By TIMOTHY OLANREWAJU, MAIDUGURI
■ Residents unsure of safety of trapped relations
■ As Catholic Church laments siege to parishes
Musa Yakubu’s biggest worry was the safety of his septuagenarian uncle who has been trapped in the hilly Gwoza town, southeast of Borno since Boko Haram sacked the community and reportedly declared it its territory.
“I am very worried about the safety of my uncle. I’m not even sure he’s alive because the insurgents may have killed him since he couldn’t flee with other residents,” he told Saturday Sun in Maiduguri. Interestingly, Yakubu is not the only one that is disturbed about the condition of residents of Gwoza who are trapped in the town. Governor Kashim Shettima also said his biggest headache was the cruel fate that has befallen the residents.
“Our major concern now is about those who are still in Gwoza town, those who could not run away when the insurgents came. We don’t know what they are going through now. It is a difficult situation,” Shettima lamented in an emotional speech while addressing thousands of displaced Gwoza residents at an Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp at Madagali, Adamawa State.
The new Caliphate
Caliphate, according to some Islamic scholars, is an area under the control of a Caliph, believably a successor of Prophet Mohammad as temporal and spiritual head of Islamic community. For Abubakar Shekau and his men of terror, the sleepy town of Gwoza is now a new Boko Haram republic since the attack on August 6. It appears unthinkable but Boko Haram has indeed declared the Gwoza town its new “Caliphate” nearly two weeks after the military pushed out the insurgents from Damboa where they reportedly hoisted their flags. A security source said Boko Haram left the town in ruins, describing the destruction at Damboa as massive and heartbroken. The source said the terrorists did not spare even streetlights. “Almost all the houses in the town were burnt; livestocks, public building, everything were destroyed. They finished Damboa”, the source disclosed.
A man, who appeared like Abubakar Shekau, leader of the sect in a video footage released last Sunday, claimed Allah has given them victory in Gwoza town. “Oh people, Allah has given us victory in the town of Gwoza. Thanks be to Allah who gave victory to our members in Gwoza and made it part of our Islamic Caliphate,” he said in the video which has attracted outrage from some Islamic scholars who described the claim as unIslamic. Some residents of Maiduguri, who spoke to Saturday Sun, said the black sport utility vehicles backed by the Boko Haram leader in the video footage may have been taken from the Gwoza Emir’s palace.
Saturday Sun gathered that the insurgents invaded Gwoza in a fit of rage. For a week, the whereabouts of the Emir, Alhaji Mohammed Timta was unknown until recently when it became clear the traditional ruler survived the terrorists invasion of his palace. Emir Mohammed succeeded his father, Idrissa Timta who was shot dead in May by Boko Haram. Residents claimed they have reported the rumoured plan by the insurgents to raid Gwoza to the security forces but wondered why the terrorists were allowed to carry out the attack unhindered and thereafter took over the town. “We envisaged a serious attack on Gwoza by Boko Haram. We knew it was a matter of time because of the way they have overrun all the communities in the area. They killed our people and forced us to flee our homes,” said John Goma, a Gwoza resident taking refuge in Maiduguri.
A police source said most of the trapped residents are either old men, women, children or those who were sick at the time of the attack. They feared some of the trapped women and teenage girls in Boko Haram “new caliphate” may have been sexually abused by the insurgents or turned to their cooks. “They may be harassing the old ones who are too weak to flee to give them information about the military or youth volunteers,” says another resident who preferred anonymity.
Apart from Gwoza town, which is the local government headquarters, Boko Haram has since November 2013, annexed most communities in the area. First, they engaged the military at Pulka, a small settlement that connects the area with Gwoza, and subsequently proceeded to Attagara, Aganjara, Agapalawa, Chinene, Chikede, Gavva, Amuda, Barawa and all the autonomous communities in the area. Hundreds of people were killed as about 3, 000 fled to different parts of the state as well as neighbouring Adamawa State. After the coordinated attacks on these communities, Gwoza was just a fait accompli for the Boko Haram men, a resident of Maiduguri who did not want his name mentioned in the print, said.
With the entire Gwoza local government fallen into Boko Haram’s hand, the insurgents pushed further eastward to Gamboru/Ngala, a commercially thriving town at the Cameroon border to expand its supposed caliphate last Sunday in what analysts described as expansionist move. The move led to fierce battle with the security forces, a development which “saw the Nigerian troops charging through the Cameroon borders in a tactical maneuver,” according to military authority.
Madagali in Adamawa State where some displaced Gwoza persons are camped by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has also been taken over by the insurgents. Madagali is the closest town to Gwoza.
As at press time, Gamboru is still under Boko Haram control as fleeing residents said the insurgents were moving freely. A security source hinted that the military was making necessary plan to dislodge the insurgents from the area.
The fate of Buni Yadi, headquarters of Gujba Local Government Area, east of Yobe and about 35 kilomtres to capital Damaturu, is also precarious, some Damaturu residents said. The Boko Haram fighters, who are said to be present in the town since late July, are not in a hurry to leave. However, Moh’d Adams, a Damaturu resident whose relations are still in the town, said the insurgents may have left the area. “A commercial driver in the area told me last week that a few residents have returned to Buni Yadi after Boko Haram left, though their houses and property have been destroyed,” he told Saturday Sun on phone, adding: “There are no military presence in the area up till now.”
Catholic Church laments
The Maiduguri Diocese of the Catholic Church which covers Borno, Yobe and some parts of Adamawa states, said the church and its members have suffered greatly from incessant Boko Haram attacks. “It is true that terrorists don’t have friends but it is abundantly clear that Christians are worst hit by Boko Haram insurgency,” Director of Social Communications, Rev. Fr Gideon Obasogie said.
He disclosed that “the whole Madagali town and Catholic parish rectory have been occupied by the terrorists, with many structures and items vandalized.” He said some of the worshippers in the area fled while others were not so lucky.
Why the military authority last week said it was declaring a total war on Boko Haram upon the receipt of technologically-driven weapons procured by the Federal Government, residents expressed the fear of worse attacks as the insurgents are increasingly expand their control around the eastern and western parts of Borno and neighbouring Yobe State.
By TIMOTHY OLANREWAJU, MAIDUGURI