Published on Sunday, 18 January 2015 05:00
Written by Hamza Idris, Maiduguri
‘It’ll be dangerous for Nigeria if they take over airport’
Recent sporadic attacks by the Boko Haram insurgents in parts of Borno and Yobe states are a clear indication of the desperate moves by the Boko Haram sect to take over Maiduguri, security officials and residents said.
Sources said the ultimate goal of the Boko Haram’s Shura Council (overall decision making body) is to consolidate their territorial conquest by taking over Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
For now, the group has succeeded in annexing vast territories along northern, central and southern parts of Borno State, as well as in Adamawa and Yobe states.
In Borno, communities such as Gwoza, Bama, Gamboru Ngala, Kala-Balge, Marte, Abadam, Damasaka and Baga share international borders with Chad, Cameroon or Niger. Adamawa also has a common border with some of these countries.
Southwards of the two states, the insurgents have blown up important bridges, a move which experts described as “strategic war techniques aimed at cutting movement of troops and supplies of fighting equipment” for the military and other security forces.
Major Ismaila Aliyu, a retired military officer, said unless urgent measures were taken, the Boko Haram would have “absolute control of Borno State and significant parts of Adamawa and Yobe states.”
Another senior serving security official said, “In a war situation, blowing up bridges is simply to deter your enemy from getting close to you and that is exactly what the Boko Haram terrorists are doing. They simply want to prevent reinforcement and logistics supply,” he said.
On December 2, 2013, the Maiduguri International Airport was closed for commercial flights for the next eight months and only military aircraft were allowed to land at its tarmac.
Following widespread complaints, the airport was reopened in August, 2014, but commercial airlines have refused to resume operations till date, citing “security advisory”.
Only chartered flights come to Maiduguri from time to time, ferrying important dignitaries.
“The fact is that even the airport is not safe…it is a prime target for the terrorists and God forbid, in the event they make a headway into Maiduguri, it will be one of the strategic places they would take control of,” Major Aliyu said.
He said after blowing up many bridges which crippled vehicular movement along major roads leading to and out of Maiduguri, the terrorists were looking for ways to penetrate the city centre.
“Of course, this will be a difficult task for them because of measures put in place but I wish to call on the Federal Government not to take things for granted.
Sunday Trust reports that in 2014, the insurgents destroyed the Katarko Bridge in Gujba Local Government Local Government area of Yobe State. The bridge linked dozens of communities with southern parts of Borno and Adamawa states.
They also made attempt to blow up two major bridges in Potiskum.
“If they had succeeded, they would have sealed up the major road that leads to Damaturu and Maiduguri from Abuja and other major cities in Nigeria.
They would have also closed the road that links Potiskum with Azare (in Bauchi State), Jigawa and Kano states,” Mohammed Umar, a resident of Potiskum said.
The Boko Haram fighters had twice detonated explosives that destroyed a bridge near Gamboru-Ngala that links Nigeria and Cameroon which was repaired by Governor Kashim Shettima after an assessment visit to the area.
Earlier in May 2014, the insurgents also destroyed the same bridge after a violent attack in Gamboru border town where they killed over 300 people and destroyed the biggest market in the area.
For now, dozens of heavy duty trucks plying the Cameroon-Nigeria highway along Gamboru-Ngala Local Government conveying commodities like foodstuffs and building materials can no longer move because the terrorists have taken absolute control of both Gamboru and the major road.
The Bulajilum Bridge along Gwoza-Mubi road in southern part of Borno State was also destroyed by the Boko Haram, a development which made it easier for them to take over Gwoza and Bama and much later Mubi which was recovered by troops.
The insurgents had equally destroyed the Mandahuma Bridge along Damboa-Biu-Gombe road.
Following the destruction of the bridge, only light vehicles were plying the road but with the escalation of crisis, the road is now a no-go route.
People from Damboa, a distance of less than 100 kilometers from Maduguri, would now have to go back through Biu-Gombe-Bajoga-Fika-Potiskum-Damaturu before getting to Maiduguri.
The journey now covers at least 500 kilometres and takes no fewer than six to seven hours.
In fact, with the recent incessant attacks along Bajoga-Ashaka axis in Gombe State, motorists prefer to proceed to Bauchi before taking a detour through Darazo-Kari-Potiskum-Damaturu to arrive Maiduguri. The journey covers more than 700 kilometers.
Besides destroying the road, the insurgents have scared motorists from plying it.
For now, the only passable road to Maiduguri is through Damaturu, the Yobe State capital and observers believe that recent attacks on the town, including the one of penultimate Friday were aimed at taking over the town.
It is believed that once Damaturu falls, Maiduguri will be in trouble.
“Unless the Federal Government takes an urgent action, the insurgents would one day storm Damaturu and Maiduguri because they have already sacked most of the villages leading to the two major cities,” Barrister Ali Abubakar, a legal practitioner said.
Our correspondent reports that this month alone, the Boko Haram fighters have taken some major towns and sacked many others, while dozens of historic towns and prominent villages were subdued towards the end of 2014.