In what looked like a move to reinforce the troops fighting Boko Haram terrorists in North-eastern Nigeria, the Nigerian army Monday night deployed over 30 armoured tanks to Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States that were recently ordered by the federal government to crush the insurgency.
THISDAY confirmed the movement of about two trailer loads of over 30 tanks around 9 pm along the Abuja-Lokoja Expressway.
This is just as the Borno youth vigilantes, popularly known as the Civilian JTF, yesterday dispelled reports that Boko Haram terrorists had taken over Bama, the second largest town in Borno State, stating that it was the insurgents, who had recorded major casualties during their fight with the military on Monday, losing 130 members with 35 others arrested.
The insurgents, who had launched an early dawn raid on Bama, were repelled by the military and prevented from entering Maidugri, the state capital.
The tanks, which looked rusty with the "UN" inscription on them, appeared to have been offloaded recently from the seaports and were heading towards the north.
Efforts to get confirmation from the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) and Defence Headquarters (DHQ) were futile as their spokespersons could not be reached.
However, an intelligent officer who spoke to THISDAY on the issue said the tanks were disguised with the UN insignia on them in order to conceal their place of origin. In May this year, ABC News, an American television network, had reported that the federal government, through ONSA, had hired a powerful Washington lobbyist to press its case for the release of intelligence on Boko Haram and to persuade the Barack Obama administration to donate non-lethal equipment.
The report stated that two months before Boko Haram was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) by the US in November 2013, ONSA signed a $3 million-a-year contract with K Street firm Patton Boggs to "provide comprehensive security advice, including the donation of excess military and law enforcement equipment", according to documents filed with the US Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Patton Boggs was also reported to have asked for non-lethal protective hardware to be donated to Nigeria such as mine-resistant armoured personnel vehicles, night vision goggles and communications equipment from Iraq and Afghanistan stockpiles left over from the US' war in the countries.
Meanwhile, the Borno youth vigilante group has dispelled news reports that the Boko Haram insurgents had taken control of Bama.
They said instead, it was the group that suffered massive casualties during the gun battle with the military on Monday, losing 130 persons with 35 others arrested.
At a press briefing in Maiduguri, spokesman of the Civilian JTF, who is also the legal adviser to the group, Mr. Jibrin Gunda, said: "We categorically refute the statement credited to Senator Ahmed Zanna, the senator representing Borno Central on the BBC Hausa service that Boko Haram had captured Bama.
"News has filtered most especially on foreign media to which we want to clearly state that our security personnel are doing their best and yesterday our gallant soldiers successfully repelled the insurgents that attacked Bama.
"Bama as a town in Borno State has never been overrun or overtaken by the insurgents even for a minute, even as of now our soldiers are in full control of the town. "In view of this, we categorically deny and disassociate ourselves with an interview granted to some foreign media by one Senator Ahmed Zanna as what he stated are not the true facts on ground. More so, the interview he granted has contributed to instilling fear in the minds of citizens of Borno State and residents of Maiduguri in particular."
He advised residents of Borno not to panic because of what he described as rumours, adding: "We want to re-assure the citizens of Borno State that nobody should leave Maiduguri because all that has been said are mere rumours.
"As such, people should be calm as the Nigerian security forces are capable, willing and competent to discharge their duties. All citizens should desist from making unguarded and false statements which might frighten the citizens unnecessarily."
The spokesman of the vigilante group called on President Goodluck Jonathan to do all he could to support the armed forces in the fight against terrorism so as to end the menace in the shortest possible time.
"We equally wish and call on Mr. President to take seriously and bring to book personalities mentioned in the report of Dr. Steven Davies, if doing so will help in bringing the Boko Haram insurgency to an end, as Nigeria is superior and better than any person in the country," Gunda added.
THISDAY gathered that the troops were able to repel the attack by the Boko Haram insurgents with the assistance of air raids on Bama by the Nigerian Air Force.
In order to gain the upper hand, the military had advised residents to vacate the town to enable the air force bombard the insurgents who were bent on taking over the military barracks in Bama, but were forced back by the superior fire power of the military.
Also, confirming the non-capture of Bama, the Deputy Governor of Borno State, Zannah Umar Mustapha, yesterday said Bama had not fallen into the hands of the Boko Haram terrorist group, insisting that the military was in full control of the security situation in the town.
He made the statement at a press briefing on Bama and various parts of the state at the Government House, Maiduguri.
He revealed that the attempted attack on Bama had left over 2,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who are presently in Maiduguri, and had been resettled at the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) orientation camp and Government Girls Secondary School (GGSS), Maiduguri.
"The attack on Bama town yesterday (Monday) was very unfortunate, but I want to reassure our people that government is on top of the situation. Already, those in the camp are being taken care of and our security forces are engaging the insurgents in a fierce battle which is worthy of commendation," Mustapha said.
He also appealed to the people to desist from spreading false information or creating unnecessary tension among themselves and society. Speaking on the displaced persons, Mustapha said: "Due to the rising number of displaced persons, another camp has been established at GGSS, Maiduguri to accommodate a maximum of 3,000 persons. In these camps, government has provided basic amenities to make their stay comfortable.
"Currently in all these camps, including the ones at Madagali, Uba and Mubi in Adamawa State, people enjoy three square meals, healthcare services and hostels for their accommodation, until the security situation improves for them to return to their respective towns, communities and villages."
However, the statements by the deputy governor and the Civilian JTF were in stark contrast to reports by the BBC and AFP, which quoted Zanna as stating that Bama had been overrun by the insurgents.
Both reports said yesterday that the attack by Boko Haram on Bama had caused the military and residents to flee the town, after the initial effort by the troops on Monday morning to keep the insurgents at bay.
The terrorists were said to have regrouped later in the day and attacked the military barracks in the town, forcing hundreds of soldiers to flee to Maiduguri. AFP also reported that air strikes by the air force failed to distinguish between Nigerian troops and the insurgents, leading to casualties on both sides.
But while there was confusion over Bama, the Camerounian army yesterday claimed to have killed more than 40 Boko Haram fighters who tried to storm a strategic border crossing from Nigeria.
Heavily armed fighters "attempted to cross the bridge at Fotokol" in the extreme north of the country and opened fire on Camerounian soldiers, the country's Ministry of Defence told state radio.
"Cameroun defence forces energetically reacted to this assault which lasted three hours," the ministry said, adding that one soldier was wounded by mortar shrapnel.
There was no independent confirmation of the battle. Gamboru Ngala, the Nigerian town on the other side of the bridge, fell to the Islamist extremists last week after they reportedly overran the Nigerian garrison there.
Cameroun's Defence Ministry said 246 Nigerian soldiers and customs officials who had fled Gamboru Ngala into Cameroun to escape the Boko Haram offensive "have left the Fotokol area under military escort" to rejoin their units in Banki in Nigeria.
Several hundred Nigerian soldiers abandoned border posts further to the south along the long and isolated border last week in the face of the militants' advance, military sources said.
The Nigerian army denied its troops had fled into Cameroon, instead calling the retreat a "tactical manoeuvre".
With Agency Report