The war against terrorism in the Lake Chad Basin may be experiencing a setback following the withdrawal of Niger Republic from the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) which comprises the Lake Chad countries of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger plus Benin, Daily Trust on Sunday reports.
To deal with the security threats posed by Boko Haram insurgents in the Lake Chad Basin, the MNJTF was established in 2014, remodelled and re-operationalised in 2015 with an increased capacity of about 10,000 troops.
The Force, headquartered in N’Djamena, Chad, was authorized by the African Union on March 2015.
Following the recent military coup, Niger was said to have pulled out of the security arrangement as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed several sanctions on the country, including suspension from the regional bloc.
Sources said that the vacuum created by the absence of Niger had resulted in the escalation of attacks on the fringes of the Lake Chad and the flow of a huge cache of arms and fighters from the North Africa-based ISIS into the region.
Some locations across the region, especially within the axis of Gaidam in Yobe State, Mallam Fatori and Damasak in the fringe of Lake Chad, are witnessing a sustained and steady infiltration of foreign fighters.
According to our sources in the Gaidam community, Niger removed troops they had stationed at the Gaidam-Niger border leading to the increase in the terrorist attacks.
‘’Indeed, we heard that Niger’s troops are not on the Niger-Nigeria’s border which is a setback in the fight against Boko Haram.
‘’The soldiers stationed in the Diffah-Maini strip have been removed and relocated to other areas in their country, so from what we heard is that these guys (terrorists) are using the space (border) to attack the defenceless citizens’’ one of the sources said.
He observed that the troops were not doing enough to end the insurgency. ‘’What we observed is that the commitment of the military personnel is very poor; they are there doing nothing to curtail the attacks.”
‘’They need to re-strategize their work. You cannot be in the town collecting N50 or N100 from traders who are coming to Gaidam for the weekly market while people are being killed daily’’ he added.
Another source said, Boko Haram attacks and activities in Gaidam LGA of Yobe state had increased recently when compared to the last two years or more.
Within the last two weeks, 42 persons have been killed, including Usman Gombe, a customs officer, who was shot dead.
Residents of the LGA said the activities of Boko Haram insurgents on the outskirts of Gaidam had increased in recent days, with the terrorists’ collecting taxes from farmers and herdsmen.
The sources told Daily Trust on Sunday that the lack of patrol by the security personnel had given a chance to the terrorists to attack the armless communities.
Our reporter learnt that the security personnel are only safeguarding the Gaidam metropolis from internal and external terrorist attacks to avoid casualties.
‘’It is obvious that lack of patrol by the military personnel to the eastern part of Gaidam is one of the reasons why Boko Haram increased their attacks.
‘’If the security agencies would increase their patrol along the Yobe-Borno states’ border, the terrorists would be afraid to enforce tax on the ordinary villagers or even launch any attacks.
‘’Just in the last two weeks, the military killed 3 Boko Haram terrorists who they (soldiers) met during their patrol. Therefore, if the soldiers would keep doing things like this, the terrorists would be afraid to come out, let alone attacking people’’ he said.
When contacted to explain why Niger withdrew its soldiers from the borders, the MNJTF commander’s spokesman, Lt Col A.A., simply told one of our correspondents: “I don’t know. You can ask the Nigerien Defence Headquarters.”
He, however, added: “Niger is still part of MNJTF.”
Renewed attacks may hamper IDP resettlement efforts
Between 2015 and 2023, the MNJTF has conducted several operations, including reclaiming territories hitherto under the control of Boko Haram and resettling internally displaced persons back to their ancestral homes.
These included Operation Gama Aiki, conducted in 2016, operation Rawan Kada in 2017, Operation Amni Fakat in 2018, Operation Yancin Tafki from January 2019-March 2021, operating along the Monguno-Baga-Lake Chad Islands axis, Operation sharan Fage in December 2021 and operation lake sanity in March 2022.
With the efforts of the MNJTF and other security agencies, the Borno State Government had, in January 2021, begun the resettlement of internally displaced persons back to their communities.
In the first phase of the resettlement programme, the government announced that over 11,000 households, consisting of about 100,000 people had been resettled in 20 communities across 13 local government areas of the state.
The areas include Damasak, Banki, Kauwuri, Ajiri, New Marte, Baga, Ngoshe, Kirawa, Kukawa, Mairari and Mallam Fatori, located on the shores of Lake Chad.
Nigeria’s border with Niger stretches 1,608 kilometres (999 miles) in length covering seven states in the northern part of Nigeria, including Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina, Zamfara, Jigawa,Yobe and Borno States.
Sector 4 of the MNJTF, which is the area of responsibility (AOR), covers the extreme southeastern part of Niger Republic along the Koumadougou-Yobe Road where some of the resettled villages are located.
The effort by the MNJTF, particularly Sector 4 (Niger), led to the resettlement of thousands of IDPs, but with the withdrawal of Nigerien troops from their area of responsibilities, residents feared that the gains recorded in the fight against terrorism in their communities might be reversed.
ISWAP/Boko Haram fighters gaining momentum in Niger Republic.
Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that the terrorists have so far attacked 15 locations of Nigerien troops, killing several of the troops and dislodging several of the Nigerien military formations from their strategic locations.
Recent weeks witnessed widespread jubilations in ISWAP enclaves because of the arrival of a fresh cache of weapons from ISIS in the Sahel and foreign fighters to help reclaim the Lake Chad region from the MNJTF.
“Our MNJTF must rise above the bar to prevent every movement of these groups,” a source warned, saying “I am sure they are also in the picture of what I am saying. We need to cut ISIS-supplied arms and ammunition supplies from the Niger axis.”
The source described the situation as a big setback for the war against terrorism.
“It is a threat to the Niger Republic and also a threat to the stabilization of entire Lake Chad countries because many ISIS fighters are currently hibernating in Niger,” he sternly warned.
“I can tell you that Mallamfatori, Guzamala, and Marte (in Nigeria’s Borno State) have a heavy presence of ISWAP fighters,” he warned further.
Another source hinted of three communities in Nigeria’s Borno State being on ISWAP’s attack list for more than six months now, calling on the MNJTF troops to keep vigilance.
He warned that Monguno in Nigeria’s Borno State had been one of the main targets of the terrorists in recent times.
“This is coming as the outlawed groups have adopted a new war strategy of attacking their targets towards evening to evade the air support for the ground troops,” the source said.
He revealed the new strategy of ISWAP fighters forming straight lines to carry out attacks.
“I will advise Nigerian troops to be vigilant and battle-ready because there is a high tendency that ISWAP, with the support of foreign fighters, may attack Monguno, especially in the evening,” the source warned. He would not suggest any date.
He also disclosed that Banki and Mallam Fatori were targets of the terror group, saying, “I believe Nigerian troops are also aware of this development.”
It would be recalled that recently, the Air Task Force of Operation Hadin Kai had carried out two air bombardments on some foreign fighters in the Mobbar axis of Borno State.
This has forced the terrorists to relocate to Baga axis, Tumbus and Kaganruwa in Kukawa LGA to safe haven in Marte LGA.
The Yobe State Government had stressed the need to intensify security presence along the borders.
The state government sought a joint operation of the army, thr Air Force and the police for clearance of possible undetonated explosive ordnance devices in some suspected areas.
Briefing journalists after state security meeting, the Special Adviser to Yobe State Governor, Mai Mala Buni on Security Matters, Brig. Gen. Abdulsalam Dahiru (rtd), said suspected gunmen infiltrated the state and attacked the border village.
He said the recent security challenge in some villages in the Gaidam Local Government Area was a result of infiltration of suspected insurgents into the state.
“Yobe state shares common borders with Borno state and Niger Republic, security operatives have been deployed to the affected community to check the infiltration,” he said.
“The security agencies have deployed security men to the area, and we are studying the report on the infiltration to forestall future occurrences,” he stated.
Defence Headquarters mum
Efforts by one of our correspondents to get a comment from the Military High Command, were unsuccessful as the Director of the Defence Media Operations, Maj.-Gen. Edward Buba, neither answered phone calls nor replied text and WhatsApp messages sent to him as of the time of filing this report.
Meanwhile, Buba had, earlier in a statement on Friday, said the military was targeting the commanders of Boko Haram ISWAP terrorists attacking communities that share border with the Niger Republic.
He had also said the ongoing counter-insurgency and counter terrorism operations across the country were yielding encouraging results. He cited the killing of 50 terrorists and the arrest of 122 others in different operations across the country within the last one week.
By Ayuba Iliya, Idowu Isamotu (Abuja), Olatunji Omirin (Maidiguri) & Habibu Idris Gimba (Damaturu)