Thousands of youths on Thursday thronged the streets of Maiduguri protesting against the increasing spate of attacks on Borno State by Boko Haram.
The youths, who first assembled at the popularly Ramat Square Ground, later moved to the palace of the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Abubakar Elkanemi, saying they were willing to confront the terror group if given the go ahead.
They said they were at the palace for Elkanemi’s blessings which, according to them, would give them success when fighting the terror sect.
The youths comprising mainly members of the Civilian Joint Task Force, said they had resolved to enter the Sambisa Forest and other hideouts of terrorists to hunt them down and bring an end to the attacks.
The Shehu commended the over 10,000 protesting youths and advised them to always abide by the law.
He also appealed to them to always follow the directives of the military and other security agencies while discharging their duties.
The monarch said, “I want to thank you for this visit and the efforts you are collectively and voluntarily putting in in order to fight Boko Haram which bent on not only destroying our social and economic structures, but also killing innocent people.
“ I want to also appeal to you that you should desist from politics, religious or ethnic considerations while discharging your duties to your fatherland.
“In anything you are doing, you must make sure that you consult all other security agencies so that you work hand-in-hand to end this terrorism that has been destroying us as a nation.”
The Coordinator of the Civilian JTF, Mallam Abba Kalli, told journalists that they were at the Shehu’s palace to seek for his fatherly advice.
He added that they were optimistic that with their sticks (Gora ) and local arms, they would raid all terrorist hideouts and kill the insurgents if given permission.
Kalli also said, “The Civilian JTF is now more motivated with the support and assurance they received from retired military men, local hunters and other patriotic citizens who have expressed their willingness to join the group to end the madness being perpetrated by Boko Haram terrorists in the North- East.”
He however expressed dismay that President Goodluck Jonathan was not supporting the Civilian JTF whose members “were sacrificing their lives in the fight to end insurgency in the North-East.”
Hundreds flee Maiduguri –Report
Amid the protest which created tension in parts of Maiduguri, hundreds of civilians reportedly fled the city out of fear that it might also be attacked by Boko Haram.
Apprehension among Maiduguri residents, according to Reuters news agency, grew after the fierce fighting between the military and Boko Haram in Bama.
Reuters said travellers besieged bus stations in the city seeking transport to Damaturu in Yobe State. It added that vehicles laden with passengers and their belongings were seen on the Maiduguri-Damaturu road.
The agency quoted one of the residents, Saka Lawal, as having said, “I’m leaving now because people keep saying Boko Haram may attack Maiduguri anytime and it is possible.”
We’re troubled by ‘apparent’ capture of Bama –US
But in Abuja, the United States Assistant Secretary of State, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, lamented that Boko Haram was operating freely in the North-East and had shown that it also had the capacity to strike in Kano, Abuja and elsewhere.
Thomas-Greenfield, at a meeting with 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.’’
The outlawed Islamist sect has killed thousands of people since 2009 and has in recent weeks overrun and held swathes of territory in the North-East.
On Monday, the militants launched an attack on Bama, a town 78 kilometres from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
Although the military denied that Bama had been overrun, the Senator representing Borno Central in the National Assembly, Ahmed Zannah, insisted on Wednesday that the insurgents were in control of the town.
Thomas-Greenfield, who leads Washington’s African Affairs team, told the meeting that the upsurge in violence “constitutes a serious threat” to Nigeria.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau’s claim that the captured town of Gwoza was now a part of an Islamic caliphate “only adds to the perception that the security situation is steadily worsening,” she added.
Noting that a convoy of Cameroonian soldiers are deployed as part of a military reinforcement against the sect, Thomas-Greenfield added, “All of these developments are deeply disturbing and increasingly dangerous with each passing day.”
Before the “apparent capture of Bama”, the militants seized Gamboru-Ngala, Buni Yadi in Yobe State and Madagali in Adamawa.
Reports also had it on Thursday that the insurgents took over Bara and Gulani also in Yobe State.
Late last month, about 480 Nigerian soldiers abandoned their posts and fled to Cameroon during a gunfight with the militants but the Defence Headquarters described their action as “tactical manoeuvres.”
Thomas-Greenfield said the stakes were high after experts warned that the Federal Government risked losing control of the North-East and the violence could spread across borders.
“The reputation of Nigeria’s military is at stake. But more importantly, Nigeria’s and its children’s future is in jeopardy. Failure is not an option,” she added.
The diplomat said, “Cameroon’s military is increasingly forced to fight Boko Haram within its borders and they flee back into Nigeria without fear. The Chibok schoolgirls and others remain hostages, enduring horrible and tragic suffering.
“Abubakar Shekau’s bold announcement that Boko Haram is now governing a ‘caliphate’ only adds to the perception that the security situation is steadily worsening.’’
Senators, Reps resolve to meet Jonathan
Senators and members of the House of Representatives resolved on Thursday to hold a meeting with Jonathan over the escalating attacks by Boko Haram.
The decision was taken soon after the Senate and House of Representatives Joint Committee on Defence held a closed-door meeting with the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh, at the National Assembly.
The meeting with Badeh reviewed the current state of emergency in place in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Defence, George Sekibo, told journalists that the planned meeting with Jonathan was to find urgent solutions to the insurgency in the North-East.
He said that based on Badeh’s briefing , the military was in control of the security situation in the affected states.
Sekibo, a member of the All Progressives Congress from Rivers State, dismissed as “speculation” the reports that the insurgents took over many towns and villages in Borno State.
He said the insurgents were strong in about one or two towns and not more.
But, he added that there was still the need for the lawmakers to meet with Jonathan to see how the Federal Government could speed up the prospect of peace returning to the troubled zone.
Sekibo clarified that the meeting with Jonathan would come up after the committees had reported to their respective chambers on what Badeh told them.
He said, “The purpose is to follow up on the approval of the state of emergency for third term so that they will brief us on their achievements.
“We have heard several stories from the media, with locals and our colleagues contributing, while the military is reacting.
“We have heard stories of towns being captured and our armed forces being withdrawn; that is why we invited the CDS to get first hand information.
“From this meeting, it is not as speculated. We have one or two places that the insurgents have a stronghold, but within few days, the Nigerian Armed Forces will take them back.
“We will report our outcome to both chambers and we will meet with Mr. President. We believe that the armed forces will overcome this problem in no time.”
The Chairman, House Committee on Defence, Mr. Bashir Adamu, stated that only N300bn and not N1tn, was budgted for the military this year.
Bashir noted that out of the money, 75 per cent was for recurrent expenditure.
He called for more funding of military operations, adding that the meeting with Jonathan was also expected to address the funding challenges of the armed forces.
Boko Haram, Civilian JTF recruiting children by force –Report
Meanwhile, an international network of human rights and humanitarian organisations, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, has called on the Federal Government and the United Nations to investigate the recruitment and abuse of children in the North-East by Boko Haram and the Civilian JTF.
According to the report by the group, its investigation revealed that the two groups subjected boys and girls to forced recruitment, detention, abductions, rape and other forms of sexual violence.
In the report which was released on Thursday, the WCAC noted that the gravity and scale of these violations “warrant urgent action from the Nigerian Government, United Nations, and other child protection actors.”
The 64-page report, entitled ‘Who Will Care for Us?’ Grave Violations against Children in Northeastern Nigeria, detailed grave violations by some parties to the conflict since December 2012 and provided recommendations on how to better protect children.
One of Watchlist’s researchers, Janine Morna, said, “While the abduction of over 200 girls in Chibok, Borno State, has shed some light on how children are affected by the conflict in the North-East, most abuses are still poorly documented, understood, and addressed by key actors. Children as young as 13 are being recruited by both sides of the conflict and have nowhere to turn.”
Though the study considered the activities of all the actors in the ongoing conflict in the North-East, it noted that of particular concern was the forced recruitment of children for spying and assistance during armed attacks by Boko Haram and the Civilian JTF.
It also noted that Nigerian security forces who encountered child soldiers in Boko Haram’s ranks often detained them in unofficial military detention facilities, instead of protecting and rehabilitating them in accordance with international standards.
“The government of Nigeria should denounce the recruitment of children by all armed groups, take immediate steps to release child soldiers in their custody, and develop procedures to transfer child soldiers to civilian actors,” Morna said.