Members of the factional Boko Haram group, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), are reportedly cajoling many people living in various camps in northern part of Borno State back to their ancestral villages.
The terrorists are reportedly assuring the locals of safety, security and economic support once they return to their villages which they fled at the height of the Boko Haram insurgency.
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Sources said the campaign by ISWAP is part of their “consolidation drive” after the death of Abubakar Shekau.
The campaigns are going in many communities in Magumeri, Abadam, Kukawa, Monguno, Nganzai, Gubio, and Mobbar local government areas, all in the northern Borno, credible sources said.
Thousands of people among them women and children are living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in some major towns, especially in northern Borno, after they were forced out of their dwellings. However, some of them have started going back to their villages without the consent of relevant authorities, it was gathered.
Military authorities have not formally admitted the new consolidation tactics by ISWAP, but credible sources said unless drastic measures are taken by relevant authorities, the “welfarist” approach deployed by the terrorists could reverse some of the gains recorded before and in the aftermath of the dead of Shekau.
It was learnt that Nigerian ground troops with active support of the air force have recovered many no-go areas in Borno ahead of the return of civilians.
Governor Baba Zulum of Borno State and other donors have constructed thousands of houses in some liberated communities especially in central and southern part of the state and thereafter resettled thousands of displaced persons.
There were celebrations in the security circles after Shekau was killed by ISWAP fighters but experts said it was too early to celebrate as ISWAP’s attention is no longer divided and they would most likely consolidate their gains through mass recruitment of followers in ungovernable locations.
“Yes, there is credible information that villagers and IDPs that were leaving in IDP camps and confined within parapet have started returning to their villages,” one of our sources said.
He said the returnees were expected to return to their normal ways of living as farmers, fishermen and traders.
“Most of the IDPs are responding to appeals by the new ISWAP leadership led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the son of late Mohammed Yusuf, the founder of Boko Haram who is now the spiritual leader of the terrorists group.
“They ISWAP terrorists have promised the people so-called fairness, justice, safety, and security…You know there is a marked difference between ISWAP and Shekau’s faction. Shekau used to attack, raid and kill people.
“On the other hand, ISWAP fighters strive to win the hearts and minds of locals by not attacking them. Even though they have raided many communities in Borno and Yobe states, civilian casualty was not much…The fighters target security operatives and their sympathisers and their sympathizers among the civilian population as evident in what happened in Geidam in Yobe State and Dikwa in Borno during recent raids,” he said.
A retired military officer, Sanusi Ali, described this as a dangerous trend.
“We all know that ISWAP is as dangerous as the Shekau’s faction so, government must tackle them before they hypnotize the locals,” he said.
Why ISWAP is having a field day
Another source said the ISWAP fighters are finding it easy to consolidate their gains because of absence of civil authority in many towns and villages, especially in northern Borno.
“Military operatives including the army, navy and air force, have done a lot in clearance operations especially in the Lake Chad region but once they move to other locations, the terrorists return in full force.
“So, the only way to end this fight is to empower the police and other security outfits like Customs, Immigration and civil defence to take charge of liberated communities so that the people would not be at the mercy of Boko Haram fighters.
“The truth is that wherever there is no noticeable presence of security agents, the hapless returnees would be governed by ISWAP.
“It is not completely true that the ISWAP faction is a harmless group…No, they want to use the civilian population as human shield on one hand as a formidable platform of generating revenue on the other.
“Once the locals resume economic activities like farming and fishing, they would be paying taxes to the terrorists. This is why it is necessary for the federal government to establish civil authorities in the localities and continue fighting the terrorists until they have nowhere to hide.
‘Troops must concentrate on ISWAP’s weaknesses’
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that many top commanders of Shekau’s group and some from the ISWAP’s camp died during the infamous encounter at the hiding place of Shekau in the Sambisa forest.
Pundits are of the belief that the demise of the top commanders of the two opposing groups could end insurgency in the North-East, but remnants of Shekau and ISWAP followers and cells affiliated to them are likely to pose threat to the common people. A good case in point was on May 28 when some of the insurgents, in spite of the dearth of their commanders, regrouped, summoned courage and tried to attack an army base at Rann, Kala Balge Local Government Area of Borno State. They were, however, overpowered by the military and most of them were killed and their fighting equipment seized.
Similarly, a surprise attack launched by the elements of ISWAP in Diffa, Niger Republic, was repelled by the Nigerien forces.
Another source said after the death of Shekau, ISWAP fighters had detained most of surviving Shekau’s commanders, who either surrendered or were captured, and are still searching the area to find others.
“For instance, at a market place in a village near Damboa, ISWAP fighters surrounded and killed many followers of Shekau, who were allegedly accused of extorting money from locals,” the source stated.
“But the problem is that hardened followers and commanders of Shekau have vowed to avenge the death of their leader. In one of the intercepted voice messages, one of the top commanders of Shekau who was not in Sambisa during the encounter said ISWAP followers had betrayed his confidence by attacking and killing their leader, and that he would kill anyone he came across. Many of the remnants of Shekau’s followers believe that ISWAP leaders should not be trusted,” he said.
He said while Shekau’s followers tend to deal with situations, including the civilians in an aggressive way, the ISWAP group is only fighting against the government and the security forces.
According to him, there is the probability that ISWAP’s new approach will take on an extra dimension because its members received most of their training, finance and arms from their foreign accomplices.
“They have taken control of the Sambisa and Mandara mountains as their operational headquarters, in addition to their hideouts in the Lake Chad area and could strike from any location. They could be more dangerous than their counterparts unless the security forces are able clampdown on them and their foreign sponsors. They have well-placed moles in different locations, who are feeding them with vital information; they must be detected and punished.
“ISWAP uses money to attract people, and its members are good at keeping their data and transactions confidential. That is why many of their operations and movements are carefully planned. But the military too, are giving them a hot chase, especially in the northern part of Borno State, and should that continue, the group will be overwhelmed. Nigerien forces have recently dealt ISWAP a mighty blow,” he explained.
In the same vein, a member of the volunteer security outfit, Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) in Maiduguri said ISWAP, which is allegedly affiliated to the ISIS, might use several recruitment methods to enlarge its membership and could use the social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Watsapp and YouTube videos, which are effective ways to reach a target audience, mostly unemployed persons and youths, he said.
“The group was said to have shared money to residents of Geidam town after a recent raid, but those sharing the money did not specifically reveal their intention. The fact remains that there are hundreds of unemployed youths from one place to another, while many families are displaced. Besides, getting a job or job skill and capital now is very difficult. There are so many factors that could shape the pathway to lead many people to join radical groups,” he added.
Meanwhile, those who are successfully recruited will continue to also find a way of radicalising vulnerable persons, he said, adding that the intelligence services and local communities must be observant.
He further said both the volunteers and the military must act swiftly to protect their bases and push back and overpower advancing insurgents.
“With the fall of Shekau and his followers, the step ISWAP takes to crack its target is known to the military, which is why the group was overpowered by troops in Damboa town on Tuesday and many of their fighters killed, while guns, explosive devices and vehicles were retrieved from them. In fact, soldiers should not wait until ISAWP fighters launch an offensive; they know their weaknesses, they should concentrate on them.” he said.
Zulum confirms recruitment, promises action
In a Democracy Day speech marking his two years at the helm, Borno State Governor, Babagana Umara Zulum, said effort was being made to provide humanitarian supplies and money to displaced persons to improve their wellbeing and thwart recruitment, militarization and radicalization by insurgent based networks.
“From records, we have experienced instances when insurgents offered as low as between N5,000 and N10,000 to recruit some spies and smugglers of weapons,” he said.
We’re yet to get briefed – Military spokesperson
When contacted yesterday, the newly appointed spokesman of Nigerian Army who is the outgoing Director of Defence Information, Brig.-Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, did not pick several calls put to his mobile phone.
But the Acting Coordinator, Defence Media Operation, Brig.-Gen. Bernard Onyeuko, in a reply to Daily Trust’s enquiry via a text message, said he had no briefing on the matter.
“Good evening. I don’t have any brief on that yet,” he wrote.
By Misbahu Bashir, Olatunji Omirin (Maiduguri) & Idowu Isamotu (Abuja)