government seeking to divert attention from theft of oil revenue by funding insurgency and also spending more funds in the guise of purchasing arms. It is a story of how affluent pastors and preachers collude with the ruling class to buy air crafts and weapons while asking their congregations to pray and to donate to them. It is the story of the ‘giant of Africa’ that is unable to kill a mosquito that is sucking its blood with impunity. It is the story of a Nigerian government led by the PDP. A small flame at a time might not mean much to a clueless bystander but when each new flame adds to existing flame, a house owner would not just douse the flames but also seek to eliminate the source of the flame. A small flame not put out early often gains traction and becomes an inferno. Boko Haram insurgency was a seemingly small flame six years ago but was left to grow by the Jonathan government and has grown to become an inferno that seeks to consume the North and the rest of the country.
Most responsible governments round the world would react quite violently if 5000 of its citizens were massacred by an enemy or if a section of the country is being carved out by an enemy. What is happening in North east Nigeria is an aggression and invasion of Nigeria by foreign elements. Our government is however quite contented to handle such issues with kids’ gloves and spend hours upon hours seeking dialogue and on its knees praying instead of fighting. The US went to war with Al-Qaeda and the Taliban upon discovering that its twin tower world trade centre buildings were bombed and destroyed on September 11, 2001 causing the death of over 3000 persons. They invaded Afghanistan and Iraq.
The two wars have lasted for over thirteen years. Responsible leaders react when the security of citizens is threatened irrespective of the number of deaths. When Odumegwu Ojukwu declared in 1967 that eastern Nigeria was seceding from Nigeria to form Biafra, Gowon went to war “to keep Nigeria one” and the whole country backed him. Yet when Abubakar Shekau announced he had formed a Caliphate win North east Nigeria with headquarters in Gwoza Jonathan retreated to the lodge without a reasonable fight. To him the unity of Nigeria is not paramount. What is paramount to him is his re-election as President of Nigeria. Jonathan will go down in our history as the first President of Nigeria under whom foreign elements gained foot hold in Nigeria without a real fight. Over the last six years we have become sitting ducks in the North to foreign invasion and attacks by elements from Chad and the Maghreb region.
Over the last six years we have seen the Nigerian government go under every time its citizens are attacked, abducted, killed and murdered by foreign enemies. Like a frog failing to jump out of hot water when being boiled slowly to death by raising the water temperature slowly the Nigerian government stays in the hot water watching the boiling North-Eastern part of the country. We have all witnessed the horrendous and sustained massacre of Nigerian citizens in the North east of the country. In this article we present a chronicle of the regular attacks and massacres in the region as reported by Nigerian newspapers. The reports come from Nigerian online news sources including the Punch, NewsRescue, Sahara Reporters, the Guardian, Leadership and Abuja voice.
By the end of 2013, there were already sustained attacks around the clock around the Bama area as Boko Haram sought to carve out a part of Nigeria for itself and establish its foot hold in Nigeria. Many have provided views on the collusion between the government, Chad and Boko Haram while suggesting that indeed Chad and our government fund Boko Haram. Boko Haram derived most of its initial weaponry from our armoury they said. Others pointed fingers at the sources of Boko Haram funds. On September 9 the Punch reported that “the Council of Babalawos in Northern Nigeria has urged security agencies in the country to investigate a former governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff and Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika within 40 days otherwise it would be forced to sue the men for allegedly financing terrorism”. Others pointed finger at an army general sponsoring the terrorists. Indeed it was Stephen Davies a foreigner who first openly accused former Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika of sponsoring the Boko Haram insurgent group. If General Azubuike is innocent, who is funding Boko Haram? If this too much information for the government to provide Nigerians at least show that you understand the gravity of the problem. After we are being killed and we want to know the source of our deaths.
In the midst of the allegations our government however slept and got closer and closer to Ali Modu Sheriff often using him as the go-between the terrorists and in negotiations with the Chadian President Idriss Déby. Sections of Borno elite in the Borno Coalition for Good Governance have “accused the former Governor of Borno State, Senator Modu Sheriff, of always being a mole of the Peoples Democratic Party in opposition parties”. This correlates with why when Jonathan visits Ndjamena he also have Ali Modu Sheriff in toe. Over the last few months we have seen Jonathan dash secretly to meet the Chadian President with Ali Modu Sheriff. At home he has however developed cold feet when it comes to visiting Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. He has no interests in going there to see the state of the people and also of the flood of refugees and abductees. Even when there are refugee camps in Abuja resulting from the conflict in the North east, he ignores visiting them and ignores looking after them. When does a head of state wake up to the realities of the problems facing the country and act decisively?
Even when local and foreign news media kept on reporting on the sea of blood in Bama and surrounding local government areas, Jonathan showed no interest in visiting those areas. Boko Haram successes were well reported and concerned Nigerians urged government to arm the local JTF to fight back. Instead the government frustrated their efforts by harassing and hindering them. To prove this point the Nigerian army did not start to gain traction in the war on terrorism until JTF members were involved in its fight against Boko Haram. If we must compare events in our sordid history, Gowon massively recruited soldiers to prosecute the Biafran war. At one point in time the size of the Nigerian armed forces in 1977 was more than 250, 000 personnel to ensure he flooded the eastern region with fight power. Why is Jonathan slow pedalling and reluctant to recruit soldiers to flood the North east with fight power to stop the horrendous suffering and massacre of innocent civilians in the North east?
By slumbering and treating the Boko Haram insurgency with kids gloves, the government over exposed places like Bama to sustained attacks. As the government slept Bama became a sea of blood in January 2014 as Boko Haram and the Nigerian army traded attacks upon attacks. Some of the natives walked and slept for days in bushes as they trekked to Maiduguri and others fled across the border to Chad and Cameroon. For example three hundred were killed in December 2013 in Rann village. Also at the Nigerian army base in Maiduguri many more lost their lives. On December 31, 63 persons were reported killed in Bama. In January also at Kawuri and Kayamula villages the sea of blood swelled by 54 deaths.
In February Izghe and Dalwa-Masuba were not spared, 90 persons were killed in Izghe and 49 in Dalwa-Masuba. Konduga suffered similar losses in February as 39 were killed there.
The sea of innocent blood flowing in February was not enough for Boko Haram it continued the massacre of innocent Borno residents in March where 2 were killed in Ngamdu on March 6 and a retaliatory death of 18 boko Haram terrorists on March 25 at Bama and Ngurosoye. This sea of blood flowed to Ngurosoye where 20 were killed, to Shawa village (10), Allagarno (20), Damboa again (11).
This slaughter continued into April where 20 were killed in Wala Village (Gwoza) on April 16. As early as April, Jonathan was already de-focused jostling for his re-election. In April Boko Haram sensing the weakness of the government abducted over 300 female students from Chibok, threatened to sell them as slaves and also offered others as wives to its commanders. To date most of them remain unaccounted for. First the government refused to go after Boko Haram immediately to rescue the girls. Then it promised they were soon to be released, then lied that they knew where the girls were. To take the fight closer to government Boko Haram bombed Abuja twice in April killing a total of 113 persons in the two attacks. Yet the government remained holed up in Aso Rock.
During the month of May the sea of blood became a tsunami of innocent blood of Borno residents with a minimum of 13 attacks resulting to 453 deaths all in Borno state. On May 6, 200 people were killed in Gamboru including 3 Cameroonians. This tsunami of blood flow increased on May 11 when several persons were killed at Limankara, Gur and Sabongari Hausawa. The massacre continued uncontrolled as 41 persons were slaughtered on May 17 in Kalabalge town; May 18 saw 29 deaths in Ngurosoye village in Bama. On May 18, 56 persons were killed in Kuseri village. On May 20 Boko Haram swept through Shawa and Allagamo villages killing 10 and 20 in each place. This tide continued to May 20 and May 21 where 30 persons were killed again in Damboa and 48 in Alagarno and Bulakurbe Villages. What started like a trickle became a tsunami and until this moment, no one in the Federal government saw the need to visit or feed the flood of refugees.
No support was either offered to families who have lost numerous loved ones. In some cases whole families were wiped out. It appeared Boko Haram sensed that there were not going to be any reasonable resistance from the Nigerian government and hence continued the massacre as on May 25 they killed 20 in Kamuyya Village in Biu and the next day a further 9 persons in Chinene village. The first real hint of resistance came from women vigilante who on May 27 took some revenge at Attagara and Kawuri villages where they killed 7 Hoko Haram terrorists. In response to this on May 30 Boko Haram killed the Emir of Gwoza. The government it seemed failed to understand that Boko Haram has now upped the tempo as Northern rulers become their new targets. From this first case several more emirs were killed because they knew that no one is going to fight this war for the country and that the leadership is weak.
Even when the government invited the Americans it failed to recognise that the Americans were not going to fight our war for us. They have their own wars to fight. When they held a summit in France with most of the ECOWAS heads of state Jonathan would have thought that they would now aid him in the fight. Abuja however may have quickly realised that most west African countries have their own internal problems. Many of them are just recovering from civil wars. Others have no economic competence to prosecute a war on terrorising not being fought in their own territories. Also obviously the colonial rulers were not going to fight our war for us. They have grown tired of the corrupt excesses, practices and behaviours of Nigerian rulers emanating from Abuja. Foreign powers understand that Nigeria has the human and financial resources to prosecute this war but also realised how un-coordinated the Nigerian govern response is. They also have observed the weakness of the government and its inability to unite the country towards a common purpose, that of fighting and defeating the encroaching terrorism. Others quite obviously saw how they are more interested in being re-elected come 2015. If there were no Nigeria, what would you rule?
Resistance to Boko Haram atrocities increased in June following the murder of the Emir of Gwoza and attacks on June 1 and 2 at Wondula and Annari villages and also at Kalabalge town during which 45 people were killed at Wondula and Annari villages and also 40 at Kalabalge town. These massacres were followed by another attack on Attagara village by Boko Haram on June 2 in which they killed 9 Christian worshippers in a church. By now the waves and tsunami of deaths in May has become routine erasing homes and villages. Village after village in Borno local governments were being attacked willy nilly by the terrorists. On June 2 Boko Haram suffered its first major setback in this area as 300 of them were killed in Attagara, Agapalawa and Aganjara.
It is not hard to see why Boko Haram focuses on destabilising Bama, Gwoza, Damboa, Buni Yadi, Madagali and Ngala. Look at the map of the area – they were circling Maiduguri, carving first a corridor through which to attack. Their objective is the big prize Maiduguri the state capital. The surrounding towns and villages provide a buffer zone for the terrorists to smuggle weapons from Cameroon and Chad and they have used them with significant reward to themselves. Startling however is lack of a similar focused strategy by the Nigerian armed forces who seem to depend more on reactive response to attacks rather than taking the fight to Boko Haram strategically with the objectives of driving them out of Borno state.
With this understanding, in July Boko Haram once again started by first slaughtering 15 in Maiduguri on July 1 before turning their attention to killing 45 in Dille village on July 14. These deaths were followed closely by similar massacres in Sabongari village in Damboa on July 15. Then on July 18 Damboa was attacked with 45 killed. The following day July the 19th a further 100 residents were butchered by Boko Haram in Damboa. By this time it would have become too glaring not to be sporadic in its offensive – but to the surprise of most analysts the government appears to have no focused war cabinet that is able to draw up a working war plan or a strategy to drive out the insurgents from Damboa. The government has an already made weapon at its disposal which it continuously glossed over, hindered, harassed and refused to use – the local vigilantes who knew the environment well and knew who is who in Damboa. From Damboa they turned to Garubulla on July 24 killing 12 more citizens.
Two weeks later on August the 8th they turned their attention to Gwoza proper. At this time Gwoza was under their control and like unprotected chickens 110 natives in addition to solders were massacred. Still no government official nor a high ranking senior army or government official dared to enter this war zone to see things for themselves to draw up war plans and strategies. Two days later at Doron Baga 10 more citizens were killed and a week later on August 17, it was the turn of Kaje, Allabanya and Aala villages where they killed 7. Sensing victory Boko Haram declared its Caliphate. Thus on August 24 in a 52 minutes rant Abubakar Shekau declares his Caliphate as he announced that “Thanks be to Allah, who gave victory to our brethren in (the town of) Gwoza and made it part of the Islamic caliphate”. With that Boko Haram revealed its true intentions which determined its strategies – the objective has always been to exercise a part of Nigeria out of Nigeria to make it an Islamic enclave sitting as a buffer zone between Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon a region that is rich in oil. Indeed from this point on it became quite clear that in addition to the often presented religious cloak there has been economic undertone to Boko Haram’s activities as seen by its leaders and sponsors.
Gwoza is a predominantly Christian town which for Boko Haram is haram in a state with large Muslim populations. From this area Boko Haram has taken slaves, executes young men and women who refuse to join its forces and also destroys schools and churches. Boko Haram’s religious position is incoherent as most Muslims in Nigeria have suggested. It has emerged quite recently and strongly too that its ideology is un-Islamic. Boko Haram threatens Muslim leaders and kills emirs as well as ordinary Muslims.
However Boko Haram saw the Achilles heels region of Borno state. This is an area settled predominantly by Christians it became an easy target among a broader region that is Muslim. It saw that this area of Nigeria could emerge out of poverty if it harvests its education and petroleum resources. The petroleum resources in this area also appear to be of interest to Chad in particular. Although Idris Derby continues to play hide and seek with Jonathan, there are enough evidence to suggest that he has sympathy for Boko Haram and has been covertly supporting them allowing weapons to be smuggled in through Libya and Sudan. Since the declaration of the Caliphate the town remains largely under the control of Boko Haram.
The declaration of Caliphate changed everything for Borno. Boko Haram had established itself as defacto ruler of the state and the government wanted to appear to be acting as it unleashed its soldiers to try and flush out the terrorists. This government offensive resulted to the first major Boko Haram casualties in the hands of the government for the first time in 2014 as 70 Boko Haram operatives were announced killed on September 1 along with 189 civilians in Bama. As government tried to wrestle back part of Borno a further 150 Boko Haram members were killed by the army in cooperation with JTF on September 11 and another 300 on September 17 all in Konduga. These victories by the JTF and Nigerian army forced Boko Haram to declare cease fire on October 17. Prior to the declaration of cease fire, they killed more innocent Nigerians. On October 6, Boko Haram beaded 7 persons in Ngamdu, 30 more were killed on October 17 at Abadam and Mallam Fatori. These deaths were followed by another set of 8 deaths on October 18 at Shaffa.
Even during the so called fake cease fire which the Nigerian soldiers kept, Boko Haram continued killing innocent Nigerians. While the Nigerian government authorised the armed forces to cease fire, Boko Haram continued its killing. Some commentators have expressed the view that the cease fire was intended by both sides to enable Boko Haram to regroup so they can destroy Borno properly. It was obvious if the momentum achieved in September had been maintained Boko Haram would have been defeated. Unfortunately while Jonathan embraced and discussed with Idris Derby the Chadian President Boko Haram was regrouping and resupplied with weapons. Boko Haram needed time and space to regroup after it was heavily routed in September by a combined force of JTF members and the Nigerian army. Noticing that the terrorists were regrouping and have not stopped killing women and children on the 18th of October 25 of them were killed in Damboa. On October 24 Boko Haram went on a killing spree at Ndongo killing 27 innocent men, women and children. As if these deaths were not enough on October 30 Boko Haram used 64 insurgents to capture Mubi in Adamawa state. They renamed it “Madinatul Islam”. Twelve days later local vigilantes recapture Mubi for the government. The route in Mubi forced Boko Haram to refocus its energy to Borno state.
November 1 the terrorist went on a killing spree in Uba where 18 were massacred, then on November 25 they extended the blood-letting to Maiduguri where a female suicide bomber killed 33. As News Rescue reported, the series of massacres of natives prompted more response from the JTF and the army. Hence on November 27, 33 Boko Haram terrorists were killed in Gubio. Two days after this event Boko Haram killed 12 in Shani as reported by This Day.
December became a month where Boko Haram resorted to using more and more female suicide bombers country wide. Borno continued to suffer and became more vulnerable in December to the use of female suicide bombers. On December 1 a female suicide bomber killed 22 in Maiduguri (News Rescue). Hence on December 9 the Nigerian troops with the support of JTF visited Boko Haram at Balmo forest where they killed 22 terrorists. To retaliate for this on December 14 another more terrorists were deployed at Gamsuri killing 32 natives. From here they progressed to Bulaburin PHCN where they met their waterloo resulting to 75 terrorists killed.
Boko Haram has made Borno state a sea of blood. This sea flows with the blood of innocent Borno citizens. It is a price they are paying for a government which has abandoned the security of Borno and northern Nigeria. It is now clear that while Boko Haram focused on its objectives to carve out a region out of Nigeria, government has focused itself on the 2015 elections. It has little time to prosecute a war. While Jonathan borrowed a billion dollars to prosecute the war, they however showed quite clearly recently that when it comes to what is close to their heart they are willing to cough out what they stole by donating over N21b towards the 2015 elections.
To fight to free Nigerian however, their response is lukewarm, buck passing, heaping blames on the soldiers and other rulers rather than focusing on fighting the common enemy. Boko Haram threatens northern rulers themselves. Only recently they threaten the Emir of Kano. It is therefore illogical for government use northern rulers not cooperating or being involved as ruse.
Government response remains largely reactive response hit and run tactics instead of concerted military interventions. It is apparent that the government has not indeed seen the problems in the north as strong enough for it to delay the 2015 elections. It also has not formed a war cabinet to prosecute the war on terrorism. It has also not seen the mass killings in the North as big enough to massively recruit and train soldiers to flood the region with more troops. It appears it has not bought enough weapons for the armed forces to use to fight relying heavily on a never to occur US intervention. Instead the government has focused on electoral processes to ensure re-election of a non-performing head of state.
Boko Haram has intentionally slaughtered citizens to create fear and carve out a Caliphate. It has also infested Gwoza, Bama, Damboa and Konduga. If the Nigerian government is to win this war on terrorism, it must first surgically remove the infestation of these towns with terrorists. To do so it must achieve the cooperation of natives in these settlements and convince them that indeed this war has priority in the scheme of priorities to the government. Until now Gwoza, Bama, Damboa and Konduga have believed that their lives and properties do not matter to the federal government.
To date government efforts have been to protect the ‘big prize’ (Maiduguri) from Boko Haram taking it. Basic instinct would however advise any military strategist that when you allow an enemy to settle and reinforce in a captured area, neighbouring regions become vulnerable as they threaten neighbouring regions which are within the enemy’s easy rich.
North eastern Nigerians have woken up to the realisation that the region is not that important to the Nigerian government after all. Is Borno state so unimportant within the geo-political and economic considerations of the Jonathan and PDP led government that they have not considered mass recruitment into the army and the air force to flush the terrorist out of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states? Is the government laying the foundations to expunge a part of the country? Or is the government deliberately leaving the North to be completely rendered ungovernable so as to divide the country into two? Many silent analysts believe that the big intention of the government under Jonathan is to render the North ungovernable to enable Nigeria to divide and thereby help the South South to appropriate the petroleum resources in the south and south east. They point fingers at recent acquisition of war ships by the south south militant groups led by Tompolo as preparation for the defence of the South South. If this were true then General Obasanjo may have been proved right when he accused the President of maintaining a hit squad.
We are reaping our years of reckless corruption and neglect of the armed forces. While one military regime after another focused on gaining power, they abandoned equipping the armed forces. Also the civilian regimes under Rtd General Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan continued this neglect of the armed forces. Yet year in and year out, large budgetary allocations are made for the armed forces. Nigerians are now asking where the annual military budgets went to and who should be held accountable for the rot and neglect in the armed forces. The end result however to Nigeria is a sea of blood in the North east of the country, un parallel insecurity in the country, mammoth suffering of innocent civilians in the Northern state, increased poverty, destruction of schools and setting back of the North educationally. Who should be held responsible for these problems?
Prof Johnson I Agbinya
For voiceless citizens in the North who want answers. He hails from Benue State