Despite President Muhammadu Buhari and the Nigerian military’s repeated assurances to Nigerians and the international community that Boko Haram has been “technically defeated”, the senator representing Borno Central in the National Assembly and a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Baba Kaka Garbai, has revealed that his state is divided in equal measure between the terror sect and the Nigerian military.
However, his assertion has been disputed by the military and Senate Leader Mohammed Ndume, who said yesterday that a lot has been achieved by the military in retrieving captured Borno communities from the insurgents.
Garbai, who spoke to journalists on Saturday evening during a condolence visit to Dalori village where 65 persons were reportedly killed weekend before last by the insurgents, said the truth must be told that both Boko Haram and the Nigerian nation each have full control of three local governments in the troubled Borno State and both have a level of dominance in 21 other local councils.
Garbai, who arrived Dalori with financial and material assistance for the people of the village, said: “I feel highly demoralised, devastated in the sense that this is the village we visited during the election and they were going about their normal business. The activities that were ongoing were like confidence building.
“They actually got the signal a few days before the attack that the insurgents were likely to attack them, they reported this to the constituted authorities but nothing was done to provide security for residents and their belongings.”
The senator appealed to the military to intensify its efforts at beefing up security around villages and communities that share borders with Maiduguri metropolis.
“It is very important and more so that this place is porous, so there could be attacks from any direction,” he said.
On the perception being created by the federal government that the insurgents have been largely overpowered by the military, he said: “It is a wrong assumption that most of the local governments in Borno have been recaptured from Boko Haram.
“In reality, this is not true in the sense that apart from Maiduguri metropolis, Bayo and Kwaya Kusar, these are the three local governments that are under the occupation of the Nigerian government where the military and police are maintaining law and order.
“However, Mobbar, Abadam and Kala Balge are 100 per cent occupied by the insurgents. There are some local governments that are also partially occupied by the government, especially as the local government secretariats have been liberated, but the hinterland comprising other communities in such local governments is still controlled by the insurgents.”
Using Konduga as an example, Garbai claimed the local government’s secretariat was liberated but still has many communities in the area under the control of the insurgents.
He added: “Though Gwoza town has been liberated, there still remain six wards in Gwoza Local Government Area that are occupied by the insurgents.
“From my count, only three local governments are fully liberated, while 21 local governments remain partially occupied by insurgents – that is, there is still some level of Boko Haram occupation side by side the military or some other constituted authority.
“While the local governments fully occupied by Boko Haram are Abadam, Mobbar and Kala Balge.”
He said Nigerians should not live under the illusion that Boko Haram has been decimated or weakened, adding: “This is not the reality and neither is it a true reflection of reality. The reality is that most of the local governments in Borno are partially occupied by Boko Haram.”
On the proposed reconstruction, rehabilitation and relocation in the troubled areas, Garbai said it was not advisable for the government to commence reconstruction in devastated communities immediately.
“If the people are moved back to their homelands, you are making them vulnerable to attacks. Unless you provide maximum security and return law and order in these areas, relocating these people would be endangering their lives,” he warned.
However, Senator Ndume, representing Borno South, disagreed with his colleague, stating that a lot had been achieved by the military in retrieving captured Borno communities from the insurgents.
He also said it was not out of place to begin the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the destroyed communities.
He told journalists in Maiduguri yesterday that he still has confidence in the military.
“I still want to believe that our military is on top of the situation. What is happening these days are issues of intermittent suicide bombings and desperate attacks by the insurgents because their supply routes have been cut off and they attack in order to get supplies. They have been carting away foodstuff from attacked communities,” he said.
He held the view that the reconstruction of communities and relocation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) should still continue in spite of recent attacks, adding: “If not immediately, at least preparations should not be set aside.”
The Senate leader, while maintaining that the insurgency was being rooted out, said the recent setbacks were not limited to Nigeria alone, insisting that the United States America and recently France had come under isolated terrorist attacks.
He insisted that the people of Borno displaced by the insurgency were willing to go back to their homelands, and in particular made reference to the residents of Gwoza, his homeland, who are ready to return home.
In the same breath, the Defence Headquarters (DHQ) disputed Senator Garbai’s claim, insisting that the Boko Haram terrorists have been greatly weakened were incapable of launching a large-scale attack in parts of the North-east.
The Director of Defence Information (DDI), Col. Rabe Abubakar assured Nigerians that the military was determined to finish off remnants of the terrorists and complete the restoration of the territories in the North-east.
He said: “All citizens can attest to the fact that BHT is weakened and incapable of waging any large-scale attacks as they used to in the past.
“The military is committed more than ever before to finish remnants of the insurgents for the complete restoration of peace and security in the North-east and all hands must be geared towards this objective.
“We don’t intend to join issues with anybody but the facts remains one that we are winning the war on terror.
“This is a war which must be taken seriously by all patriotic citizens. Sambisa forest will fall to us very soon. We therefore advice all and sundry to support the military and other security agencies to eliminate remnants of BHT, instead of making comments inimical to the current war efforts.
“The attacks on soft targets are carried out to attract media attention, since information is the oxygen of terrorist. Please ignore any unfounded and misleading information that they are holding anything (territory),” he stated.
Meanwhile, the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, has commenced the rotation of troops deployed for the counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations in the North-east.
Buratai kick-started the rotation at the weekend when he visited the 242 Recce Battalion, Ibereko Barracks, Nigerian Army, Badagry, where he informed a battalion of their new deployment to take over from their colleagues in Operation Lafiya Dole in Maiduguri.
He explained that the action was in line with the directive by Buhari during his maiden media chat, when he said that troops who had been serving in the North-east, some of whom have been there for years, must be rotated.
Buratai said: “I came this evening to tell you that we are kick-starting the rotation of troops in the theatre of operation in the North-east. You will go and relieve your colleagues there and we will continue to ensure that the troops are rotated routinely. I have asked your commanders to ensure that the troop rotation is a routine exercise.
“The president is very much concerned about your welfare, about your families and the psychological effect of being far from your families. That is why we are doing this rotation as a matter of routine.
“You are expected to go to the theatre of operation as a fresh and well trained battalion. This number here is not conclusive, as more of your colleagues will be joining you.”
The army chief also charged the troops to remain committed, dedicated and loyal to the nation and the president.
He added that the Nigerian Army has secured the funds to ensure that troops are properly kitted and have adequate firepower to fight the insurgents.
Buratai further assured them that the army was well equipped and determined to rout Boko Haram from Nigeria, and urged the officers and soldiers to see their call to duty as a service to humanity.
He also urged them to respect human rights, the rule of law, and to adhere strictly to the rules of engagement while discharging their duties in the North-east.
The army chief charged them to take care of their armoury and military equipment, especially medium and heavy weapons.
Speaking further, Buratai called for discipline amongst the officers and soldiers with regards to obeying commands and follow`ing directives. He also warned against the leakage of operational information and other forms of misconduct, which he said would attract stiff military sanctions.