Fresh facts have emerged on how the Boko Haram fighters invaded Baga, a suburb of Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, and consequently displaced the locals as well as troops stationed to secure the town and its environs, according findings by Blueprint.
The Abu Mus’ab Albarnawi faction of the insurgents, on Wednesday, struck at about the time the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Yusuf Buratai was preparing to undertake an assessment tour of the Baga and Monguno military formations.
According to some reports, the insurgents took by storm, some towns around Baga, a development that forced some army and navy commanders to abandon their duty posts and fled to Moguno, another military stronghold, for the safety of their lives.
Baga is the headquarters of the Multi-National Joint Task Force, which draws its membership from Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
The body was set up by the quartet in the wake of rising onslaught of the terrorist group against citizens of the countries, particularly Nigeria.
Although the military has continued to deny the takeover of Baga, Doro Baga and a few others, Blueprint’s investigation revealed that the hoodlums actually made their way into the troubled community midnight, and said the early morning prayers (Subhi) with the residents, assuring them that they were not out for them.
Our reporter gathered that “the insurgents were coming in batches since 12 midnight of the day when they wreaked that havoc. Of course, people noticed suspicious movements of some new faces.
“Everything came to the open during the Subh (early morning Muslim prayer) when one of their leaders, led the prayer session after which he told the congregation that no one should panic because they were not there to harm us, but that the military was their target.
“Of course, at that point, it became difficult for anybody to make any contact, as doing so could lead to loss of lives of armless civilians. There and then, they moved and struck at the military base”
Corroborating the residents’ positions, Lawan of Baga, the district head, Allhaji Maina Lawan confirmed the invasion of Baga town and Doron Baga towns.
“Actually, the people (BH) were in Baga town. They arrived around 12 midnight in large number on vehicles and motorcycles, armed with guns and ammunitions.
“Then, people (residents) started running away gradually from Baga to the surrounding bushes for fear of being killed. Some even went as far as neighbouring or nearby villages and town of Doron Baga, Kekenu and Kukawa. They even prayed Subh prayer with us in the mosque. Their leader was the one that led us in the Subh prayer.
“The Boko Haram insurgents held prayers with us in Baga, Wednesday, early in the morning. We were afraid but they told us not to get panic as they were in Baga for the military there (pointing his hand to the direction of the military base in Baga) not for the civilians.” Lawan said.
“This information or notice even prompted our people to vacate the town, in case, exchange of fire may cause any havoc to the people. This is why our people ran to the bushes and other villages for safety. Some even went as far as Maiduguri city over night for safety, but unfortunately, most of them were left on the street in cold weather without any protection and food,” another source further added.
What DHQ says
The revelation is coming amidst the position by the Defence Headquarters that Baga town was not taken over by the insurgents, with further claim that they only attempted a takeover of the town.
It pointed out that troops of MNJTF and Air Task Force (ATF) have confirmed repelling Boko Haram terrorists that wanted to attack Baga 7 Brigade headquarters in Borno state.
It was also confirmed to journalists that the troop pursued fleeing Boko Haram.
But Blueprint gathered that the attack which occurred on Wednesday at about 7pm, led to the killings of Nigerian Navy personnel who was on the defence line of repelling the fleeing insurgents.
Army spokesman, Brig-Gen. Sani Usman, also in statement on Thursday, had said, “the troops along with their Nigerian Navy counterparts, put up a very determined fight to repel the attack throughout the night.
“The Sector 3 Operation Lafiya Dole has also sent in reinforcement in hot pursuit of terrorists. Unfortunately, a personnel of Nigerian Navy was killed in action.”
He disclosed that a Search and Rescue team has already been constituted to pursue the fleeing terrorists in Baga town and Lake Chad Islands.
According to him, the ATF component has also been mobilised and were engaging the fleeing terrorists, adding that no further details of casualties yet, as efforts were ongoing to clear the terrorists hiding in Baga and environs.
“We implore members of the general public to disregard any contrary information circulating on the attack,” he warned, adding that the army will keep the people informed on pursuit and mop-up operations.
Insurgents still in charge?
Notwithstanding the military’s position, our reporter gathered that as at Monday, all the affected towns were believed to be still under the insurgents.
One of the sources added that hundreds or thousands of residents, including women, men and children are still stranded at these places, thus making it a bit challenging for the ATF component to effectively move against the hoodlums.
Apart from the update by the military on Monday, during which residents of surrounding villages and towns were reassured of their safety, further details on the operational development were yet to be made available as at the time of this report.
Although the military has consistently insisted it was on top of the situation, a top security source in the know of the operation, however said the military was only trying to build some level of confidence in the locals.
“The situation is not as the military and government are saying. I think the claim that Baga has been restored is to calm the populace and prevent panic movements from other areas.
“No troop/force has entered Baga since after the attack. However, the military are planning a counter attack soon.
“The report that it has been reclaimed is in anticipation of success. A new force is being assembled, they include the old ones and new ones being injected, and I can assure you that the insurgents will soon be routed,” volunteered the source who sought anonymity.
Our reporter further gathered that a new commander would soon be appointed for the 7 Brigade to replace General Hassan, “ahead of massive onslaught by the combined forces of Army, Navy and Air Force to reclaim Baga and many other locations taken over by the Boko Haram.”
Troops set for onslaught
And as part of efforts to quickly fix the situation, the Chief of Training and Operations, NA, Major General Lamidi Adeosun, it would be recalled, addressed journalists at the Operation Lafiya Dole headquarters in Maiduguri.
He announced the COAS’s establishment of a new Exercise EGWU EKE III for the north east, an outfit similar to those of the South-South and South-East to combat, flush out and compliment the Operation Last Hold and Operation Zaman Lafiya and Operation Flush already on ground in the Theatre Command .
Similarly, the NAF had also launched for the north-east Operation Diramikiya, Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Sadique Abubakar, had disclosed.
Buratai boosts troops’ morale
And in identifying with the troops, the COAS urged them to maintain the tempo and records the Nigerian Army has set in the insurgency fight, and flush out the Boko Haram remnants. He described the propaganda and activities of the Boko Haram insurgents as criminality aimed at threatening the security and stability of the nation.
He gave them morale booster during the Christmas/new year celebration.
He had said: “You are not only to conserve ammunitions but to deal with the enemy. You are to move close to the enemy and clear them off. You are not to abandon your trenches, you are to take care of the ammunitions and obey instructions of your commanders.
“You are better than the insurgents, you are well trained and equipped while they are not. Deal decisively with the enemy if not, you will be easily exposed and become an easy target.
“Researches from this Theater Command and records have not recorded any death on the trenches, except you abandoned your trenches. No casualty on the side of the military and no success can be achieved without discipline.
“Platoon commanders must obey their seniors and observe full discipline. You should have courage and remove fear, the fear of being killed as a soldier at the battle field.
“You are more at risk if you leave your trenches. It is better for you to be at your trenches. You need to be very careful. You should not forget your ground, you should not leave your ground, you are more tactical than them. You have weapons, you should be reminded and expected to do your best.”