Security agencies and Boko Haram engage in what appears a superiority contest, even as northern state governors ask emirs to intervene
It could well have been a battle for supremacy. The security agencies and Boko Haram, the Islamic sect that has claimed responsibility for tragic attacks in some parts of the country, particularly the northern states and Abuja, have been at each others throats recently. At the beginning, the sect appeared to be having the upper hand, but just as public confidence in the security agencies had begun to wane, the tide changed. By last week, it appeared that the sect was the one engaged in a battle for survival. Last Tuesday when a Boko Haram suicide bomber hit the Headquarters 1 Division of the Nigerian Army in Kaduna, it did not have the devastating effect of previous strikes. Accounts of the incident showed that it was a failed mission. Two explosives-laden vehicles meant to take out the army division, a Toyota Sienna and a Honda Accord, were stopped before reaching their destination by vigilant soldiers. The driver of the Toyota, who dressed in military uniform, was shot in the head after ignoring orders to stop. His vehicle exploded near the division’s car park, shattering only car windows and the glass wall in the frontage of the division’s headquarters.
According to Raphael Isa, a major general and director, army public relations, the bomber was the only casualty of the attack. Reports however indicate that some other persons who sustained injuries were rushed to the 44 Nigerian Army Reference Hospital.
Though the second car on suicide mission did not explode, the contents indicated how devastating the attack could have been if it was successful. Abubakar Edun, a lieutenant colonel and spokesman of the division, gave details of the explosive materials carried in the Honda Accord.
He said: “The Honda Accord which did not explode was loaded with 10 numbers of 20 litres of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) four numbers of 30 litres loaded with IEDs and two numbers of large peak milk containers also loaded with IEDs.”
Two other explosions, which occurred within 15 minutes, at the entrance of the Nigerian Air Force, NAF, base in Mando and under the Kawo flyover, Kaduna, also appeared to have gone off target. Yusuf Anas, an air commodore and NAF director of public relations and information, told the press that the Boko Haram bomb exploded about 500 metres away from the “outer perimeter fence” of the base. He said there was no casualty. The third bomb, which exploded under the Kawo flyover, also did not record human casualties.
Explaining why Boko Haram attacked military bases in Kaduna, Isa said the military was closing in on the notorious sect through the arrest of its key leaders who are currently aiding security agencies with intelligence. He said the arrests were made following tip-offs by members of the public who he said gave useful information on the sect to security agencies.
Isa said the military was also processing more information that may lead to the arrest of other members of the sect. News that a faction of the sect had volunteered to dialogue with the federal government also enhanced speculations that the unsuccessful attacks by the sect members, recently, are a pointer to the effect of the heat from the security organisations on their hideouts and armoury.
The magazine gathered that since the attack on Kano last month, scores of members of the sect have been arrested in Kano and Maiduguri, which now appeared to be their bases. Working with information provided by members of the public and some of those arrested, armed soldiers stormed different neighbourhoods in Kano and Maiduguri to pick up suspects.
But issues of possible human rights abuses are been raised over the arrests. This is because the suspects are neither paraded before journalists nor charged to any court, thus prompting suspicion that the military may be engaged in extra-judicial killings. The government has however denied this, explaining that suspects will appear in court when investigation into their case are concluded.
Eleven suspected members of the sect in Maiduguri on Saturday, January 29 were recently killed. Mohammed Hassan, a lieutenant colonel and spokesman of Joint Task Force, JTF, said the suspects were killed during a gun battle with soldiers.
But three days later, families of those killed told journalists in a press conference that soldiers walked into their houses and took their wards away, only for them to learn that they were killed in a gun battle with soldiers. The families are demanding justice for the alleged extra-judicial killings of their children.
A similar allegation has been made against the military in Kano after the last attack on the city. Soldiers killed a man and his pregnant wife in Hotoro two days after the Kano attack. Soldiers said the man and his wife were suspected Boko Haram members who tried to resist arrest and engaged the military in gun duel. But family members later debunked the claim of the military, saying they were victims of extra-judicial killing by the military.
Mohammed Yerima, a colonel and director, defence information, told the magazine last Wednesday that allegations of extra-judicial killings against the military were false. He said the role of the military was to protect lives and properties, and not to attack innocent people. He explained that suspects killed were those who engaged the military in gun battle, stressing that soldiers would not fold their arms when they are being fired at.
He said suspects arrested were not executed, but kept in various detention facilities for interrogation. He said many of them were helping security agencies unravel the sect. According to him, suspects were not immediately charged to court, because those charged in the past were given bail almost immediately by the courts, thus jeopardising investigations of the sect.
Although the noose may be tightening on Boko Haram, the sect is still believed to be strong, especially since Ibrahim Shekau, the spiritual leader of the group, is still alive. Shekau, who is the brain behind the militancy of the sect, is believed to be hibernating between Kano and Adamawa, where state of emergency has not been declared. The group has threatened to carry out more attacks.
Perhaps, this is why a meeting of northern state governors and Namadi Sambo, vice president, three weeks ago, resolved to employ the services of the emirate councils in efforts to stop Boko Haram. The magazine authoritatively gathered that the meeting charged the governors to use the traditional rulers in their states to stop members of Boko Haram from infiltrating their domain.
Sambo told the governors that members of the sect may be looking for safe havens away from areas where state of emergency had been declared, and there was need for community vigilance in all towns and villages. The vice president believed the traditional institution was best suited to carry out such task.
All the northern governors were said to have pledged to mobilise the emirs and chiefs in their states to achieve the objective of ridding their communities of members of the militant sect.
The magazine was told that the emirs are expected, through the emirate structure, to report strangers and visitors in their neighbourhoods. Potential tenants would also be reported and checked out before being accommodated by landlords. The Tuesday meeting of emirs, the magazine gathered, was to work out a feasible plan of action for all emirates in the North.
A proposal to actualise the plan was discussed in Kaduna two weeks ago when emirs and chiefs from the 19 states in the North met. A 10-man committee set up by the royal fathers presented its report for deliberations. The emirs, led by Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto, met behind closed doors for hours without issuing any communiqué or statement.
But Najib Adamu, a lawyer and Emir of Kazaure, later broke the emirs’ silence on the meeting, when he explained that it was a security meeting to deliberate and advise northern state governors on how to prevent the “frequent and disturbing crisis in the North.”
But the emirs are also under pressure, following threats by the sect to attack Sokoto, the domain of the Sultan. In previous press statements, the group had declared some northern emirs, including the Sultan, as supporters of the Nigerian state and therefore enemies of the sect.
Abbas Anas, the younger brother of Abubakar Ibn El-Kanemi, the Shehu of Borno, was in May last year killed by suspected Boko Haram members in his house in Maiduguri. So far the sect had not attacked any palace, but with the recent threat to attack the Sultan and emirs who work against them, it may just be a matter of time.
After the Christmas Day bombing of a church in Madalla, Niger State, in which over 58 people were killed, the Sultan had described Boko Haram as the forces of evil, and urged Nigerians not to see the sect’s activities as a religious war between Muslims and Christians.