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After liberation, Monguno residents reluctant about going home

The recent liberation of Monguno town in the North-Western flank of Maiduguri from the hands of Boko Haram has brought hope to multitudes of traumatized…

The recent liberation of Monguno town in the North-Western flank of Maiduguri from the hands of Boko Haram has brought hope to multitudes of traumatized residents. The development has also emboldened Nigerian authorities and specifically officers and men of the Nigerian army who were hitherto seen as doing little in stopping the insurgents from annexing large swathes of territory in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states.
The fall of Monguno, a garrison town situated some 137 kilometers away from Maiduguri was shocking, especially to those living in Maiduguri, including the nearly 1.5 million displaced persons (IDPs) who have had to flee from over 20 local government areas of the state.
This is because, beside the 7 Division of the Nigerian Army with its headquarters at the Maimalari Barracks in Maiduguri, Monguno has the largest barracks in Borno State, a fact that makes the town strategic to the safety of nearby towns and villages. Therefore, when it fell on 25th January, 2015, there was confusion as over 1000 soldiers at the barracks reportedly retreated after fierce battle with Boko Haram.
Residents from Monguno and surrounding villages, who escaped, thronged Maiduguri with harrowing tales, as some of them slept on rooftops for days, while others trekked uncanny distances and those less-fortunate watched as their friends and loved ones were butchered. On arriving Maiduguri, many concluded that it is impossible for them to go back, seeing the capital city as safe haven.
On the other hand, thousands of people who had been in Maiduguri for long equally decided to leave to other parts of the country in search of safety, especially after hearing of the trouble that Monguno residents and others passed through. The fear was that, with the fall of Monguno and other surrounding towns and villages such as Dikwa, part of Konduga, Bama, and part of Damboa, which are all not far from the state capital, the tendency was that the insurgents may likely take over Maiduguri.
Though several other towns have been taken over by Boko Haram, the capture of Monguno was seen as new low in Nigeria’s offensive against the sect. But the coming of the regional forces, including soldiers from Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon changed the tide. Observers believe that the liberation of Gamboru, Ngala, Malam Fatori, Abadam and dozens of adjoining villages along the fringes of Lake Chad by the Chadian forces “charged” the Nigerian Army to put its house in order.
Security sources said there was “renewed pressure” for the release of fighting equipment for the over 25,000 troops who were deployed to the Northeast to confront Boko Haram since the declaration of state of emergency.
Security expert, Salisu Bakari, a retired major, said he has interacted with some mid-cadre officers who are ready to redeem the image of the Nigerian army. He added that the renewed resolve by field commanders to demand for better weapons coincided with the arrival of the modern hardware. He added that the Defence Headquarters decided to push for the liberation of Monguno because of its strategic importance as a shield to other major towns and villages.  
In its version of the capture of Monguno between 14th and 16th February, the Defence Headquarters through its spokesman, Major General Chris Olukolade, said over 300 terrorists as well as truckloads of rice, beans and other logistics meant for supply to the terrorists operating around Baga have been captured in the course of operation. He said five armoured vehicles, one anti-aircraft gun, 50 cases of packed bombs, eight different types of machine guns and five rocket propelled grenade were recovered from the operation, among others.
Major General Olukolade pointed out that beside Monguno, operations were carried out in Gabchari, Abba Jabari, Zuntur, Gajigana, Gajiram, Damakar, Kumaliwa, Bosso Wanti, Jeram and Kabrisungul where insurgents were cleared. But while Monguno has been liberated, locals are still sceptical about going home.
Malam Mohammed Mechanic, a displaced man from Monguno who is now living in a camp in Maiduguri, said it will take time before he would go back. “Yes, sure, the town has been reclaimed by soldiers, but what are we going to be doing there? Boko Haram did not leave anything behind. They looted all the markets across Monguno villages and burnt the structures. They moved away all the cattle. They damaged all the farms yet to be harvested. They’ve stolen all the vehicles. And security-wise, I agree that Monguno town is now being controlled by soldiers, but the truth is that it is not secure enough.”
Mechanic added: “We want the soldiers to chase away the terrorists out of Madayi, Duri, Doro-Nairaa, Kangarwa, Kwalleram, Shuwaram and Tumbun-Shanu villages in nearby Kukawa LGA. These villages have been deserted and now serve as entrance of Boko Haram to Mongono. “Some of these villages that I mentioned are situated on the shoreline, and some even located within the lake [Chad]. So, Boko Haram can easily reappear in Monguno do their evil and flee over the lake. We’re living peacefully here in Maiduguri but it is like the peace of the graveyard, with fishermen, farmers and herdsmen all living idle now,” he said.
Camp Chairman of the IDPs from Monguno, Alhaji Abatcha Baitu, who spoke to Weekly Trust, said they are yet to be formally informed about the recovery of their town. “We would have gone back home by now if we were ordered to do so because home is always better than any other place. We want to go back home. And we are happy and grateful to Allah that our town is back to us,” he said.
But another IDP from the area, Kolomi Monguno, said he is mulling staying in Maiduguri until the forthcoming general elections are over, so that peace and stability would be fully returned to Monguno. “We don’t want to go back because the tendency is that security operatives would be withdrawn to go and monitor elections somewhere. We don’t want the terrorists to take that opportunity and return,” he said.

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