Abuja — The Nigerian Army has rebuffed claims by some online media websites that it lost over 40 soldiers, while 65 others were missing in a surprise ambush by Boko Haram insurgents at Kafiya Forest of Borno State.
In a statement issued yesterday, the army said during the incident, over 150 members of the sect were killed while 15 soldiers and one officer died in action, with nine others missing.
The Director of Army Public Relations (DAPR), Brig-Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru, also disclosed that a key commander of the insurgents, one Abba Goroma was also killed. Attahiru described Goroma as a high value target, on whose head had been placed a N10-million bounty.
"A chief insurgent commander, Abba Goroma, was killed. If you recall, he had a N10-million bounty placed on his head. He is a high value target of the terrorist organisation," he said.
On the high casualty figures recorded by its soldiers, he said the online reports were grossly exaggerated and should be discountenanced.
"I advise you to discountenance that report. I want to tell you that that report is not true. Yes, there was an encounter between us and members of Boko Haram insurgents but the casualties you read must be discountenanced," he said.
The army spokesman, however, did admit that there was fierce fight between the troops of 81 Battalion from the new 7 Division of the Nigerian Army and members of Boko Haram on September 12, but insisted it was the insurgents that sustained the high casualties. He said despite the spirited resistance by the terrorist group, the troops of the Nigerian Army were able to dislodge them from their Kafiya Forest camp bases, which he added was one of their remaining safe havens.
Attahiru said: "There was an encounter between us and the insurgents at Kafiya Forest. On September 12, 2013, troops of the 81 Battalion, under the 7 Division of the Nigerian Army, carried out a deliberate attack by assaulting the enemy camp, the insurgents' camp, at Kafiya Forest.
"The battle was very fierce and it lasted for several hours. The enemy camp was well fortified with anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons mounted on vehicles.
"At the end of the fire-fight, over 150 insurgents were killed and the enemy or insurgent camps cleared. We lost an officer and 15 soldiers killed in action, while nine soldiers are missing."
In a related development, as part of its fact-finding tour, the Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North yesterday visited the Abuja office of THISDAY Newspapers.
The chairman of the committee, Alhaji Tanimu Turaki, who led other members, expressed shock at the extent of the damage wreaked on the bureau, which was attacked by Boko Haram in April last year.
Turaki, who said the bomb attack on THISDAY's complex was underreported, added that the federal government was determined to ensure such incidents do not recur in any part of the country.
"Everything will be done to see that this does not happen anywhere in the country again," said Turaki who along with other committee members, was visibly moved by the extent of the damage caused by the explosion to lives and property.
Others who accompanied him were the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi; Sheikh Ahmed Lemu; Senator Abubakar Sodangi; former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri, Professor Nur Alkali; a former Governor of Rivers State, Colonel Musa Shehu; and Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution, Dr. Joseph Golwa.
According to Turaki, although President Goodluck Jonathan had chosen the option of peace for those Islamic extremists who were ready to embrace dialogue, those elements that are not willing, would be dealt with by the military.
He said the ongoing dialogue with the insurgents had reached an advanced stage. The committee chairman however admitted that he did not know that the damage to THISDAY's complex was so colossal and described the destruction as unwarranted.
He said President Jonathan had directed the committee to visit all victims of Boko Haram attacks and advise him on how to compensate them.
Turaki informed the THISDAY management that government would certainly do something to assuage the pain and suffering inflicted on the organisation.
He asked the management to, within 48 hours, furnish the committee with an inventory of the cost of damage and the amount of money needed to complete the treatment of those needing surgery and other medical care.
He also asked for the names of affected members of staff and the deceased. He commiserated with the staff and management and condoled with the family of the dead.
Executive Director of THISDAY Newspapers, (Northern Operations), Mr. Israel Iwegbu, who showed the team round the bombed structure, stated that the THISDAY management was relieved that the government had finally come to see things for itself.
Iwegbu, who was accompanied by some other management staff, said apart from the damage to the building and equipment, a security guard, Christopher Sadiq, died in the attack while two others, Bashiru Shuaibu, who was still bed-ridden and in need of plastic surgery, and Nuhudeen Dauda, who also needs surgery to remove glass shrapnels from his body.
Meanwhile, three major buildings were bombed by Boko Haram in Abuja. They are the UN building, police headquarters and the THISDAY complex. The UN building and police headquarters have since been fixed by the federal government.
THISDAY could have relied on insurance to fix its own complex, but insurance companies walked away because THISDAY did not have a war-risk insurance, as it did not consider Nigeria at the time to be at war.