In Borno, Boko Haram Crisis Mounts, Buhari in Shock,  Assures a Weary Nation

Muhammadu Buhari
  •   As death toll rises, many still missing  in aftermath of Melete attack
  •  Analysts warn of Boko Haram, ISIS new strategy of attacking military bases

Tobi Soniyi, Bayo Akinloye  in Lagos , Shola Oyeyipo in Abuja and Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri

There are fears that the recent spate of attacks on military barracks and formations in the North-east may be a precursor of much bigger assaults by a resurgent Boko Haram, THISDAY has learnt. The decimation of military formations in communities in the zone is been viewed as a clear pattern for an audacious takeover of the territories that these units were established to protect.  

The attack on Metele community in Borno State about one week ago, which led to the death of over 118 soldiers, caused outrage and massive criticism of the federal government’s handling of the war against the terror group. Islamic State West Africa (ISWA), which has claimed responsibility for the attack, had pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS in Syria. Members of ISWA had travelled to Syria to partake in the fight to oust President Assad of Syria.  

Having been defeated in Syria, most of the fighters came back to form  ISWA and have been fighting alongside Boko Haram in the West African sub-region. 

Yesterday, there were further reports of sustained attacks by Boko Haram on troops sent to Metele to recover corpses of the slain soldiers. The attacks prevented the soldiers from evacuating the reportedly decomposing bodies of their fallen colleagues.

President Muhammadu Buhari Saturday issued a statement expressing shock over the killings and assuring Nigerians of his government’s commitment to their security.

“Members of the armed forces are one family who are commonly committed to the security and safety of all Nigerians,” the statement said.

The statement came nearly one week  after the fact  and  heavy criticism of the president for keeping quiet over the killing of the soldiers by terrorists believed to be members of the Islamic State in West Africa.

The president had last week summoned the country’s security chiefs to meet with the President of Chad, Idris Deby, and thereafter invited them for a meeting at the Presidential Villa.

Impeccable sources told THISDAY that fears that the extremist group might launch more lethal attacks led Buhari to summon the meeting with the service chiefs.

Buhari on Saturday night said he was engaging the military and intelligence chiefs in extensive discussions on the next steps to take, despite having claimed that the insurgents had been defeated.

The president was quoted as saying in a statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, “No responsible Commander-in-Chief would rest on his oars or fold his hands to allow terrorists to endanger the lives of its military personnel and other citizens. Our loyal forces have proved their strength over the terrorists and we are ready to give them all the needed support in terms of equipment and manpower to succeed in ending the renewed threat. In the coming days, I am engaging the Military and Intelligence Chiefs in extensive discussions on the next steps we shall be taking.” However, a senior military officer who spoke with THISDAY on condition of anonymity revealed that there was a growing discontent in the military bordering on distrust and poor weaponry to execute the war against the insurgents.

According to another senior officer in Maiduguri, who also preferred anonymity, Metele is  one of the deepest frontline created in the military campaign against Boko Haram and its offshoot, ISWA. It was meant to push back the insurgents.

“For some time now, there has been some kind of resurgence and most of these small brigades that were created along the frontlines are not fully equipped to the standard of a proper brigade. Some don’t have armoured tanks, the ones that have are not functional,” the military source explained.

The officer further disclosed, “They just parked them there. Some don’t have diesel – the trucks don’t have diesel also. Even the pickups don’t have fuel. And Boko Haram gets all the intelligence that these tanks are not working. So, once they strike, the first thing they do is to set the tanks on fire. So the tanks don’t change the game against them. Ordinarily, it should be the game changer. So the brigades don’t have what it takes to run the tanks and trucks because of the usual Nigerian way.

“What Boko Haram does is to make the troops’ call for assistance to the air force useless because before the air force gets to the scene of attacks they have wreaked havoc and melted into the night. Their (insurgents’) operation is usually around 6pm to 6.30pm. Before an air force rescue mission will come from Makurdi, it will take a minimum of one hour and by that time it is already dark and none of the aircraft is equipped with night vision. So the air force is useless in such a situation.”

He was dismayed that the extremists often had all the information and intelligence to counteract the federal troops and “they choose their time to strike correctly, particularly when soldiers are relaxed”.

More disturbing, perhaps, is what the source described as a distrust existing among the military high command.

He said, “The distrust arises from the fact that no one knows who among them is giving Boko Haram information because they all know that the terror group has infiltrated the Nigerian Army. Everyone is edgy and suspicious of one another. The situation is really bad. Everybody present in that barracks in Melete was wiped out. Another important point to note here is the massive corruption in the hierarchy. A lot of people are feeding fat from this war.”

Last week, a faction of Boko Haram, the Islamic State in West Africa, that pledged allegiance to ISIS, attacked some troops of the Nigerian Army, killing at least 113 soldiers at Metele – a remote village bordering Nigeria and Chad. About 153 people were allegedly yet to be accounted for or missing.

In the last three and a half years, Boko Haram has attacked 22 military bases and barracks in the North-east – including Metele, Gajiram, Mainok, Rann, Geidam, Sasawa, Magumeri, Malam Fatori, Gashigha, Kanama, Gamboru-Ngala, Mafa and Kunduga, Kareto, Jilli, Arge and Zari – killing hundreds of soldiers.

Buhari Summons Service Chiefs 

President Muhammadu Buhari has summoned an emergency security meeting over the killing of Nigerian soldiers by Boko Haram insurgents.

“The president has called an urgent meeting with the service chiefs and the families of the latest victims of the Boko Haram are being identified and contacts made before a government pronouncement on the tragic attacks. This, it is understood is the reason for the silence of the government over the incident,” a source said on Saturday.

An online newspaper, PREMIUM TIMES, had reported that at least 113 soldiers were killed in the Metele attack, “a pre-dusk attack on 157 Task Force Battalion in Borno State on November 18”. It said “153 soldiers are still missing in action as of November 24, nearly a week after the attack.” the newspaper said the dead included a commander, second-in-command to the commander, the intelligence officer of the battalion attacked and two other officers.

On Thursday, Agence France Presse said it saw a video in which Boko Haram claimed killing 118 soldiers in attacks some days ago.

Terrorists Prevent Evacuations of Corpses

With the latest attacks on Saturday by the insurgents, THISDAY gathered that the troops sent to evacuate the corpses of the slain soldiers had to make a tactical withdrawal.

A source said, “As of yesterday around 10am, troops from 7 Brigade Baga went to Kangarwa 119 Task Force Battalion Defence Company location to recover three armoured tanks. They were ambushed and the insurgents took away the tanks.”

He added, “The corpses of those killed in Metele are still not evacuated and the soldiers that went for the evacuation were 147. They were attacked at the entrance of Metele. 

A captain was captured alive by the insurgents. The insurgents killed six soldiers from the company with seven soldiers still missing. The soldiers that went for the evacuation lost a battle tank and a gun truck to the insurgents.” However, it was learnt that the soldiers were able to evacuate six corpses, despite the ambush.

Meanwhile, a video has been released on the social media, which appears to be showing the level of dissatisfaction among soldiers on the frontlines in the war against terrorism. Some protesting soldiers in the video describe the weapons given to them to fight the insurgents as obsolete and making their military campaign “mission impossible”.

They said, “The T72 tank was made in 1983 by Slovakia. You can’t fire more than two rounds before it will hang. We are all graduates and millennial soldiers. 

So, we know what is going on; all the arms given to us are outdated. They (Boko Haram) call us Zombies – that we do not know our right.”

However, the Nigerian Army has dismissed the video clips showing alleged discontent among soldiers. A message on its official Facebook page said on Saturday, 

“It is indeed shocking to see how these well doctored propaganda materials from enemies of the state have succeeded in creating fear and unrest in the polity. 

These doctored materials are obviously serving the purposes intended by the terrorists to misinform the populace, spread panic, hatred, religious intolerance, and above all, to undermine national security.

“The army wants to categorically state that the videos and images making rounds as the purported attack on Metele base are false and do not in any way portray the reality of the situation on the ground.”