*Survivors relive dramatic attack on soldiers, NNPC staff, UNIMAID workers
By Ndahi Marama, Maiduguri
Tuesday, July 25, 2017 will remain unforgettable for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) and the Nigerian Army, following a deadly Boko Haram ambush which killed over 30 of their officials.
The NNPC staff and geologists / technologists from the Geology Department of UNIMAID were returning from the Lake Chad Basin where they had gone to explore for oil when they fell into the ambush.
They were being escorted by the Nigerian Army and Civilian Joint Task Force, JTF, personnel.
Although the military initially claimed that one army officer and eight soldiers were killed in the ambush and all the NNPC officials rescued, a top security official involved in the operation to rescue the victims told Sunday Vanguard that it was difficult to give the exact number of casualty as some of the victims, travelling in a convoy of about 10 vehicles, were set ablaze and burnt beyond recognition.
Bornoyesu village, where the incident happened, is north west of Magumeri Local Government Area of Borno State. It shares borders with Jilli village in Gubio Local Government Area and some communities in neighboring Yobe State.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that Bornoyesu is a stronghold of Boko Haram and that due to the volatile environment, even the military, aware of that fact, hardly operates in the axis. In fact, as fertile as land is said to be in Borneyesu, farmers, hunters and firewood fetchers in nearly communities, a resident said, do not attempt to reach Bornoyesu.
Unconfirmed reports, however, put the number of soldiers killed in the attack at 18 while 15 members of the Civilian JTF lost their lives.
The Vice Chancellor of UNIMAID, Professor Ibrahim Njodi, said five members of staff of the institution died, listing them to include two geologists, two technologists and a driver.
Reports said the deceased driver was the VC’s brother, Idris Abubakar Njodi.
The other deceased university staff were identified to include Dr Manager N. Uba, Dr Joseph V. Miletus and Dr N.Y. Solomon.
Njodi also said four other staff members of UNIMAID involved in the attack were missing.
The missing staff, according to him were two lecturers, one technologist and a driver.
The missing persons were identified as Dr Solomon Jojori, Mallam Yusuf Ibrahim and Alhaji Kalo Mohammed. The trio were believed to be in the picture sent to some media houses at the weekend by Boko Haram as having been abducted during the Tuesday attack. Some UNIMAI staff claimed to have recognised the three missing persons in the picture.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), UNIMAID Chapter, Dani Mamman, said the university had received the corpses of four of the slain staff, saying two of them were lecturers.
There has been no official statement from the NNPC on the casualty figure of its staff although reports put it at four.
Four NNPC officials initially scheduled to be in the oil exploration mission were also said to have missed the trip.
A source told Sunday Vanguard that the schedule changed at the last minute to put them in other official assignments in Maiduguri, Borno State capital.
Narrating how the attack happened, two survivors, both members of the Civilian JTF, said hundreds of Boko Haram participated, overwhelming the security men escorting the returning exploration team with their superior firepower.
One of the Civilian JTF members, who identified himself as Umaru Idi, told Sunday Vanguard that he miraculously escaped with minor injuries in the attack, adding that 14 members of his group killed in the incident were buried in Magumeri.
According to him, the soldiers attached to them did their best to contain the attack, but because they were few, the Boko Haram fighters overwhelmed them with their superior firepower coming from all directions.
“They fired RPG (rocket propelled grenades)to take out the pilot vehicle and another military operational vehicle in the middle. We were all confused and in-between the sporadic gunfire from soldiers and Boko Haram fighters. Some of us lay on the ground, others took to their heels. For over an hour, there was exchange of fire from the soldiers and Boko Haram fighters until soldiers based in Magumeri and Gubio came to disperse them”, he narrated.
“After they left, the soldiers pursued them and a fighter helicopter also came. Then towards the evening, we were still there when reinforcement came and we started to evacuate. We buried about 14 Civilian JTF in Magumeri, who were badly injured; we could not bring their remains with other dead bodies that family members could identify.
“ The soldiers who died were taken to the barracks while others were taken to UMTH. There were some corpses that were identified to be soldiers and they took them back to the barracks after they were brought to the hospital. Some of our friends, who are badly injured, are in need of help. Some people, even doctors in the hospital, are helping.”.
‘Grace of God’
The other survivor, Ahmed Modu, now receiving treatment at the Specialist Hospital in Missouri, said it was by the grace of God that he survived.
He said, “We were in one of our patrol vehicles when we heard heavy sounds of gun-fire. AA Guns and explosions came from all directions. Some of us jumped out of the vehicles and took to our heels”.
Dead or alive?
It was a pathetic scene after the families of the oil explorers thronged the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, UMTH, to identify the bodies of the victims conveyed to the hospital by troops.
Many members of the families wept openly as they could not find their loved ones among the dead.
Mr. Ibrahim John, a member of the family of one of the victims, Dr. Solomon Jojori of the UNIMAID Geology Department, said, “Our kinsman, Dr. Solomon Jojori of the Geology Department, who was part of the oil exploration mission, we have seen and counted 27 bodies brought from the scene of attack on Tuesday, but he was not among them. We don’t know whether he is still alive or dead”. He burst into tears.
Initial report said at least four members of the Civilian JTF, two NNPC staff and one official of the UNIMAID Geology Department had been rescued from the insurgents as troops of 5 Brigade, Gubio pursued and overwhelmed the fleeing terrorists after the ambush, killing scores of them while others escaped with gunshot wounds.
The operation, led by the Brigade Commander, Brigadier Gen. Aminu Shehu Chinide, and leader of Civilian JTF in Gubio, Bulama Bukar Maradona, resulted in the recovery of several arms and ammunitions and four vehicles conveying the victims snatched by the insurgents.
The recovery brought to five the number of vehicles taken from the insurgents as one vehicle conveying the victims was recovered at the scene of the ambush.
Confirming the attack on Wednesday, the Caretaker Chairman of Gubio LGA, Hon. Zanna Modu, in a telephone chat with our correspondent in Maiduguri, expressed satisfaction that almost all the insurgents who partook in the attack were neutralized by troops.
The Chairman said although details of the casualty on the side of the terrorists was devastating, he would not doubt the statement from the military that quite a number of the victims were rescued by troops.
While acknowledging the efforts of troops, which led to the killing of the insurgents, recovery of arms and ammunition as well as vehicles snatched from the victims, Zanna appreciated prayers from Ulamas, led by the Chief Imam of Gubio, Ustas Sainna Goni, and a Christian leader in the area, Mr. Lagali Simon, which, according to him, contributed to the success recorded against the insurgents.
His words: “I am happy to inform you that when the Commissioner for Local Government gave me a directive immediately after the incident, we swung into action by supporting our gallant troops and members of the Civilian JTF who mobilized and pursued the terrorists.
‘’Although the incident took place in Bornoyesu village of Magumeri Local Government Area, following an intelligence report, security operatives, with support from Gubio council area and members of the public were able to overwhelm the fleeing insurgents around Jilli village.
“The recovered vehicles and the arms and ammunition and the rescued victims were brought into one of the security formations under 5 Brigade. Even one of the drivers of the recovered vehicles has since returned to Maiduguri to reunite with his loved ones, and we are expecting safe return of more victims who escaped from the incident”.
Army narrates account
Brigadier General Sani Kukasheka Usman, the Director of Army Public Relations, confirmed the ambush in a statement.
Kukasheka said, “Yesterday Tuesday, July 27, 2017, at about 3.00pm, suspected Boko Haram terrorists ambushed the escort and team of Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) staff returning from oil exploration at Barno Yasu, Magumeri Local Government Area of Borno State.
“On receipt of the information, the Brigade mobilized and sent reinforcement, search and rescue party that include the Armed Forces Special Forces and guides that worked and pursued the terrorists throughout the night.
“So far, they have rescued all the NNPC staff and recovered the corpses of the Officer, 8 soldiers and a civilian have who have been evacuated to 7 Division Medical Services and Hospital.
“The team recovered 4 vehicles one of which include a gun truck mounted with an Anti-Aircraft Gun, 2 white Hilux taken away from NNPC staff and 1 blue Hilux belonging to CJTF. They team also recovered large quantities of arms and ammunition, several spare tyres, many jerry cans of containing Petroleum, Oil and Lubricant, assorted drugs, Improvised Explosive Device (IED) making materials, reflective jackets and a Motorola handheld radio, among others. The team also neutralized many of the terrorists”.
Meanwhile, giving an update on the attack at the weekend, a security source told Sunday Vanguard that the casualty figure was very alarming.
His words: “The bodies of ten dead military personnel were first recovered on Tuesday and brought to Maiduguri while five others were brought in alongside fifteen corpses comprising, eleven CJTF and four vigilantes that same Tuesday evening. Some other corpses were brought to UMTH. In fact, the figures of those killed in the attack could not be ascertained”.
In a related development, a close family member of the UNIMAID VC, who did not want his name mentioned, told our correspondent that they had identified the remains of the late Idris Njodi, and that burial had been slated to take place last Thursday after a ceremony at the university’s Central Mosque.
Governor Kashim Shettima described the attack as a tragic setback to the fight against Boko Haram and the efforts to boost Nigeria’s economic fortunes.
In a statement emailed to journalists by his spokesman, Malam Isa Gusau, Shettima said since he got information concerning the attack on his way to visit President Muhammadu Buhari in London, he had yet to recover from shock.
“I haven’t been my normal self since I received information on that attack. What happened in the first instance was a tragic setback to the fight against Boko Haram and Nigeria’s efforts to expand its economic fortunes. I am deeply pained by this incident especially coming at a time when we were beginning to pick up the pieces of our lives”, he said.
“Even though the attack should never have happened given the successes recorded by the military and multi-national joint forces since 2015, I nonetheless still deem it necessary to commend the military for re-mobilising and countering the initial gains of the insurgents. On behalf of Government and people of Borno State, I mourn and salute the soldiers and our sons in the Civilian JTF who paid the supreme price by giving their lives in this fight. I commiserate with their families and loved ones. For now, I am still waiting for full details concerning the ambush by the insurgents and counter attack by the military to fully ascertain number and identity of victims.
“But pending report to me, I mourn and salute any worker or supportive staff who might have lost his or her life in the course of trying to contribute in boosting Nigeria’s economy through exploration activities in the Chad basin. My heart goes to the families of every victim. The Borno State Government will never forsake the survivors of those who lost their lives defending Borno or in service to our country.
“On our part, (and as can be corroborated by all security agencies, youth volunteers and hunters involved in the fight against Boko Haram) the Borno State Government has never lost focus in doing whatever is within its powers in supporting the Nigerian Armed Forces, in funding and equipping the Civil JTF and other volunteers, in mobilizing and passing on intelligence generated from communities and in regularly briefing all those concerned with the fight against Boko Haram.
“I must say that in all my series of meetings with the Presidency, President Muhammadu Buhari and the acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo have jointly and individually shown tremendous political will to end this carnage once and for all. I assure the good people of Borno State and other Nigerians that we are not resting on oars. We have devotedly been committed to this fight (again, as armed forces and multi-nationals involved in this battle can testify).
“We believe that by the power and grace of God, the battle against Boko Haram will be completed soon. I urge our military, volunteers in the Civilian JTF, vigilantes and hunters to consider what happened as a temporary setback that should strengthen our will and collective determination to defeat the forces of evil. I am confident that Boko Haram will become history, by the will of the Nigerian Armed Forces through the supreme help of God”.
In a related development,UNIMAID VC, Njodi, said the university had premonition that the exploration team could be attacked by insurgents.
Speaking while receiving the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, who paid a condolence visit to the institution on Friday, Njodi said UNIMAID was reluctant to allow its staff join the operation because of security concerns.
“We were seriously concerned about their (staff) safety, we contacted the security to know their whereabouts,” the VC said. He told the minister that the university (agencies) had entered into a partnership with the NNPC on oil exploration in the Lake Chad Basin.
“In our commitment to contribute to the country’s economic development, we defied the odds and joined the operation. Initially, we reluctantly accepted to join the operation, but we were assured of adequate security. The deceased persons should be immortalised, they deserve national honours”.