• Osinbajo meets security chiefs
• Shettima condemns attack
• Northern Leaders express worries over insecurity
• Military blame weather for resurgence of terrorism
Omololu Ogunmade, Chineme Okafor, Paul Obi, Olawale Ajimtokan in Abuja and Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri
The extent of the fatality recorded during last Tuesday’s ambush of oil exploration workers in the Lake Chad Basin by the terrorist group, Boko Haram, emerged Thursday as THISDAY sources said 48 bodies of the victims of the attack were deposited at the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH) mortuary.
The information came just as Acting President Yemi Osinbajo met with service chiefs Thursday in Abuja over the resurgence of terrorist attacks in the country and ordered them to relocate to Maiduguri, the epicentre of the Boko Haram terror.
Moved by the recent carnage, the Governor of Borno State, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, commiserated with the families of the victims and expressed his regrets that the attack had set back the progress being made in the war against terror.
According to THISDAY sources, the details of the corpses deposited at the UMTH showed that 18 soldiers were lost, 15 Civilian JTF members killed alongside five university staff and four NNPC drivers.
It was also gathered that the bodies of six persons who were wounded in the attack but escaped to somewhere in Yobe State where they were later found dead had been brought to Maiduguri.
Apart from the wounded soldiers admitted to the military hospital in the town, two members of the Civilian JTF were also on admission at the UMTH Thursday.
The Nigerian Army in a statement on Wednesday by its spokesman, Brig. Gen. Sani Usman, had claimed that all the NNPC staff abducted in the Tuesday ambush had been rescued.
Usman had said: “On receipt of the information, the Brigade mobilised 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, who have been evacuated to 7 Division Medical Services and Hospital.
“The team recovered 4 vehicles one of which included a gun truck mounted with an Anti-Aircraft Gun, 2 white Hilux taken away from NNPC staff and 1 blue Hilux belonging to CJTF. The team also recovered large quantities of arms and ammunition; several spare tyres; many jerry cans, containing Petrol; 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.”
But investigations by THISDAY revealed that five lecturers from the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) in the exploration team were killed. They included Dr. Joseph Millitus, Dr. Manaja Uba and Idris Njodi. The names of the other two were yet to be revealed.
A member of Millitus’ family, Daniel Millitus, told THISDAY that the family was still in grief over the loss of one of their rising stars.
Daniel, who is a pastor in one of the parishes of the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Maiduguri, said the family was making arrangements for the burial of their son.
A female relative of the Ubas, said the family was still in shock and found it difficult to believe that “Manaja was no more.”
She lamented that another relative (Yusuf Ibrahim) also in the exploration team was still missing.
When contacted on phone by journalists, the spokesman of University of Maiduguri, Professor Danjuma Gambo, said he was not in the university at the moment and had limited access to information on the situation in the institution.
He, however, promised to get more information on the claims as soon as he gets back to the campus from Abuja.
The Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, Col. Kingsley Samuel, when contacted on the matter said it was not within the purview of the 7 Division where he was the spokesman.
Osinbajo Relocates Service Chiefs to Maiduguri
Following renewed deadly Boko Haram attacks in the North-east, Osinbajo Thursday summoned service chiefs to an emergency meeting in the State House, Abuja.
The acting president, who had been on a trip to Port Harcourt to inaugurate a fertiliser plant, returned to the Presidential Villa in the evening to preside over the meeting.
It was subsequently resolved that service chiefs should return to the command centre to witness the turn of events for themselves.
Upon taking the oath of office on May 29, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered the relocation of the Command and Control Centre to the war-torn North-east to enable them oversee the battle against terror effectively.
But there had been protracted attacks from insurgents particularly on the University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) in recent times, resulting in the destruction of several lives and property.
The latest of the attacks was the killing of 18 soldiers and abduction of 10 members of staff of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) who were on oil exploration mission.
Although there were reported claims by the military that the oil workers had been rescued, the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, said no contact had been established with them.
Answering questions from journalists after the meeting Thursday, the Minister of Defence, Col. Mansur Dan-Ali (rtd.), said the meeting resolved that the service chiefs should return to the command centre and examine the situation.
He also said they resolved to install more surveillance devices and cameras to enable them monitor the insurgents from a distance.
According to him, this raining season has complicated military operations in the region, making it difficult for troops to be on top of the situation.
However, he said they were putting the machinery in motion to regain mastery of the terrain and dismantle the deadly ambushes built by the insurgents.
Dan-Ali said: “We just finished a meeting with the acting president and the three service chiefs. We agreed that they should move back to the Command Centre again and see what are the things happening there.
“We have also agreed that we should get more surveillance devices, cameras that will be able to see distant attackers coming to the position of our troops.
“So also, the period of the raining season is a difficult moment for us. We cannot dominate the environment like what we did during the dry season but effort is geared towards regaining back our areas and we assure you that all these ambushes that are happening regularly would be stopped.”
Present at the meeting were the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen Tukur Buratai; Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Abak Ibas; Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshall Abubakar Saddique and Dan-Ali.
Meanwhile, the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, on Thursday disclosed that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was sufficiently cleared by the country’s military to resume oil search in the Chad Basin which passes through Bornu State, a hotbed of terrorist group, Boko Haram.
Kachikwu also stated that while NNPC recognised the risks of going to search for oil in the region as directed by Buhari, to grow Nigeria’s reserves, it sought and waited for the military to clear it in 2016 to undertake the tasks.
He, however, said unless sufficient clearance was again obtained from the military, NNPC would not resume its oil search in the region soon.
Buoyed by the commercial oil finds in neighbouring Chad Republic, NNPC on the orders of Buhari intensified and focused its exploratory work in the Inland Basins on the Chad Basin and Benue Trough areas.
In November 2016, it resumed exploration activities in Gubio, Magumeri, Monguno, Kukawa, Abadam, Guzamala and Mobar, after getting security advice from the military.
However, on July 25, 2017, the NNPC Frontier Exploration Services (FES) and Surface Geochemistry Sampling crew comprising of three consultants attached to FES and the Integrated Data Services Limited (IDSL); nine external consultants from the University of Maiduguri; military personnel and members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) were ambushed by Boko Haram, while returning to Maiduguri town after conducting survey mapping and geological study. Nine soldiers and some members of the civilian JTF were reportedly killed.
But speaking to journalists in Abuja on the development, Kachikwu noted that NNPC was yet to officially confirm reports that the military had rescued its workers that were abducted by Boko Haram, though army spokesman, Sani Usman, said all of NNPC’s workers have been rescued and corpses of the nine dead soldiers and civilian JTF retrieved.
Kachikwu, also said NNPC would wait on the military to determine its next move, adding that government would take care of the families of the dead security personnel.
“I would ordinarily have opted against answering that for the simple reason that it is not respectful to the souls of those who died to be discussing going back or not, but for specifics, the reality is that anytime NNPC decides to go into a terrain, they first get the privilege of security advice and that security advice I can say was sufficiently cleared,” said Kachikwu.
Asked why the corporation went into Boko Haram’s hotbed to explore for oil notwithstanding the security clearance, Kachikwu said: “I have explained we got security clearance, and by the way, across the other side of Lake Chad, our neighbours are busy drilling, we are really not alone in this.”
Military Explains Resurgence of Terror
In a new report released by the Air Component of the Operation Lafiya Dole, the military said bad weather and the use of foliage and dense vegetation were giving Boko Haram the leverage to maximise their attacks in recent times.
Recently, the terrorists had stepped up their game, targeting the UNIMAID.
But in a report by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) spearheading the air component of the war against Boko Haram insurgency, bad weather and new strategies adopted by the terrorists seemed to have derailed the operations of the military in averting some of the recent attacks.
The report presented by Air Commodore Tajudeen Yusuf said the most daunting challenge confronting troops “indicated a gradual return of Boko Haram terrorist activities into the Sambisa Forest”.
“In view of the prevailing weather and the associated environmental impediments, operations by the ground troops have not continued at a desirable pace,” he said.
In his reaction, the Borno State Governor, Shettima, described the attack on oil exploration workers at the Lake Chad Basin by Boko Haram as a tragic setback in the fight against terrorism in the North-east and efforts to boost the nation’s economy.
The governor, in a statement by his spokesman, Mallam Isa Gusau, e-mailed to THISDAY, said he was still in shock and had not fully recovered after hearing of the tragic attack.
The governor, who said the news was broken to him while on his journey to the United Kingdom alongside some governors to visit ailing President Muhammadu Buhari, said: “I haven’t been my normal self since I received information on that attack. What happened in the first instance was a tragic setback in the fight against Boko Haram and in Nigeria’s effort 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. 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.”
Northern Leaders Raise the Alarm over Growing Insecurity, Conflicts
Highly placed religious and political figures from the North, led by Sultan of Sokoto Sa’ad Abubakar II, have expressed concern over the growing instability, surge in kidnapping, Biafran separatist agitation and economic inequality among others that are sweeping across the country.
The elders under the aegis of the Senior Working Group warned that the developments are disturbing signs of fragility within the security apparatus of the country.
They also warned that it could have dire consequences for the unity of the country if not addressed.
They expressed their concern in a statement issued last night titled: For the Wellbeing of Nigerians.
Other individuals in the group of 11 include, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, General Martin Luther Agwai (rt.), Ambassador Fatima Balla, Dr. Usman Bugaje, Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari, Dr. Nguyan Feese, Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim, Mrs. Aisha Murtala Muhammed Oyebode and Dr. Chris Kwaja.
They said the current state of the nation is tantamount to a hotbed of internal conflicts that threaten its sovereignty and legitimacy as a nation-state.
They listed the Biafran agitations in the South-east, rising communal violence across the country, the Boko Haram crisis raging in the North-east, and the surge in armed robbery and kidnappings as tell tale signs of insecurity.
“The drivers of these varying conflicts differ in nature, but find their remedy in the constitutional responsibility of the state i.e. the protection of lives and property, provision of education; in short, creating an enabling environment that safeguards the flourishing of citizens and those within its borders,” the statement said.
The Senior Working Group said instability is stumping the country’s potential for prosperity, while adding that the tremendous human and entrepreneurial strengths of Nigerians are yet to be fully realised.
They also noted the demonstrated weaknesses of the state to offer genuine responce to these sources of instability that perpetuate a cycle of reoccurring violent conflicts in communities across the country, particularly in northern Nigeria.
They also painted an abject outlook about the fragility and restiveness in the North, particularly the North-east.
According to them, the region, in terms of the measure of its human development, hovers around issues such as, high illiteracy, high unemployment rates, and above all, the highest levels of inequality and poverty.
“Although inequality persists across Nigeria; it presents a significant challenge in the north because this region contains 19 of Nigeria’s 36 states, occupies almost 70 percent of the landmass of the country, and is home to different ethnic and religious communities.
“This growing gap between the rich and poor, beyond poverty itself, generates anti-government sentiments that are easily manipulated to fuel civil unrest, and drive wedges between communities that have coexisted in the region for decades.
“This, of course indicates the lapses of the government over time in living up to its responsibilities, which has opened the floodgates for those challenging the legitimacy of the state to offer their own alternatives on how to ‘save the people’.
“The underlining narrative of Boko Haram is the offer of an alternative state that not only postulates to be theologically legitimate, but also seeks out the forgotten welfare of the people,” the statement said.
The opinion leaders stressed that cascading problems facing the North is a genetic feature across all the 19 states.
However, they noted that the common problem provides an opportunity for common solutions that re-imagine inter-state cooperation and collaboration that identify failing public goods in order to provide joint solutions and offer the people greater alternatives to competing narratives.
The group proposed a collaborative efforts by the North, saying the entire block must work together to solve its common problems for the greater good of Nigeria.
In addition, they appealed for corporation among Northern state governors leading to deliberation on common policies that address common setbacks.
“Joint ventures should be encouraged and already existing organisations, networks and institution, such as the Arewa Research and Development Project (ARDP) and the New Nigeria Development Company (NNDC), owned by the 19 northern states with the mission to promote socio-economic transformation, should be welcomed, reinvigorated and strengthened because they seek to foster solutions for the wellbeing of all Nigerians,” they pointed out.
They called on the governors to institutionalise early warning mechanisms in collaboration with civic actors and community-based organisations that can flag potential conflicts, saying these organisations can adequately inform government so they can prepare to respond, and in some cases, prevent conflicts.