Vanguard (Lagos)

1 September 2014

Nigeria: Thousands Flee to Cameroon As Boko Haram Conscripts Youths to Fight Nigeria

Photo: This Day
Armed Boko Haram insurgents.

MAIDUGURI--Following sustained Boko Haram attacks in the North-Eastern part of the country, thousands of Nigerians have been forced to flee their homes, swamping towns in the north of neighbouring Cameroon, authorities said yesterday. This came as Boko Haram terrorists, for three days, laid siege to Gamboru town, forcefully conscripting youths to fight both the Nigerian and Cameroonian troops. They were said to have killed those who resisted them.

After the three-day attack, 29 persons were killed, while 215 of the youths, who fled to Cameroon to escape the forceful conscription, have recounted their ordeals in the hands of the insurgents.

A Cameroonian police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity that: "We've been flooded here in Mora by Cameroonians and Nigerians fleeing Boko Haram. The day before yesterday (Friday), there were already more than 10,000 people in Mora. Not a day goes by without more people coming."

The number of internally displaced people in Nigeria and those who have crossed its borders into Cameroon, Niger and Chad because of the militant violence has been increasing, with no end in sight to the insurgency.

A picture taken on August 21, 2014 shows Internally Displaced People (IDP) receiving food in Madagali camp in Nigeria's northeastern Adamawa State. Mostly women and children, the IDPs in Madagali fled their homes in Gwoza, Borno State, to neighbouring Adamawa State following incessant attacks by Islamists insurgents Boko Haram. Nearly 11,500 people from one town in northeast Nigeria are receiving emergency aid after fleeing Boko Haram militants, the country's main relief agency said on on August 21. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said 11,442 men, women and children from Gwoza in Borno state had been registered at two facilities for displaced people in neighbouring Adamawa state. The Islamists took over Gwoza, which lies near the border with Cameroon, on August 7 and NEMA said the town was "still under siege". AFP PHOTO

The United Nations' humanitarian office (OCHA) said on August 5 that Boko Haram attacks have forced nearly 650,000 people from their homes in the North-East states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.

The National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, has said that nearly 11,500 fled Gwoza, also in Borno State, when militants seized the town on August 7. Boko Haram has since declared Gwoza part of an Islamic caliphate.

Cameroon registers displaced persons

The Cameroonian police officer said registration of the displaced persons had begun in Mora, while the nearby town of Kolofata had seen more than 6,000 arrive.

"People are everywhere: in schools, under trees and in the markets," he added.

"They're all coming from Cameroonian and Nigerian villages in the Kerawa area."

Kerawa straddles the border and has come under attack in recent days by Boko Haram, forcing the residents to flee on foot.

Cameroon state radio said the withdrawal of its soldiers had led to a mass exodus of civilians, adding that more than 6,000 people had taken flight and were now based in the Kolofata state school, with 2,000 others around Mora.

Gamboru Ngala residents, who fled across the border to the Cameroon town of Fotokol, said on Saturday that the militants had begun to kill people "like chickens," despite initially targeting only the police and military.

The spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri also claimed militant fighters had carried out atrocities against Christians in the town of Madagali, in Adamawa State, but there was no independent corroboration.

Cameroon security sources said Gamboru Ngala was bombed from the air on Saturday night, but it was unclear whether it was a Nigerian or Cameroonian air force operation.

The terrorists operating on several motorcycles stormed Gamboru and moved from house to house, searching for youths who refused to flee after last Monday's attack that claimed 25 lives.

Gamboru is a border town, and 138 kilometres North East of Maiduguri, the state capital.

Just last Thursday, a group of terrorists invaded Jibwhuwhi and Dalwa villages in Hawul Local Government Area of the state killing 14 residents before setting ablaze their houses, shops and churches, as there were no military troops despite outcry by the residents of Hawul on the continuous attacks and killings in the council.

Youths resist conscription

Over 200 Gambouru youths have, however, resisted forceful conscriptions by Boko Haram as they fled to the Cameroonian border town of Fotokol and three other villages yesterday morning.

The youths, according to one of them who remained anonymous, fled because they did not want to be conscripted by the Boko Haram sect to fight both the Nigerian and Cameroonian troops in the border areas and in Gambouru town.

According to one of the youths: "I had no alternative, other than to join my colleagues by dawn yesterday to flee for our safety. These gunmen had been telling us to join them to fight our soldiers here and at the borders with Cameroon and Chad; after promising us some money and rifles 'to do the work of God'. But some of us decided to take our fate in our hands by fleeing to Cameroon. By noon yesterday (Sunday), about 215 of us converged on Fotokol with broken limbs and bruises, while fleeing to cross the River and bushes with desert tracks. Once they sighted you fleeing, they shoot you, as we have refused to join them," lamented the youth.

He said the targets of the insurgents were to "forcefully conscript" youths between the ages of 18 and 25 who are conversant with Gamboru and its border areas with Cameroon.

"They were asking all of us here in Cameroon to join them; and fight the soldiers, but we collectively decided not to, because these gunmen can never be trusted. It has happened not only in Gambouru, but most of the Borno towns and villages were attacked with the displacement of many residents and villagers," said the youth in telephone interview from Fotokol.

He said as they reached the border town of Fotokol, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) fighter jet hovered over Gamboru town three times, but due to the mixture of innocent civilians and the terrorists in the town, and to avoid killing of innocent people, the fighter jet had to bombard an outskirt with plumes of smoke into the sky for ten minutes.

"We had feared that the town was bombarded, by the military to reclaim our town, but one of my parents called me on phone that they were safe; and there was no bombing from the fighter jet that flew in Sunday (yesterday) morning," said the youth.

A military source, who spoke on reports that the terrorists raided communities around Gamboru, conscripting youths into their sect, said that it had been their strategy. He, however, noted that strategies that cannot be disclosed were being worked out to handle the situation.

Aerial surveillance in northern Borno

Military sources in Maiduguri, yesterday, also said that the aerial surveillance in northern Borno was part of the military operations to reclaim the border town with Cameroon. The military source was, however, unable to give details of the ongoing military operations launched, yesterday.

A resident who prefrred to be and annonymous, who hid in a ceiling for three days, also said the terrorists had been forcing the residents to join the Islamist sect's fight, while those who refused to join were shot dead or had their throats slit in the presence of members of their families.

According to him: "Our people have no option other than to submit to God's destiny and mercies. Since last Monday's attacks, we had been hiding in ceilings of buildings and underground water reservoirs without food and water. But the insurgents were adamant and ruthless threatening us to either be conscripted and fight against the troops in Gamboru or be killed", said the resident in a telephone interview yesterday.

On how residents were forcefully conscripted, he said: "Since last Monday's attacks, these sect boys have been going from house to house in search of residents in hiding. Once they caught one resident, they would hand N5,000 cash and an AK 47 rifle and ask him to join them to fight the soldiers in Gamboru or risk his life"

He said: "Residents, who refused to join the insurgents, were summarily executed using gun or knives and swords". He added that with the massive killings and threats, several youths had joined the insurgents in the last five days, after they captured the border town with Cameroon on Monday, August 25, 2014.

Supplies of food and water, he said had been cut off, as the insurgents had already destroyed the Dikwa-Gambouru/Ngala Bridge last June, while the 102-kilometre Mafa-Dikwa-Gambouru road was a no-go area as the insurgents have taken over the border route to Cameroon.

Confirming the continuous presence of insurgents, a security source in Maiduguri yesterday said that after killing 27 terror suspects in last Monday's attack, those that survived retreated into the town to join those who were hiding among residents.

"This was why, it could take some time to reclaim this town, as the insurgents had been adopting guerrilla warfare by living among residents to prevent being hit by the military," said the source, yesterday.

Meanwhile, there were indications in Abuja weekend that the latest of the set of fighter aircraft ordered by the Federal Government with which the armed forces will launch a final onslaught against the Boko Haram terrorists would start arriving the country this week.

This information came just as Vanguard gathered that security forces were set to launch a counter offensive against Boko Haram insurgents who have established a new camp at Gamboru-Ngala, a border community with Cameroon with a view to sending them back across the border where they were initially based.

It was gathered that the sect members fled to the Nigerian side of Gamboru-Ngala, a community that extends to Cameroon following the air bombardment of their camp by the Cameroonian air force.

On the fighter jets, military sources disclosed that the aircraft which are capable of carrying out night operations will enhance the operations of the soldiers after softening the ground by the bombers adding that they were purchased directly by the Nigerian Air force.

Another set of aircraft which are also fitted with modern equipment such as the Shilka guns for the army would also arrive very soon to fast-track the Boko Haram war.

Confirming that enemies within the security forces were helping the terrorists in the insurgency battle, the source said some disloyal troops pass on strategic information on operations to the insurgents.

For instance, It was learnt that when an operation for bombing is being prepared, some insiders pass on the information to the terrorist that their area will soon be bombed and that it will be safer for them to leave the area. That is why the bombing by the air force is not having much impact on them except on few occasions when the operation is planned secretly.

The source added that the analysis so far made on the weapons recovered from the insurgents does not show that they are superior to those of the armed forces as claimed.

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