Thousands of residents of villages on the outskirts of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, fled their communities at the weekend following intensified attacks by the insurgent group, Boko Haram.
The terrorists had lately resorted to suicide bombing of soft targets, using mainly women, after the military chased them out of territories they occupied. President Muhammadu Buhari maintains that the expulsion of Boko Haram from the areas they controlled is a technical defeat of the group.
But Boko Haram fighters resumed coordinated attacks on communities in Borno State recently. They killed 65 persons in Dalori two Saturdays ago and laid siege to two other nearby villages, Mairi and Malari, Friday night where they killed four persons and virtually razed the entire community.
The renewed offensive by Boko Haram has led to the desertion of many communities in the suburbs of Maiduguri by residents. Some residents of the villages affected by the latest onslaught said the insurgents first attacked Mairi about 8pm and killed four persons, a teenage boy and three women, before proceeding to Malari village, where the entire village was razed, as the terrorists met a deserted village.
One of the residents, Abba Yusuf, at Mairi village said that the insurgents shot the teenage boy who was a student at a local Islamic school during the attack. He said the three women were trapped in a razed house, as they were unlucky to escape the raging inferno. They died in the building.
Yusuf said after the destruction of Mairi, about 11 kilometres from Maiduguri, the insurgents went to Malari village, a few kilometres away, and almost razed the entire village when they found no one there. The villagers had fled after receiving hints about the Boko Haram attack and hearing sounds of gunshot from neighbouring Malari.
On a visit to the area yesterday, thousands of residents were seen heading towards Maiduguri with their luggage on their heads. One of the fleeing locals, Hassanatu Abubakar, said, “It will be a suicide mission to continue to live in the area as the insurgents may still attack." She said the insurgents were still around them and "they can still come to finish the job they have started."
The senator for Borno Central senatorial district, where the attacks took place, Alhaji Baba Kaka Garbai, lamented the recent attacks in the state, saying the military needs to wake up to the new threat on the people of the state. He said the insurgents had shown that they “are not truly dead and buried and it is time for our soldiers to come back to the reality that much more still needs to be done and start pushing forward until these hoodlums are defeated."
Buhari told the British media organisation, British Broadcasting Corporation, on Friday concerning Boko Haram, “All I know is that out of the 14 local government areas in Borno State where they used to hold and hoist their flag, they are nowhere in charge of any of them again. But they can still regroup and go after attacking soft targets.”
On the validity of the claim of technical defeat of the terrorist group that has launched recent successful attacks, Buhari insisted, “My own description is that they can no longer mobilise enough forces to attack police and army barracks and destroy aircraft, like they used to do. They can no longer do that.”
Buhari had also said on Wednesday in a speech at the European Union parliament in Strasbourg, France, “Since my assumption of office in May last year, we have reorganised the Nigerian armed forces and repositioned them to deal decisively with the Boko Haram terrorists.
“Indeed, all the local government areas that were hitherto under the control of the Boko Haram terrorists in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states in the North-eastern flank of Nigeria, have been recaptured.
“The Internally Displaced Persons are gradually returning to their communities. The federal government is committed to rebuilding schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure destroyed by the fleeing terrorists.
“Currently, the activities of Boko Haram have been reduced to the Sambisa Forest and their capacity to launch major offensives has been degraded. Boko Haram has now resorted to attacking soft targets such as markets, mosques and churches using innocent under-aged hapless children to detonate locally made Improvised Explosive Devices.”
Boko Haram is estimated to have killed nearly 18, 000 since the start of the insurgency in 2009.