Soldiers have begun to move their families out of the two major barracks in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
Soldiers, who spoke with Saturday PUNCH, said the decision to move their families out of Giwa and Maimalari military barracks was part of the preparation for a fierce battle against the Boko Haram insurgents.
They said they were directed by their commanders to move their children and wives out of the barracks.
It was gathered that the action of the soldiers had heightened fears among residents of Maiduguri, who saw the families being moved out of the city.
One of our correspondents sighted one of the soldiers on Lagos Island on Thursday with his family members in a blue gulf car.
The soldier, who was accused of overloading his vehicle by men of the Federal Road Safety Corps, pleaded for help as he explained that he was coming from Maiduguri, adding that he moved his family to Lagos for safety.
Another soldier, who resides in the Giwa Barracks, spoke to one of our correspondents on the condition of anonymity. He said he had already moved his wife and children to Edo State following the directive by their commanders.
“We are moving our wives and children out because they should not be there if a battle begins. I have taken mine out of the city,” the soldier said
The soldiers confided in our correspondents that the situation was tense.
Boko Haram had captured Bama, the second largest city in Borno State early this week. It had two weeks ago seized Gwoza, where it occupied a police academy.
There is a report that the Boko Haram sect, which seems to have been emboldened by its success in Gwoza and Bama, plans to attack Maiduguri.
Another soldier, who spoke with Saturday PUNCH, said, “Yes, many of the soldiers have moved their families out of the barracks; many are still moving theirs; there are also others who have not.
“I think they are responding to an intelligence report that the Boko Haram are targeting the major military formations in Maiduguri.
“So the commanders told them to move their families so that there would be no distraction to the soldiers if there is a battle.”
A retired military Warrant Officer lost three of his children during the attack on the Maimalari Barracks by the insurgents in December 2013.
One of our correspondents made repeated efforts to get the Director of Defence Information, Maj. Gen Chris Olukolade, to comment on the latest development without success as the calls to his mobile telephone line did not connect.
Also, Olukolade had not responded to a text message on the issue as of time of filing this report. In the SMS, he was asked to comment on the soldiers’ evacuation of their families from Maiduguri.
But the defence headquarters in a statement on Friday allayed fears over the Boko Haram’s attacks in Borno State.
The statement by Olukolade was, however, silent on the soldiers’ evacuation of their families from barracks in Maiduguri.
The statement, which was the first by defence headquarters since Boko Haram began fresh attacks in Borno State, said the reputation of the military and Nigeria was at stake.
The military reiterated the pledge it made on Thursday while briefing the Joint Committee on Defence of the National Assembly.
It stated, “Everything will be done to reverse the situation and defeat the rampaging terrorists.”
It welcomed the concern by Nigerians and a section of the international community following the increased menace and activities of terrorists.
“It is necessary to reassure all that the Nigerian Armed Forces is more than ever determined and committed to the defence of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Nigeria, regardless of any odd.”
“It is not only the pride and reputation of the military that is at stake but that of the entire nation.” It, therefore, urged Nigerians to remain steadfast and support the military as all steps were being taken to ensure the success of the counter-insurgency operations.
The defence headquarters stated, “With this in mind, it is important to reiterate that the Nigerian military is fully conscious of its obligations to the Nigerian state and remains willing and ready to perform its duties with utmost diligence.
“Therefore, what the military requires at this critical period in the nation’s history is not pillories but continued support from all stakeholders and comity of nations.”
“Indeed, this is not the time to despair or shift blames. Rather it calls for concerted effort by all and sundry to stop the agents of darkness who seek to destroy our country and civilisation.
“On its part, the Nigerian military as a fighting force, assures Nigerians once again that this battle will be won.”
The United States Assistant Secretary of State, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, had on Thursday lamented that Boko Haram was operating freely in the North-East.
She said that the sect had shown that it also had the capacity to strike in Kano, Abuja and elsewhere.
Thomas-Greenfield, at a meeting with the Federal Government officials on Thursday, added that Washington was troubled by the “apparent capture of Bama” in Borno State by Boko Haram.
She said the US was preparing to launch a “major” border security programme to help Nigeria and its neighbours combat the increasing number and scope of attacks by the insurgents.
But she was quick to remind the Nigerian authorities that “we are past time for denial and pride.”
She said, “Since we last met in August 2013, the frequency and scope of Boko Haram’s terror attacks have grown more acute and constitute a serious threat to this country’s overall security.
“Boko Haram has shown that it can operate not only in the North-East, but in Kano, in Abuja, and elsewhere. We are very troubled by the apparent capture of Bama and the prospects for an attack on and in Maiduguri, which would impose a tremendous toll on the civilian population.
“This is a sober reality check for all of us. We are past time for denial and pride.”
Shettima urges FG to double anti-terrorism campaign
Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, on Friday called on the Federal Government to double its efforts toward freeing Nigerians from the shackles of persistent Boko Haram attacks.
Shettima, who in a broadcast to the people of the state, acknowledged the gallantry of the nation’s military and security personnel and said they needed the support of all to defeat the insurgents.
He said, “Our armed forces that have proven their capability in such difficult times can by the grace of Allah defeat the Boko Haram insurgency with overwhelming federal reinforcement in all areas of their needs.
“We strongly appeal to the Federal Government to redouble its present efforts so that the nation will be a historic witness to speedy containment of the Boko Haram insurgency.
“The Borno State Government will continue to do whatever it can to complement the Federal Government in this battle.
“As Government holding the mandate of the people, we will remain supportive of the civilian JTF as we have been. Our support for the military, police and other security agencies is that of a shared battle against the forces of darkness.
“We shall accelerate our focus on jobs creation to discourage idleness and criminality. We shall speed up ongoing infrastructure to deliver on our promises to make Borno State a better place.”
He stressed that the Federal Government has given assurances on improving on the present commitment to end the Boko Haram scourge.”
Nigeria deploys warplanes to recapture Bama
Nigerian warplanes have started carrying out air strikes against insurgents in order to recapture Bama from them.
According to a senior official, who craved anonymity, Nigerian troops have re-launched attacks on Friday against the Islamist sect. Air strikes have been carried out “on all the Boko Haram bases”, Reuters quoted the official as saying.
He added that this reflected President Goodluck Jonathan’s order for a “fully-fledged war” against the group which has waged a bloody insurgency since 2009.
Military spokesmen have denied reports that Bama was overrun by the insurgents earlier this week after they attacked it with captured military vehicles and pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns, all part of a growing Boko Haram arsenal.
“Bama today is the centre of the military battle with the terrorists … Boko Haram is being repelled by the Nigerian troops as we are talking now,” the government official said, without giving details of the operations or casualties.
Nigeria’s air force and defence headquarters did not respond to requests for comment and it was not immediately possible to obtain independent confirmation of the fighting.
B’Haram pursues fleeing Nigerians into Cameroon –UNHCR
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has said that the Boko Haram insurgents are pursuing fleeing people in the North-East across the border into Cameroon.
The United Nations agency stated that thousands of people who had fled had to seek refuge in Cameroon, some sleeping in schools and churches, Reuters had reported.
Militant groups from Nigeria had last week crossed the border and attacked villages on the Cameroon side, slitting the throats of three people in a Catholic church in the village of Assighassia, burning down police stations and a local cotton company, UNCHR reported.
“The UNHCR is very concerned that even once they have crossed into Cameroon, they are still being pursued by insurgents and we have already started to relocate some of the refugees to a refugee camp where they can enjoy safer conditions,” the UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said. Punch