•Warn there’ll be consequences if gov is harmed
•Police confirm death of 13 in attack
John Shiklam in Kaduna, George Okoh in Makurdi and Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri
There are growing concerns over the safety of the outspoken Borno State Governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, who has being the target of Boko Haram attacks in the last two months. Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom have expressed worry over his safety. Zulum, whose convoy was on Friday attacked by terrorists, leading to the death of several military and police personnel. They spoke in the wake of growing anxiety about the incessant attacks on Zulum, who had been targeted by insurgents barely two months ago around the same axis in the state.
ACF and Ortom warned of consequences if the governor were to be harmed by the insurgents.
THISDAY checks, however, revealed that the governor was not in the convoy at the time of the attack on Friday. He was said to have flown in a helicopter to Baga in preparation for the return of thousands of residents displaced since 2014 by the Boko Haram insurgency. The attacked convoy had moved ahead of him but came under attack between Mongunu and Baga. There were some commissioners and legislators in the convoy.
In his first reaction to the second attack in two months, Zulum said his administration faced a tough situation, which left him with the choice between doing something that “gives us some hope and doing nothing, which will leave us more vulnerable to Boko Haram’s ultimate wish to takeover Borno and bring it under their sovereign brutal administration.”
The Borno State police command confirmed the death of 13 persons from the governor’s convoy in the attack.
In a statement on Saturday in Kaduna, the spokesman of ACF, Mr. Emmanuel Yawe, said the latest attack on the governor was the second attempt on his life in months. The forum said it was alarmed that despite the federal government’s assurances of improved security in the North-east, deadly attacks and killings by Boko Haram had continued in the area.
Yawe stated, “Today, we received the disturbing news that the convoy of Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State on its way to Baga was attacked yesterday by Boko Haram terrorists. We are alarmed that for all the assurances we had received from the military and the federal government of an improved security situation on the Boko Haram front, the deadly attacks and killings have continued regardless.”
The ACF spokesman disclosed that eight policemen, three soldiers, and four civilian JTF members, reportedly, lost their lives in the attack. He regretted that only last week, a military commander, Col. Bako, was ambushed and killed around Demboa, also in Borno State.
The statement recalled, “Earlier in July, Governor Zulum had come under the gunfire of the same terrorists while on official tour. What these attacks have done is to undermine public confidence in the ability of the military to successfully defend Nigeria in the on going war against terror.”
While calling on the military to act swiftly to restore the confidence of Nigerians in the war against insurgents, the statement said, “The ACF is also aware of the sagging morale of our fighting men. The federal government and the military high command must act quickly and resolve all the issues that have led to the current low morale.
“The ACF notes that Governor Zulum, whom the terrorists have currently targeted for elimination, is one governor, who raises hope in a demoralised country. If anything untoward happens to him, the consequences for the rest of the country will be grave.
“It is instructive to note that the attack on the governor’s convoy happened while he was trying to move some IDPs back to their permanent homes from camps. These attack have, therefore, raised questions on the ability of the military to ensure the safety of internally displaced persons to return to their homes.
“Finally, both the military and the federal government have a lot of questions to answer on what is going on in this endless war against insurgency.”
Ortom, in a statement by his media aide, Terver Akase, sympathised with his Borno State counterpart and described Friday’s attack as shocking and unfortunate. He, however, said he was optimistic that Zulum would not be deterred by the assault in his determination, with security agencies, to restore peace to all parts of his state.
Ortom also condoled with families of those who lost their lives in the attack and prayed God to grant their souls eternal rest.
A statement yesterday by the spokesman of the Borno State governor, Mallam Isa Gusau, said Zulum was in Baga on Thursday and Friday to supervise efforts to return residents. The return was part of a strategy to end Boko Haram’s long use of the commercial town as its main transit point for fishing trade and tax administration from which the insurgents fund their activities.
Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad, is Borno’s largest fishing community. It boasts waterways to neighbouring countries, and is considered strategic to Boko Haram’s operation.
Gusau revealed that two convoys – one belonging to the governor and another, the committee on Baga reconstruction, had safely plied the Maiduguri-Baga route in the previous days before the third convoy of security men was ambushed on Friday morning.
Gusau said, “Governor Babagana Umara Zulum is saddened by this unfortunate carnage. He shares the grief of families of these 11 priceless heroes to whom Borno shall remain grateful. The governor prays for the repose of their souls and urges all stakeholders to remain committed to on-going peace building efforts.
“Zulum is of the opinion that we must continue to keep hope alive, even in the face of tribulations and believe that with sustained efforts and prayers, Borno will eventually regain peace.
“The situation facing us is a tough one but we must choose between doing something which gives us some hope and doing nothing which will leave us more vulnerable to Boko Haram’s ultimate wish to takeover Borno and bring it under their sovereign brutal administration.”
The statement also said Zulum attended Baga’s first Juma’at prayers in nearly two years
In the governor’s convoy were the senator representing Northern Borno, Abubakar Kyari; House of Representatives member for Marte, Monguno, Nganzai Federal Constituency, Hon. Mohammed Monguno; and House of Representatives member for Mobbar, Kukawa, Guzamala, Abadam Federal Constituency, Hon. Bukar Kareto. Speaker of Borno State House of Assembly, Abdulkarim Lawan, and Chairman of Baga resettlement committee and the Commissioner for Justice, Kaka-Shehu Lawan, were also among top government functionaries in the convoy.
Meanwhile, the Commissioner of Police in Borno State, Bello Makwashi, confirmed the death of 13 people in the attack. Makwashi assured members of the public that the police were determined to carry out their constitutional mandate of protecting life and property, saying they will not relent in providing the much-needed security for citizens of the state.
On September 25, about 12pm, Zulum’s security convoy heading to Baga ahead of government’s planned return of Baga indigenes to their ancestral home came under heavy gun attack by armed men believed to be Boko Haram terrorists, a few Kilometres from Cross Kauwa. The security convoy returned fire and successfully repelled the attack.
But in the ensuing gunfight, casualties were recorded on both sides. Eight policemen and three members of the Civilian Joint Task Force paid the supreme price, while 13 other persons sustained various degrees of injuries and were taken to the hospital for treatment.
Boko Haram insurgents had displaced Baga town some 21 months ago with most of the residents currently taking refuge in Monguno and Maiduguri.