This Day (Lagos)

5 March 2014

Nigeria: Air Force Chief Leads Assault Against Boko Haram As 40 More Are Killed

Incensed by the rising number of deaths arising from attacks by the terrorist Boko Haram group, the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Adesola Amosu, personally entered the battle zone last weekend when he flew one of the Alpha jets of the 75 Strike Group of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) to conduct air strikes against enemy positions in the North-east.

But despite the air and ground assault by the military, the sect's onslaught on North-eastern Nigeria continued with the fourth attack in the last three days on the troubled Borno State, leading to the death of at least 40 persons in Jakana, a village 35 kilometres away from Maiduguri, the state capital.

With the latest attack, the death toll in the state since Saturday had risen to 166 by Monday, comprising 91 persons who were killed in Ajilari-Bintu Sugar in Maiduguri and Mainok village on Saturday by the terrorists and another 35, including three policemen, who were killed in Mafa on Sunday.

However, a security source, who informed THISDAY of Amosu's involvement in the air bombardment of Boko Haram hideouts in the North-east, said the air force chief was galvanized by the barbaric acts of the insurgents and the need to lead by example. According to the source, the air force chief, who trained as a combat pilot, was moved to lead by example in a symbolic operation conducted last weekend to show other pilots that "it is doable".

"You know that air force has come under severe criticism recently for not doing enough to provide air cover for the ground troops and more importantly, surveillance and intelligence to the overall success of the operation," the source said. Continuing, the source added: "When you look at it, he (CAS) is an Alpha jet pilot. He flew an Alpha jet when he went to Air Weapons School in Kainji. So what he did was as a commander leading his troops to battle, just to set an example.

"He did that to set an example to the pilots involved in the operations that they can do it. He therefore flew to Yola with the 75 Strike Group to show to the pilots the seriousness of the national assignment they are handling and to encourage the crew and technicians." When THISDAY contacted, the air forces' Director of Information and Public Relations, Air Commodore Yusuf Anas, did not deny or confirm the information, stating: "Although I cannot confirm whether he flew or not because I was not there, but if indeed he flew an Alpha jet, he must have flown it to give encouragement to the pilots involved in the air operations.

"You know there are many things a leader could do and the crucial one among them is to lead by example. That is why he has visited the place for the fourth time."

However, Amosu has assured Nigerians that the air force has the capacity to bring to a speedy end the insurgency in the North-east. He said this yesterday when he received the Commandant of the Armed Forces Command and Staff College (AFCSC), Jaji, Air Vice Marshal John Ifemeje, who paid him a courtesy visit in his office.

"In the bid to sanitise the North-east situation, I have since been synergising with the Chief of Army Staff, where both of us recently embarked on operational visits to Borno and Adamawa States to address members of the forces at the frontlines," he said. "We also used the opportunity of the visit to interact with the troops, received briefings from commanders on the ground and also got a first hand perspective of the situation there," he added.

Amosu revealed that the impression they got from the field was of a force truly inspired and determined to bring the insurgency to a speedy end.

He noted that the military through effective collaboration with other security agencies was exerting enormous pressure on the insurgents and is determined to rout them out quickly so that life could return to normal in the affected states as soon as possible. The CAS further stated that the armed forces were already thinking of the post-insurgency phase and strategising on ways to "keep the place clean" to avoid a relapse into the violent past.

He said the task ahead was even harder as more technology-based platforms would be required, and assured Nigerians that while the government was determined to provide more funding and support to the armed forces, more sacrifice and commitment would be required from all.

The CAS therefore urged the commandant to ensure that the college's curriculum is tailored to meet the current challenges and demands facing the armed forces.

Earlier, Ifemeje had informed the CAS that he was in his office to inform him of the college's commitment to train mid-level officers that are adequately prepared to take command level positions in fulfillment of the mandate of the armed forces of Nigeria.

He stated that the college had since adopted the manouverist approach to warfare in tandem with the current teachings of international armies as is best suited for resolving contemporary peace and security challenges. The commandant said he would bequeath an enduring legacy by making the college the pride of place among its contemporaries across the world.

Meanwhile, during the attack on Jakana, which borders Mainok which is located on the dangerous Maiduguri-Damaturu Expressway, the outlawed sect was said to have also killed two police officers and burnt down the only police station in Jakana as others had previously been razed.

The residents of the village, who fled the area to Maiduguri, told journalists that the attackers had destroyed everything they owned and killed many before the arrival of security operatives. "When they came into the town, we thought they were soldiers until they began to shout the usual 'Allahu Akbar' and spraying bullets on everything; then we realised, we are being surounded by Boko Haram not soldiers. We all took to our heels," they said.

Most of the residents, who preferred not to be named, added that while they were running, some of them were hit by the attackers' bullets and fell, but some were lucky to escape to Maiduguri through the bushes.

One resident said: "I was one of those lucky to find myself among others in Maiduguri. After running through the bushes, we burst out near the military check-point at Computer Village on the outskirts of Maiduguri."

Another resident, Babakura Maidugu, who was among the men that fled the town on Monday night, also said they later learnt from the women who joined them yesterday in Maiduguri that almost all the houses were burnt.

He said: "They said there was nobody living in the town except for security officials who are still combing the area to restore normalcy. I was also told that the Environmental Vanguard have left to evacuate the corpses."

Owing to the incessant attacks on the state, Maiduguri residents now live in apprehension over possible attacks by the sect. People on the outskirts of the capital city disclosed to journalists that they had devised a way to keep awake throughout the night in order not to be caught unawares by the sect.

A woman, who preferred anonymity, said the people in her neighbourhood in Gomari were kept awake throughout the night because the vigilante groups kept beating drums and gongs to ward off insurgents.

It was also gathered that residents of Magumeri Local Government Area in Borno State have begun fleeing the area, following a purported letter written to them by the insurgents informing them that they are coming to the area soon. Attempts to get official confirmation on the Jakana attack were unsuccessful as the text messages to the Police Commissioner, Tanko Lawan, were replied with a request asking that the spokesman of the Army Command, Gideon Jubrin, should be reached. But when Jubrin's phone was called, it was switched off.

However, the senator representing Borno South, Ahmed Zannah, in a telephone chat, confirmed the attack on Jakana, saying the insurgents burnt 11 elderly people in one house that they set ablaze.

He said the residents of the village got wind of the insurgents' onslaught and fled leaving the aged who could not escape behind. He lamented that the insurgents, who he gathered never let out a shot, just set the houses ablaze and in the process burnt the 11 elderly people who could not escape or be taken away.

He said the soldiers, who had initially fled on sighting the insurgents, later summoned enough courage to confront the sect in a fight when they discovered that the insurgents were few in number and were not heavily armed. Zannah said when the insurgents saw the military approaching, they were forced to retreat and warned that they would come back to "finish their unfinished business".

He claimed that it was this threat that forced many to flee the village in the event the insurgents return. The senator said most of the people are now fleeing to Maiduguri out of fear.

In a related development, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) yesterday said 55,500 internally displaced persons had been attended to in Borno since the beginning of the year. The Information Officer, North-east Zone, AbdulKadir Ibrahim, who spoke shortly after leaving an assessment meeting with representatives of the Red Cross in Borno State, said the list or number of those displaced by the series of attacks since the beginning of year is "hard to give".

He said most of those displaced had shunned the camps set up by the agency for fear of being attacked by the insurgents at such facilities, preferring to stay with relatives in big towns. A source at NEMA yesterday also alleged that the management of emergency situations in the state had been made difficult by the fact that a law has not been enacted by the state assembly giving legal backing to the establishment of the State Emergency Management Agency.

The source said it was "unfortunate that for a state which has been witnessing a crisis of this magnitude with emergency situation arising daily, had not deemed it fit to set up an emergency management agency in place, but has a State Emergency Relief Agency (SERA) with just three staff who have no knowledge of managing emergency situations." He said his agency's task had been made difficult as its members of staff have had to work with the Red Cross and other agencies without reasonable input from the staff of SERA.

Also speaking on the continued violence and killings in Borno State, the Bishop of the Maiduguri Diocese of the Catholic Church, the Most Reverend Oliver Dashe, has called on government to find a way to end the Borno crisis before it spins out of control. He disclosed that it was God's intervention that gave them the wisdom to evacuate their students at Minor Seminary in Shuwa, Adamawa State, when the sect members came calling last week, otherwise it would have been disastrous.

He added that Boko Haram was an offshoot of the prevailing corruption in the country, saying: "If corruption goes, there will be no Boko Haram, no kidnapping, no armed robbery. Even if they exist, it will be minimal. If Nigerians are empowered, they will not take up some of these vices."

He lamented that over 20 churches and priests' residences had been burnt down since the beginning of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2009 and over 500 members of the church had been killed.

However, it is not just the North-eastern part of the country that has come under siege as a community in Northern Cameroun also came under attack from the insurgents at the weekend.

According to AFP, seven people were killed when Boko Haram fighters launched an assault on northern Cameroun. Six Boko Haram members and one Camerounian soldier were killed in the attack on Sunday, the source told the AFP news agency on Monday. Two other Boko Haram fighters were captured near the Nigerian border, the source added. The local rights group, the Os-Civil Droits de l'Homme, also reported the assault and said there were victims, without specifying a number.

"On Sunday, Boko Haram Islamists entered Cameroun... there was a clash between them and the soldiers," said the rights group's spokesman, Mey Aly.

"Around 30 heavily armed Boko Haram soldiers crept discretely into Cameroun. A villager saw them and raised the alarm," she added. "The region's populations have been terrorised by incursions from Islamists like Sunday's. We call for stronger efforts from the authorities to reassure the population," Aly said.

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