On 10 January, gunmen suspected to be members of the militant Islamist sect widely known as Boko Haram shot and killed eight persons, including four police officers and a seven-year-old child, in Potiskum, 120 km west of the Yobe state capital, Damaturu.
The Commissioner of Police in Yobe State, Mr Lawal Tanko, said six gunmen opened fire on their victims at a bar. “Suspected Islamic sect members attacked the drinking joint and killed eight people, four of whom were policemen”, Mr Lawal told Reuters. “The bodies of the deceased have been deposited at the Potiskum General Hospital”.
However, some local sources said those killed in the beer garden shooting included five policemen who had gone to drink, and one bartender. They also said the attackers sped off on a motorcycle immediately after the shooting.
Potiskum, the commercial nerve centre of Yobe State, is in the part of the state that President Goodluck Jonathan placed under emergency rule on 31 December, but this is the second episode of violence in the town in the 10 days since the emergency was declared.
On 6 January, suspected members of Boko Haram launched gun and bomb attacks on the police headquarters in the town. The attackers also robbed and burnt two banks, and threw a bomb into a police barracks, but no one in the barracks was hurt. Security forces responded with a gun battle that raged through the night.
Hundreds of residents in the areas around the police headquarters fled their homes for fear of being caught in the fighting while others left the town entirely.
Initial accounts from local police sources had reported that two men riding on motorcycles threw bombs at a beer garden where people were gathered for evening relaxation. A police superintendent said the attackers “threw bombs and fired indiscriminate gun shots on a packed tavern at Dala Kabompi neighbourhood, killing at least 25 people and seriously injuring around 30 others”.
However, Maj. Gen. Jack Okechukwu Nwaogbo, commander of a Joint Task Force recently constituted to deal with the deepening insecurity in the north-eastern states, told newsmen that: “What caused the killings of many people in the attacks were when about 10 gunmen riding seven motorcycles surrounded and took strategic positions at the beer sheds and shops and started firing at the people with their Kalashnikov rifles, before setting ablaze the entire makeshift shacks”.
Under the Sharia law which Borno – and 11 other northern states – adopted about a decade ago, beer consumption is prohibited in the state; but beer gardens hidden from public view still draw good business.
While no arrests have yet been made, local police authorities have blamed the attack on the militant Islamist sect, Boko Haram. The group, whose name in the local Hausa language translates as “Western education is sacrilege,” is demanding the installation of an Islamic regime, and stricter application of Sharia law all over northern Nigeria, where Muslims are in the majority. It has also been fingered in, or has indeed claimed responsibility for, a series of attacks on police and other security personnel, politicians, community and Christian leaders, as well as those Muslim clerics who disagree with its message or tactics.
Boko Haram’s attacks have been concentrated in Maiduguri, in the extreme north-east of the country, which has been the group’s strong-hold since it emerged roughly a decade ago. The casualty figure resulting from this most recent attack, though not yet officially confirmed by police or military authorities, is one of the highest ever recorded at one incident in the state since the group began its serial attacks in mid-2010.
The group recently said it would be launching wider and fiercer attacks across the northern states and in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. On 16 June, it carried out a bomb attack on the nation’s police headquarters in the federal capital, about 880 km away, killing at least two people and destroying over 70 vehicles.
The group’s recent attacks followed the failure of a peace proposal initiated by the new governor of Borno State, Alhaji Kassim Shettima, under which its members were being invited to negotiations that could lead to a formal amnesty, in exchange for their disarmament; but the group backed out after the Inspector General of Police, Mr Hafiz Ringim, said its days were numbered.
THIS IS AN UPDATED VERSION OF THE REPORT PUBLISHED A FEW HOURS AFTER THE ATTACK.