5 September 2014

Nigeria: U.S. to Launch Border Security Programme, Troubled Over "Apparent Capture" of Bama

Photo: This Day
Armed Boko Haram members.

Despite denials by the Borno State Government and the youth vigilante group that Bama had fallen under the control of Boko Haram terrorists, the United States said Thursday that it was troubled over the "apparent capture" of the town and the prospects of an attack on Maiduguri, as the sect pursues its goal to carve out an Islamic enclave in North-east Nigeria.

The US government also said it was close to announcing the launch of a major border security programme under its Global Security Contingency Fund, which would include Nigeria, Cameroun, Chad and Niger, to help end the insurgency.

This came as the senator representing Borno Central at the National Assembly, Ahmed Zannah, warned that bodies remain littered on the streets of Bama, Borno's second largest city, three days after it was attacked by Boko Haram terrorists.

Zanna, who is a regular guest of the BBC, told the radio station that Boko Haram fighters were patrolling the streets of Bama, preventing people from burying the dead.

Making the position of the US known on the security situation in Nigeria, the US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, while speaking at the opening of the Third Session of the Regional Working Group Meeting, Nigeria-US Bi-National Commission in Abuja, said several developments in the North-east were deeply disturbing.

Thomas-Greenfield said an attack on Maiduguri would impose a tremendous toll on the civilian population, lamenting that despite collective efforts to stop Boko Haram, the situation was worsening.

"The frequency and scope of Boko Haram attacks have grown more acute and constitute a serious threat to this country's overall security. Boko Haram has shown that it can operate not only in the North-east, but in Kano, in Abuja and elsewhere," she said.

She also expressed concern about the over 700,000 internally displaced persons, a number which reports say continues to rise.

"The conflict has affected the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people in the Lake Chad region. Cameroun's military is increasingly forced to fight Boko Haram within its borders and they flee back into Nigeria without fear. The Chibok schoolgirls and others remain hostages, enduring horrible and tragic suffering," Thomas-Greenfield added.

She disclosed that the US was close to announcing the launch of a major border security programme under its Global Security Contingency Fund, which would include Nigeria, Cameroun, Chad and Niger.

Listing some of the efforts of the US towards helping Nigeria stop insurgency, Thomas-Greenfield disclosed that her country was providing advanced training to a Nigerian infantry battalion.

"It is critical that the investment in this unit be properly maintained and utilised upon deployment, with clean supply chains and adequate supplies, a strong chain of command and missions and values that address Nigeria's counter-terrorism threat and keeps civilians safe.

"The reputation of Nigeria's military is at stake. But more importantly, Nigeria's and its children's future is in jeopardy. Failure is not an option," she warned.

Speaking on the 2015 elections, Thomas-Greenfield noted that there are high expectations on Nigeria for the polls to be peaceful and credible, adding that an inclusive and fairly conducted election is the best way to avoid electoral violence.

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi, in his address, recalled that the two countries had agreed on the need to establish an intelligence fusion centre to enable security agencies coordinate and share intelligence needed to defeat Boko Haram.

More information and speedy action was however needed on the operation of the fusion centre, he said.

"While Nigeria appreciates the support of the US towards intelligence gathering on the activities of Boko Haram, we also urge quick and timely sharing of these intelligence reports with the relevant Nigerian counterparts," Uhomoibhi said.

He called on the US to disregard the activities of a section of the Nigerian media, which is opposed to the present administration and therefore depicts exaggerated accounts of military human rights violations in the course of dealing with the Boko Haram scourge.

He also expressed the country's appreciation to the US for its $51 million pledge to support the 2015 polls.

Bodies Littering Bama

Meanwhile, Zannah said yesterday that bodies remain littered on the streets of Bama, because Boko Haram fighters were patrolling the streets and preventing people from burying the dead.

Earlier this week, the Nigeria Security Network (NSN) think-tank said the group had made "lightning territorial gains" in recent months, raising fears that the country could disintegrate like Syria and Iraq, where the Islamic State (IS) rebel group has declared a caliphate.

Boko Haram has also said it has set up a caliphate in the areas it controls, but it is not clear if the two groups are allies.

Zanna said the humanitarian situation in Bama was "terrible" and there had been a "lot of killings" in the town. "So many bodies litter the streets, and people are not allowed to even go and bury the dead ones. So the situation is getting worse and worse," Zanna told the BBC's Newsday programme after speaking to a resident who fled the town.

Boko Haram has captured a string of towns in Northern-eastern Nigeria in recent months, fuelling concern that it could advance towards the main city, Maiduguri.

Zanna said it would be "catastrophic" if Boko Haram launched an assault on Maiduguri, which has a population of more than two million.

"I'm begging the government to send more troops and armoury to Maiduguri," he said. "Boko Haram comes overwhelmingly because they recruited en masse in the villages (in Borno State)," he added.

Zanna said government forces had "gallantly" defended Bama, before it fell to Boko Haram.

Residents told BBC Hausa Service that Boko Haram returned to the town on Tuesday with reinforcements after being repelled by government forces the previous day.

However, Borno State Deputy Governor, Zannah Umar Mustapha, and Borno youth vigilante group had denied that the militants had taken over Bama, which has a population of about 270,000. Mustapha told the BBC Hausa service that the army was still fighting them.

More Troops for N'East

Also, in a bid to reinforce the troops, the Borno State Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, disclosed yesterday that he had been assured by the federal government of improved deployment of military personnel and equipment to ward off the threat of the Boko Haram terrorist group in his state and others in the North-east.

Speaking to the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Bama, camped at some public institutions in Maiduguri, Shettima who was compelled to abort his trip to the UK and Sudan, said he had met with President Jonathan Goodluck on the security situation in Bama and other areas of the state as well as other service chiefs.

"There were assurances that the federal government will continue to intervene and provide adequate military personnel and weapons to overcome the insurgents," he informed the residents of Bama who were forced to flee from their homes early this week.

He also assured them that on the state government's part, his administration would continue to play its role by catering for them, disclosing that sufficient funds had been released to the committee set up by the state government under the chairmanship of Alhaji Usman Jidda Shuwa to cater for the welfare and feeding of the IDPs at the camps.

He however urged them to continue to pray for peace and an end to the insurgency, while appealing to the members of the outlawed Boko Haram sect to desist from their barbaric and ungodly acts.

Shettima warned that should they continue, the wrath of God would be visited on them soon and surely punish them for all their misdeeds.

Borno Youths Ready to Take on Islamists

In addition to the extra troops and equipment to be sent by the federal government, about 10,000 youths trooped into the streets of Maiduguri yesterday to protest the siege of the sect on Borno and expressed their readiness to take on the terrorists.

The youths, who had initially assembled at the popular Ramat Square Ground at the centre of the town, later marched through the streets to the Shehu of Borno's palace.

At the palace of the Shehu, Alhaji Abubakar Umar Ibn-Garbai Elkanemi, the youths coveted his blessings, which they claimed would ensure their success during their confrontation with the terrorists.

The youths said they had resolved to enter Sambisa and other hideouts of the terrorists to hunt them down and bring to an end the ongoing crisis which had been overdrawn since 2009.

Responding, the Shehu tasked the protesting youths mainly members of the youth vigilante group, popularly known as the Civilian JTF, to always abide by the rule of law in the course of discharging their civic responsibilities.

He commended the efforts of the Civilian JTF to tackle the Boko Haram insurgency and appealed to them to always follow the directives of the military and other security agencies while discharging their duties.

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