On 13 December, an explosion killed four people and wounded about 11 others in the London Ciki ward of Maiduguri, capital of Borno State.
Local sources report that the blast came from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) which had targeted a patrol vehicle of the military Joint Task Force (JTF), along the busy Tashan Bala Road.
They said a suspected member of the militant Islamist sect widely known as Boko Haram, who was trying to detonate the explosive, was killed by the blast. Among others killed was a 9-year-old child. Eleven other persons reportedly suffered serious injuries. The residential house of the Imam of Maikatanga mosque, Mallam Goni Modu, was burnt down.
The JTF’s Field Operations Officer in Borno, Colonel Victor Ebhaleme, confirmed that an IED was targeted at a military patrol vehicle near a densely populated residential area; but he said the device did not hit any JTF men or operational vehicles.
He said: “We heard the explosion around 9 am, after which we quickly rushed to the scene of the incident where we discovered that a suspected Boko Haram sect member died in the process of detonating an explosive device”. He also said the JTF men recovered some arms and ammunition from the vehicle which the suspected bomber drove before the explosion went off. He said the JTF men “were able to rescue some women and children from one of the houses that was set ablaze as a result of the explosion”. However, he gave no casualty figures.
Ebhaleme said: “Right now, there is no need to panic. We have brought the situation under control”.
On 6 September, hundreds of youths identifying themselves as former Niger Delta militants, blocked the East-West Road which runs from Rivers State to Delta State, protesting their alleged exclusion from the Federal Government’s post-amnesty programme.
The ex-militants, under the aegis of Niger Delta Development Ex-militants Third Phase, led by Julius Joseph and Tam Odogwu, converged from Akwa Ibom Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers, and Ondo States.
They said they had recently written to President Goodluck Jonathan, alleging that the Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs and Coordinator of the post-amnesty programme, Mr Kingsley Kuku, was trying to exclude some of them from the programme, even after they had surrendered their arms and obtained certificates of disarmament. In the said letter, they had warned of “dire consequences”, if the amnesty office persisted in its policy of excluding them.
Their action in blocking the road, they said, was to warn the Federal Government, of their capacity to disrupt the economy of the region, if there was no positive response from the government at the expiration of their one-week ultimatum.
The action of the youths seriously disrupted the flow of traffic on the busy road, with queues of vehicles stretching many kilometres in either direction. Many innocent travellers whose journeys and businesses were marred by the unexpected road blockage denounced the action of the youths, wondering why they must ruin other people’s business in the pursuit of their own interests.
The situation soon attracted the intervention of military and police units. However, the military and police officers, led by Col M. Lasisi, Commander Sector 2 of the Joint Task Force (JTF) and Mr M.I Buruche, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) in charge of the Area command, Ahoada, opted to persuade the youths to clear the road, rather than dispersing them forcefully. After several hours, the road was eventually cleared without any casualties.
The action of the youths is seen as an indication of the threat continually posed to peace in the Niger Delta by the large army of youth who were, or claim to have been, ex-militants in the region.
The spokesman of the military Joint Task Force (JTF), Lt Col Hassan Isijeh Mohammed, said the improvised explosive device, planted in the middle of the road, detonated along Gomari junction at about 7.13 am.
Col Mohammed said the device was not targeted at any JTF men and did not cause any casualty. However, he said when JTF troops arrived at the scene, some attackers believed to be members of the militant Islamist group widely known as Boko Haram, opened fire on them, and the soldiers returned fire. He said the attackers fled after the shoot-out and that no arrests were made.
Boko Haram, an Islamist sect which is seeking stricter and more comprehensive implementation of Sharia across the northern states of the country, launched an uprising in 2009; but was firmly fought down by military and police forces that killed hundreds of its members and sacked its headquarters in Maiduguri.
Regrouping in 2010, the group has since organised a series of assassinations and bomb attacks, targeting security officers, community leaders and opposing clerics. In June, the Federal Government scaled up its military presence in Maiduguri and some other parts of Borno State, under the joint task force. Boko Haram has targetted JTF patrol units in many attacks, particularly over the last six weeks.
On 27 July, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Chief Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin, declared that the military Joint Task Force (JTF) deployed to quell attacks by the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, was making good progress on its mandate. He said the security situation around the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, was “better now than it used to be”.
Speaking to newsmen in Maiduguri, after addressing officers and men of the JTF at their Base in Pompomari Ward area of the city, the CDS made several significant statements regarding the objectives, challenges and progress of the operation.
He said the JTF was not waging a “religious war” but was conducting an operation to stop terrorism. He admitted that the operation met serious difficulties at the onset, but said it was now coming to grips with its challenge. He conceded that there had been some instances of misconduct by his soldiers, but stressed that those involved would be disciplined by military authorities.
The CDS rejected calls for dialogue with the Islamist group, saying the constitutional mandate of the armed forces was to do battle not dialogue. He also reiterated the Federal Government’s resolve that the military task force will not be withdrawn from Maiduguri and its environs until security and tranquility are restored to the state.
JTF operation not a “religious war”
Apparently trying to dispel misconceptions among some local residents, regarding the objective of the JTF operation, Marshal Petinrin said the the military was not executing a “religious war”, and that its operation in the state was targeted only at uprooting Boko Haram.
He said: “Let me state clearly that the government did not send us here to deal with any religious or tribal group. We are here to stamp out those shooting people and throwing explosives in market places. We are not here to fight a religious war; we are here to ensure the restoration of order and protect innocent citizens who are being terrorised by Boko Haram”.
Military coming to grips with terrorism
The CDS revealed that the operation had been difficult at the onset and that Boko Haram had some initial advantage as terrorism was new in the country; but he said security forces and agencies had learnt fast and were now ready to tackle the insurgents squarely.
He said: “The issue of terrorism is new in Nigeria and, when things are new, it takes time for people to get to the bottom. Now, we are gradually getting to its root and soon we will get over it and pull our soldiers back to their base”.
Dealing with the excesses of some military personnel
The CDS acknowledged operational lapses by some JTF personnel. He explained that “for an operation as massive as this”, there were bound to be mistakes and lapses. But he stressed that the military authority was doing everything possible to address such lapses.
He said: “The Defence Headquarters does not take the issue of misconduct lightly when it comes to any serving officer, because we abide by rules of engagement in all our operations. In line with this, the commander of the JTF has initiated the process of trial of five officers suspected to have committed acts of misconduct…Any officer found to have gone against our rules of engagement will be brought to book”.
Military not in the business of dialogue
The Defence chief said the calls in some quarters, for dialogue with Boko Haram, would not stop the armed forces from performing its constitutionally-mandated internal security role. He said: “The military is not in the business of dialogue,” but was created “to battle those troubling Nigeria and Nigerians”.
He said: “Those who are calling for a dialogue between government and the sect could be doing so because our Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the right to voice out their opinion”. He said such opinions would not stop the military from responding appropriately to any threats to national security.
No withdrawal of JTF till conditions improve
The CDS also reiterated the Federal Government’s resolve to retain JTF on ground, until security is restored in the state. He said most of those calling for JTF’s withdrawal were doing so from the comfort and security of their homes in the elite Government Reserved Area (GRA), well removed from the the impact of explosives that were being thrown at common people in their homes and market places.
He said: “The people in the GRA can afford to call for the withdrawal of soldiers because no bomb explosion had been recorded in the area. But the people living in densely populated areas have been cooperating with the JTF, because they have seen lots of security improvements since our men took over. In fact, while the advocates are calling for withdrawal, I am busy strengthening the JTF to make it easy for us to attain our goal of securing peace”.
On 26 July, a shoot-out between the militant Islamist group widely known as Boko Haram, and the military Joint Task Force (JTF) deployed to quell the group’s serial violence, left at least one person dead in the Gomari Custain area of Maiduguri, Borno State. JTF said the victim was a suspected Boko Haram operative.
According to the spokesman of the JTF, Lt Col Hassan Mohammed, the shoot-out erupted after two suspected members of the group, who were driving into the London Ciki area in a Honda Civic car (Reg. No. AG 66 GWL), sighted two JTF patrol vehicles.
Mohammed said: “On sighting our patrol vehicles, the driver of the Honda tried to come out and one of our men sighted a rifle beneath his flowing gown. The soldier then shouted ‘Armed robber!’- he did not say ‘Boko Haram’ – but on hearing that, the man in the Honda Civic car corked his rifle and started firing indiscriminately”. The JTF spokesman said it was while the soldiers were trying to incapacitate him, that the suspect was killed.
Col Mohammed said the second man in the Honda car was caught by JTF men, but that he bolted while being questioned. “He was arrested by the military but during interrogation, he fled and our men pursued him, but he disappeared and escaped”, he said.
Mohammed stressed that: “The JTF does not aim at killing suspected Boko Haram members. Our aim is to incapacitate them and hand them over to the police for prosecution”.
The JTF spokesman said items recovered from the suspects’ car included an AK-47 rifle, the driver’s license of the slain man bearing the name Baba Gana, a fake vehicle registration certificate and some N1000 notes.
On 25 July, the Minister of Defence, Dr. Bello Haliru Mohammed, said in spite of some agitation for the Federal Government to withdraw its military Joint Task Force (JTF) from Borno State, the soldiers would remain on ground there, until the conditions that led to their deployment in the state cease to exist.
The JTF was deployed in Borno State last month (June 2011) to quell the surge of attacks by the militant Islamist group, widely known as Boko Haram, which had been targeting security personnel, as well as clerics, community leaders and local politicians critical of its goals and tactics.
Speaking at a meeting with the Minister for Police Affairs, Navy Captain Caleb Olubolade (rtd), who visited him in his office in Abuja, Mohammed said he believed the call for withdrawal of the troops was ill-informed. He said some of the political leaders and elders, from Borno and other northern states, who had been leading the campaign for withdrawal of the troops, apparently did not fully appreciate the gravity of the challenge posed by Boko Haram in the state. Such leaders, he said, had also apparently under-estimated the implications of the Borno State situation for longer term national security and stability.
Mohammed said it was regrettable that Borno elders had a wrong perception of the role of the JTF in the state, which prompted their calls for its withdrawal. The minister said the government believes the idea of withdrawing the troops is not tenable at this point in time, but that a pull-out will be possible as soon as the conditions that invited the deployment ease off.
Mohammed’s declaration, however, is only a re-statement of the position earlier laid down by other senior government officials. It will be recalled that following a 12 June call by the Borno Elders Forum, for “immediate withdrawal” of the troops from the Borno State capital, Maiduguri, the National Security Adviser (NSA), General Andrew Azazi (rtd), on 13 July, turned down that call, saying withdrawal was not a solution to the surge of terrorist attacks in the state or elsewhere in the country.
Again, on 20 July, emerging from a closed-door meeting between top Federal Government officials and political leaders from Borno and some other northern states, the Information Minister, Mr Labaran Maku, said all parties reached a “general agreement” to retain the task force until peace returns to the area.
On 24 July, the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria (SCSN) called on the Federal Government to withdraw the military Joint Task Force (JTF) deployed to quell attacks by the militant Islamist sect, Boko Haram, in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State.
Addressing a news conference at the end of its meeting at Arewa House, Kaduna, the President of the Council, Dr. Ibrahim Datti Ahmad, said withdrawing the soldiers would pave way for genuinely addressing the issues at the root of the insurgency.
Ahmad, who decried the activities of the JTF, claimed that the government was “using unbalanced force in its attempt to restore peace and order in Borno State”. He alleged that: “Innocent people are being killed. Women were being raped, while property belonging to people were being plundered”. He said the SCSN was calling on the JTF “to operate within the ambit of the law”.
Ahmed further said his Council was also calling on the Federal Government to “respect the wishes of the elders and leaders of Borno State and withdraw the JTF”.
It will be recalled that on 12 July, a group of 18 prominent citizens and elders from Borno State, under the auspices of the Borno Elders Forum, had called for “immediate withdrawal” of all soldiers from the streets of Maiduguri. The group had alleged that the presence of the soldiers had only aggravated the security situation, turning life in the city into “a nightmare, the worst Maiduguri has ever seen”.
However, after a subsequent meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan on 20 July, the Borno elders along with some leaders of the pan-northern group, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), reportedly reached a “general agreement” that it would be “premature” to withdraw the troops after only one month on ground and therefore decided to retain them in Borno State.
Local sources report that up to eight people may have been killed, but there had been no official statement from the military Joint Task Force (JTF) in the state.
As with previous bomb incidents, both security officials and local residents believe the attack must have been carried out by the militant Islamist group, widely known as Boko Haram.
Meanwhile, more details have emerged on the blast at the Budum Roundabout in the same Maiduguri the previous day (Saturday 23 July). A witness claimed the bomb was planted by a woman with a plastic bag. Others add that the explosion set off a fire which burned over 40 shops and stalls in the Budum Central Market, as it raged for over two hours.
On casualties, while JTF had reported, immediately after the incident, that three of its men were wounded, later reports claim that up to 13 bodies had been located from various parts of the market where the explosion occurred. The reports say some of the victims may have been killed by stray bullets during the crossfire between JTF and the Boko Haram fighters, but that most others appear to have died in the market fire.
On 23 July, a bomb exploded, wounding at least three soldiers, in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State.
The spokesman of the military Joint Task Force (JTF), Lt Col Hassan Mohammed, said the explosion occurred close to the palace of the Shehu of Borno, the pre-eminent traditional ruler in Borno State.
However, he said the Shehu’s palace was not the target as the attackers aimed the “improvised explosive device” at a military patrol team stationed near Budum market.
The JTF spokesman said three soldiers were injured. Another source, citing the staff of an unnamed local hospital, reported that at least one body from the blast site had been brought to the hospital’s mortuary, but this could not be confirmed.
Military authorities believe the militant Islamist sect, widely known as Boko Haram, was responsible for the attack.
On 23 July, the Niger Delta Liberation Force (NDLF) formally announced that its leader, “General” John Togo, is dead.
In a statement issued by the group’s spokesman, “Captain” Mark Anthony, the NDLF declared as follows:
“The leadership of Niger Delta Liberation Force (NDLF), hereby, with pains and tears, confirms the death of the Niger Delta hero and revolutionary soldier, General John Togo, the leader and general commander of NDLF”.
“General John Togo died during a shoot-out with JTF soldiers and was buried on the 12th of May, 2011 in Israel Barrack’s cemetery”.
According to the statement, “General John Togo declared fresh oil war on the Federal Government after one year of presidential amnesty on November 16, 2010, when the government of Nigeria betrayed the Niger Delta ex-militants on the promises of late President Umaru Yar’Adua on developmental issues in Niger Delta. After one year, the entire amnesty programme is obviously narrowed down to only youths training and monthly payment of ex-militants without clear blueprint on development”.
The statement said NDLF’s demands have always been, and still remain, “creation of two or more additional states in Niger Delta; abolishing of military land use decree; equal sharing formula of oil and gas wealth; and massive infrastructural development in Niger Delta”.
In May, the Lagos-based newspaper, Vanguard, had exclusively reported that the militant leader died in a crossfire with the military Joint Task Force (JTF) in the region. Both the militant group and the JTF discountenanced that report. But the JTF subsequently went ahead to exhume a corpse suspected to be that of the slain militant leader from a grave in Delta State. The corpse was taken to the Central Hospital, Warri, in Delta State, reportedly for a DNA test; but there had been no confirmation from the military on whether the corpse was Togo’s or not, since then.
While the NDLF’s announcement is significant, one analyst said a final confirmation from the JTF may be necssary before the matter of Togo’s death can be laid to rest, conclusively.