Boko Haram now controls Nigerian land space as the military has been pushed back from Baga and neighboring villages in the Lake Chad axis of Northern Borno State, North East Nigeria, multiple sources and fleeing residents told the Punch.
Sources said there were no more military presence in Baga as they were forced to retreat by the rampaging Boko Haram insurgents who attacked their bases on Wednesday, December 26.
Some of the residents of Baga who fled to Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, after last Wednesday’s attack told our correspondents that the insurgents drove into the area in a large convoy and after several hours of gunfire drove the military away.
Abba Masta, one of the fleeing residents of Baga said: “The insurgents, driving in a convoy of more than ten fighter vehicles, used the main road from Kros Kawwa to launch coordinated attacks on the military on Wednesday, December 26.
“They overran the Multinational Joint Task Force Headquarters at the outskirts of Baga, a naval fighting base and a Marine Police base in the area.”
According to him, the first point of call of the insurgents was the heavily fortified base of the multinational forces located at Mile Four (an area outside Baga town). The attack was in the early evening.
He said they met a stiff opposition as the exchange of fire lasted until midnight when the military retreated and the insurgents moved into the base which was in ruins.
Buba Ibrahim, another fleeing resident, said the military returned the next day, Thursday, with fighter jets which bombed the multinational force’s base and killed many insurgents who were still celebrating their perceived victory.
A Nigerian soldier who is with the multinational force, said the bombardment of the Base was to destroy the ammunition so that they won’t be of use to the insurgents.
He confirmed on Monday that the base and the rest of Baga is still in the hands (control) of the insurgents.
The insurgents on Thursday according to the fleeing residents, turned their searchlight on Mile Three, where the Navy had a fighting base, close to the military. They attacked the Navy who put up a stiff resistance but eventually lost control after hours of gun fight. They (Naval officers) were said to have escaped to Monguno.
The insurgents were said to have continued to maraud the area and on Friday, moved to another naval base located about three kilometres north of Baga, an area called Fish Dam on shores of the Lake Chad.
They took over the base after a fierce battle with about 40 naval men fleeing to Kaiga, a riverine community in the Republic of Chad.
The insurgents finally entered Baga town and attacked a marine police station, which fell easily.
Abba Mohammed said they told the already fear-stricken residents of the town that they were not after them but rather the military, security, and members of the armed civilian JTF.
They told us that: “You have a choice to stay or to freely leave the town,” but the majority of us sensing that the military may come back to engage them took the option of leaving.
He said about 2,000 residents trekked 60 kilometres to Monguno through a bush path.
He said some soldiers including the Commander of the Multinational force, some of his troops, and members of the civilian JTF joined them in the journey to Monguno.
He said, “Our knowledge of the terrain was useful to the military to get safe to Monguno.”
He lamented, “As I am talking to you, Boko Haram has seized Baga, Doron-Baga, Kross Kawwa, Bunduran, Kekeno and Kukawa towns of Borno State.”
The attack and perhaps takeover of the town was confirmed in a statement by the military.
The military had in a statement on Sunday said there was an ongoing plan to relocate the residents of Baga.
The military said the planned relocation is to give room for a massive bombardment of the terrorist group and to prevent civilian casualties.
The military revealed the plan in a signed statement by the Deputy Director of Public Relations in charge of the counter-insurgency operations in the North East ( Operation Lafiya Dole), Col. Onyema Nwachukwu.
The statement said: “Operation LAFIYA DOLE troops in conjunction with Borno State Government are working towards relocating the residents of Baga, to safer locations in view of the ongoing military operations in the area.”
The statement, however, said that there was no basis for the people of Bama, Dikwa, and Monguno to vacate their respective communities as there was no immediate threat to them.
It said: It has been observed that some unscrupulous individuals with likely sinister motives within and outside Borno State are trying to create panic and unnecessary humanitarian problems for undisclosed reasons.
“It has come to our attention that these people are plotting to instigate the inhabitants of Bama, Dikwa and Monguno communities to abandon their communities and relocate to Internally Displaced Persons Camps for undisclosed reasons.”
The statement advised: The inhabitants of these towns and the general public to discountenance such calls and remain calm.
It promised that: “Theatre Command, Operation LAFIYA DOLE and other Security Agencies will shed more light on the issue in a Security Council meeting with the Borno State Government, scheduled to hold on Monday 31st December 2018.”
It urged the members of the public to remain calm, stating that “the military is in firm control to guarantee their safety and security.”
The statement, however, warned that any attempt to cause further panic through this false alarm would be viewed very seriously.
The military further revealed on Monday that though there is ongoing military operation in Baga, the Maiduguri-Monguno road remains opened.
By Kayode Idowu, Punch