Residents of Geidam now live in fear following the five-day occupation of their town by Boko Haram insurgents. The terrorists have attacked the town located in northern part of Yobe State four times this year alone.
Even though the general impression is that Boko Haram fighters loyal to the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) rarely attack the civilian population as they always target security operatives and formations, some people in Geidam will not forget what happened to them recently.
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Before the insurgents left Geidam on Tuesday, April 27, many lives were lost and property worth millions of destroyed. At least 11 people were killed by a mortar bomb that fell in two houses. It is still not certain who fired the lethal weapon.
Two teachers were shot dead by the terrorists at the Government Technical School, Geidam, and another teacher at a house in the town.
Also, two vigilante operatives, one of them reportedly with mental issues, were also killed by the invaders.
Houses belonging to notable civil servants or politicians in Geidam were also looted and then set ablaze by the attackers. Beddings, electronics, clothes and other personal effects were stolen from the houses.
Telecommunication network was also disconnected, making it difficult for residents to reach out for help before they started fleeing in droves.
The terrifying situation compelled thousands of residents to flee their homes and seek refuge in neighbouring communities.
The five-day occupation would never be forgotten by some residents.
Daily Trust learnt that the insurgents invaded the town in a convoy of more than 20 gun trucks through the eastern flank, defying military formation.
“They began sporadic shootings to alert us of their presence and scared people outside their homes,’’ an eyewitness said.
It was gathered that the insurgents first invaded the Fulatari area, where they establish their base.
It was also learnt that as a strategy to keep their plans and movement secret, they burnt telecommunication masts to cut off communication network in the town.
A day after they invaded the town, their number increased as they were sighted regrouping, before they started confronting troops.
An eyewitness who encountered them explained that they were mostly youths dressed shabbily in local attires while others wore military camouflage and turbans. He noted that they spoke majorly in Kanuri and Hausa languages.
A resident narrated that a team among them went around the town with vehicles to drop pamphlets and assemble youths to preach their doctrine to them. They encouraged the youths to join them voluntarily and distributed forms for them to fill.
They were not deterred by confrontation by the troops. It was learnt that during prayer times, the insurgents stopped shooting to pray.
Another source trapped for three days in the town observed that during the pre-dawn meal (Suhur) and evening meal (Iftar), the insurgents suspended fight; hence some people used that opportunity to escape.
Their major source of food was from shops they had vandalised. They were also said to have used some utensils found in the houses they occupied to prepare food.
“They insisted that they would not harm us, especially those of Muslim faith. They said their major target were soldiers, Christians and nongovernmental organisation workers. Their mission was to capture the town under their full control,” a resident who preferred to remain anonymous said.
Sources who spoke to Daily Trust said that at a point they almost gave up when they saw a terrorist group openly challenging government forces.
It was a terrifying experience – Displaced residents
Moments after the insurgents finally withdrew from the town, the distraught residents immediately started returning home.
Babagana Modu, who returned on Wednesday, said soldiers had taken charge of every location and operating without harassing residents.
Modu said life was gradually picking up as few shop owners opened for business.
“Peace has gradually returned. Our major challenge now is that some hoodlums now take advantage of the empty houses and vandalise them,” he said.
Those who are still squatting at various displaced persons’ camps are recounting their ordeals.
Muhammad Lawan said he never thought his family would survive as they were locked indoors, without much food and water.
“Our expectation was that the attack would only last for few hours, but it went on for about four days, so we got scared,” he said.
He said it was challenging to move with a big family like his because he wasn’t mobile and there were no commercial vehicles available.
“We were afraid that the young children couldn’t trek for long, and that actually delayed us from leaving.
“We stayed indoors for two days under Boko Haram control. But after we became short of food and water, we decided to leave. We picked some of the children and scampered to the bush.
“I cried when I saw elderly people running for their lives. We trekked for three hours under the scorching sun before we got to where we could get water,’’ he narrated.
Another resident of the town, Hassan Ibrahim, said many sick and pregnant women were trapped during the attack.
“As we were moving out of the town, we saw a pregnant woman and told her to quickly leave the area. She told us that she did not have anywhere to go and had lost communication with her husband since network was cut off,” he recalled.
Ibrahim told Daily Trust that they sneaked out of the town through an unknown route and were lucky not to have encountered any of the insurgents.
A pregnant woman who identified herself as Fatima, narrated how she escaped with her children.
“It was a terrifying experience I will never wish my enemy. I couldn’t sleep for two days. We trekked over 8 kilometres with the children despite my condition, before a Good Samaritan took us on his tricycle to a neighbouring village.
“Alhamdulillah, we are now safe here, but there is no place like home. Here, we are just managing; we eat only once or two times a day. Nothing is easy. We pray for a total return of peace so that we would go back to our homes,’’ Fatima said, amidst tears.
Adam, a resident of Unguwar Gabar said he went back to Geidam on Thursday to assess the situation ahead of their going back to the town with the extended family after taking refuge in Damaturu.
“The terrorists had vandalized many houses, especially those belonging to civil servants living in Damaturu. They stole everything before setting the houses ablaze.
“Curiously, they did not vandalize the property of the poor rather, they assisted them in many ways. They shared the food the looted with the needy,” he said.
Our correspondent learnt that the invaders had planted bombs in some places, heightening fears that unless relevant authorities take action on time, there might be casualties in the coming days.
Also, the fact that the terrorists have established camps in villages in the nearby Yususari Local Government Area, residents of Geidam are apprehensive that attacking them again would not be a difficult task.
They called on the federal and Yobe State governments to dig trenches so that access to the town would only be through recognised entry points.
They want to make Geidam their base – Experts
Some officials in Geidam Local Government Area said ISWAP fighters get a lot of food and medical supplies from Geidam during every raid, hence their interest in the town.
“The people of Geidam are industrious, they have a prosperous market that attract traders from all walks of life,” one of the officials said.
On how they easily access the town, another official said, “They come through the LGAs neighboring Geidam in Borno State. They are Mobar (Damasak), Magumeri, and Gubio.
“The Boko Haram fighters usually take off from the Lake Chad islands known as Tumbus. These include Tumbun Gini, Tumbun Masara and others.
“From the Lake Chad islands they cross to Damasak highway through Futchimiram/Dejina villages to Degaltura and then Geidam.
“During the last attack, they stopped at their FOB (Forward Operation Base) villages of Bulabulin, Kaideri, Alagarno and Buhari, where they picked their guides and logistics before proceeding to Geidam.”
He said the only way to protect Geidam is for the military to also have bases along the routes to checkmate the invading terrorists.
A security analyst and expert in natural chemistry, Professor Mutawalli Ajagana Geidam, explained that the attack was the worst in the last eight years because the insurgents were allegedly planning to make Geidam one of their bases despite the presence of a military formation.
He said, “This is a bad time for the good people of Geidam and environs. Apart from the traumatised people, there are institutions, such as the general hospital, state polytechnic and other primary and secondary schools scared by previous attacks and needing assistance to restore their lost glory.
“We call on all relevant government agencies, nongovernmental organisations, philanthropists and politicians to kindly extend assistance to the people and organisations in the town.
“The government of President Muhammadu Buhari should intensify efforts to end the insecurity in the North-East, North-West, South-East, and indeed, the West African sub-region,’’ he said.
Over 7,000 displaced persons profiled
The executive secretary of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Dr Mohammed Goje, said the agency had so far profiled over 7,000 displaced persons.
“We are providing them with food, water and mattresses, as well as free buses to convey them to various destinations of their choice.
“The interesting part is that Governor Mai Mala Buni had from day one given a directive that no displaced person should suffer.
“We shall emphasise on the dignity of displaced persons in terms of providing them with shelter kits and ensuring that they are freely transported to their locations of choice.
“For those that have nowhere to go, we look at alternatives, opportunities and options to integrate them to the host communities. And this has been going on.
“At the moment, we don’t advise them to return until we get security clearance that their town is safe for return,” Goje said.
Although this is not the first attack on the town, it is unprecedented in the last eight years, according to analysts.
ISWAP back to original base
Shortly after they left Geidam, the ISWAP fighters reportedly stormed Kanamma, headquarters of Yunusari LGA.
“As a matter of fact, Boko Haram insurgents attacked an outskirt of Kanamma Thursday night”, said Dungus Abdulkarim, spokesman of the Nigeria Police Force in the state.
“Unfortunately, we have lost contact with our people there due to the absence of a mobile network in the area, we will update you when we reach out to them,” he said.
Kanamma shares a border with the Niger Republic and 34 kilometres away from Geidam.
It was the community where Boko Haram elements were first sighted in 2004 before they moved to Maiduguri the Borno State capital, and started their deadly attacks in 2009.
Both Boko Haram and the splinter ISWAP are getting more menacing in recent weeks, attacking communities, power installations and military formations in both Borno and Yobe states.
More embarrassing was that some of the new military equipment being supplied by the authorities to the base were hijacked by the insurgents.