Maiduguri — Youth groups from several areas in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, have launched a manhunt for suspected Boko Haram members, Daily Trust can report.
Witnesses told our correspondent yesterday that the youths who are on a voluntary mission to help security operatives, arrested some suspects at the weekend, tied them up and handed them over to the Joint Task Force.
More than 500 youths from Gwange I, Gwange II, Blabirin, Mafoni and Hausari wards of Maiduguri are said to have organised themselves and resolve to go after insurgents who are sneaking back to the city, and hand them over to the authorities.
The JTF spokesman Lt. Col. Sagir Musa could not be reached for comments. The absence of mobile telecommunication services and the ongoing offensive against the Boko Haram have left journalists in Maiduguri handicapped in reaching out to military authorities.
But when contacted, Defence spokesman Brigadier General Chris Olukolade said he could not confirm the story but that the military would welcome any such cooperation from the civil populace.
"I am not aware. But every effort that is complimentary or consistent with current security operations by way of cooperation from the civil populace to put an end to the activities of terrorists in the land will continue to be welcomed," he said.
Many members of the Boko Haram are believed to have run back to the city following the military offensive which began shortly after President Jonathan declared state of emergency and moved in troops into northern Borno to fight the insurgents and recapture territories under their control.
"We, the youths in Maiduguri have resolved to fish out any member of Boko Haram sect who ran back into the city, to his or their house or community, after they had left for villages and bushes from where they were recently displaced by the federal troops," a vigilante group leader in Gwange II ward said.
The leader who prefers anonymity added: "We thank God that we in Gwange II have so far caught more than 10 Boko Haram members in our area and handed them over to the soldiers. And we are glad that our counterparts in GwangeI have also mobilized themselves for this patriotic community service. Insha-Allah we will soon carry this movement to Gwange III, Gwange IV and even other communities which are yet to take similar action."
A witness told our correspondent that some youths in Hausari ward, last weekend crossed over to a neighbouring ward, Blabirin, and fished out a Boko Haram suspect who had ran back to the area, and handed him over to soldiers.
"This action of Hausari youths had provoked some Boko Haram members who manoeuvred their way into the city for reprisal; they came from the outskirts of Maiduguri, disguised as villagers conveying a corpse to the cemetery in a pick-up van. But they were repelled by the JTF," a resident said.
South African timeslive.co.za yesterday corroborated this when it quoted local residents as saying that 10 attackers came into Hausari in a pick-up truck, with a coffin in the exposed flatbed rear.
"Everybody thought they were going for burial until they alighted from their vehicle and started bringing out their guns...They opened fire into different direction," it quoted a local resident, Mohammed Aji as saying.
It also quoted military spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Sagir Musa as confirming that gunmen launched attacks on Friday evening in the neighbourhoods of Hausari, Fizzan and Gwange.
Meanwhile, as a result of the closure of all roads leading to the northern and southern parts of Borno, village dwellers are reported to be suffering from food shortages because they cannot access markets to buy food items.
"There is no food in our villages. All the foods we stored have finished and our people have been dying from hunger. If the situation continues, no one would be spared," a food trader, Adamu Kuranabasa who maneuvered his way from Gwoza through bush paths of Cibok to Damboa into Maiduguri, lamented.
"Our people who are dwelling in villages came this week as usual to buy food items on market day of this week in Gwoza, unfortunately just a few of them were lucky to get some food items and I am sure it will not take them up to next week; that was why I decided to come to Maiduguri through these risky roads," he added.
Commenting on this, military spokesman Olukolade said Special Forces only mounted road blocks on designated areas for stop-and-search exercises, often causing delays for travellers. But he urged people moving along such roads to be tolerant with the soldiers.
"There was no basis for soldiers to block the roads and put off movements. In fact I was in the area last week and I didn't see any spot where roads are blocked and people could not move. But those who are patient enough with the troops have been passing through the check points," he said.
He said : "You only have the necessary control of movement essentially to keep the populace out of harm. There is certainly no intention to make life unbearable as movement of essential goods and services have not been restrained, especially when they have been duly cleared, or authorized to the satisfaction of commanders on the ground. Safety of the people is very paramount now."