Yobe — Hundreds of Boko Haram terrorists are fleeing into remote communities in Borno and Yobe states after taking heavy poundings from Nigerian air and ground troops, Daily Trust has learnt.
Sustained air and ground operations along the shores of the Lake Chad and the Sambisa forest have affected the insurgents in those areas.
The Nigerian military, aided by troops from neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, have stepped up pressure on the two factions of Boko Haram.
The factions are led by Abubakar Shekau in the Sambisa forest area and the other by Abu Mus'ab Albarnawi that operates around the shores of the Lake Chad.
Locals in communities in Geidam and Gujba local government areas in Yobe State, and many more around Damboa and Biu local government areas of Borno State are gripped by fear over the "increased influx by fleeing Boko Haram fighters" from operation areas, sources say.
Daily Trust gathered that hundreds of the insurgents have been forced out of their stronghold in the last few months.
The situation in Geidam, Yobe State, was tense yesterday following a report of the influx of Boko Haram fighters. Geidam is not too far from the border with Niger Republic.
What the army says
The Nigerian Army had on Sunday warned residents and communities to be weary of several wounded and fleeing Boko Haram terrorists in Borno State.
Army spokesman, Brig. Gen, Sani Usman, said, "troops of Operation Lafiya Dole dealt a devastating blow to the terrorists, resulting in several casualties during Operation Deep Punch II in Sambisa Forest.
"The ongoing military operation was to rout the remaining Boko Haram terrorists from their various hideouts, including Camp Zero, which the Army captured on December 23, 2016."
The Army enjoined residents of those communities to report the presence of insurgents in their areas.
Ordeals of the people
Sambisa lies to the South East of Maiduguri. Therefore, sources said even though it is far from Lake Chad region, the Boko Haram fighters use many routes that have remained unprotected.
Sources said in the past few days, the military had made a lot of exploit at Camp Zero which the Boko Haram insurgents re-took during the raining season.
Similar offensives were also launched at Boko Haram territories in Sabil Huda, Lagara Fulani, Somalia, Parisu 1 & II and Dar Salam, forcing surviving terrorists to flee in droves.
Sources said the insurgents are now going through Pulka-Kala Balge-Marte and into the Lake Chad region or westward through Kaga-Magumeri-Kukawa and into Lake Chad region.
The two Boko Haram factions are fighting each other, they are both look for sanctuaries, far from each other in communities sandwiched around the Alagarno forest in the southern parts of Borno and Yobe states.
It was gathered that Operation Deep Punch is being conducted in the Lake Chad area by the 8 Division of the Nigerian Army while the Chadians take care of their border areas.
"The Operation Deep Punch from the South (Sambisa) is being conducted by 7 Division with deeper incursion into Sambisa Forest.
"The Cameroonians are supporting this operation. From Sambisa to Cameroon border is about 55km to the east," a source said.
Some residents who returned to Buni Yadi shortly after the military retook the town from the insurgents are leaving the town again.
One of the locals, Yusuf Usama, said the inhabitants had to flee to avoid possible military operation, or attacks by Boko Haram.
"Recently, the insurgents planted land mine around Azare village where two soldiers lost their lives. Even before the incident, people in the adjoining villages like Gashua fled because the insurgents came to them frequently and steal their food stuff. At times, they took away even the prepared food," he said.
Usama said the two villages which are on Damaturu-Biu federal highway had nearly become nightmare for locals and travellers.
"Now, a military checkpoint has been stationed in between Azare and Gashua villages. But still, very few residents summon courage to return; those that live there are mostly old people," he said.
"In fact, villages like Jiri and Gudu, about 4-5km and 15km from Buni Yadi are still deserted for fear of Boko Haram attack. Also, to the east are Munjim Gana, Munjim Kura and Kilbiri, about 15 and 9km to Buni-Yadi which have all been deserted because there are no military presence," he added.
He said many markets in the area had been closed down as a result of the activities of the insurgents, which has great economic implications to people in the communities.
Alhaji Maina Isuhu, who fled from Ndoksa, a village located 18km away from Buni Yadi but under Damboa Local Government Area of Borno State, said for over four years, the village was a ghost town.
"The boys are now present at the eastern part of Ndoksa 1, 2, and 3; Farma, Ajigin, Talala and over 20 communities in the area. Majority of us are now living in Biu.
"Also, some herdsmen that visited the area recently said the boys (militants) are still around. We want the government to do similar action taken on the fringes of Lake Chad to help us return to our homes," he said.
The Village Head of Ndoksa, Lawan Usman Ngari, said his domain and all other villages in area are under the control of Boko Haram.
"In fact, there are no inhabitants in all the villages from Buni Gari down to those villages under Damboa Local Council. These include Gorgare, Chirala, Munguzon, Kobuk, Gulmas, Dusula, Gorogili and Auma villages.
"As I am talking now, no single person went to these villages in the last four years. And, to my knowledge, not even the security agencies went there. The insurgents are still occupying these places", he said.
The village head lamented that people from those villages have now taken refuge in places like Biu, Miringa, Dadin kowa, Damaturu and Buni Yadi.
"Some of these villagers were big time farmers before relocating to these towns where they barely eat two square meals now. We are therefore appealing to the federal government to deploy troops to these areas for us to return and go on with farming activities", he said.
Similarly, residents in communities under Geidam and Yunusari local government areas complained of extortion by the insurgents which is becoming a recurrent decimal of recent.
Mallum Bala of Degetra village said the insurgents are common sights in the area. "They tax rich people and abduct their children for ransom.
"Puchimeram, Bultuwa, Ngaltra, Matari and Kadar lamba are some of the towns where the insurgents have taken control in Gaidam and Yunusari. Everyone close to these places would tell you that the activities of insurgent are ongoing," he said.
A credible source told the Daily Trust that the Lake Chad region and the Sambisa forest area had been the "albatross to the fight on terror."
He said towards the end of 2016 and most part of 2017, there was a "kind of relapse" in military activities along the Lake Chad while the raining season forced Nigerian troops to relax operations around Sambisa, a development that paved the way for Boko Haram terrorists to reclaim the areas.
But a renewed collaboration between Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Nigeria under the Multi National Joint Task Force in the last couple of months had turned the tide against the insurgents who are now fleeing in droves.
"This is the best time, peak of dry season; no rain, hard ground, less foliage cover and receded lake," he said.
However, the recent insurgents attacks on military locations in Sassawa and Kanamma towns where over 20 soldiers lost their lives showed the terrorists' threat is still there.
When contacted, the leader of Hunter's group, in Yobe State, Alhaji Muhammad Tela said they are doing their best in collaboration with the military to rid the area of Boko Haram insurgents.
"Hardly a day will come that one or two of the insurgents will not surrender to us and we hand them over to the military. This is showing how our operations are becoming very successful," he said.
He commended Yobe State governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Gaidam for providing them with operations vehicles and logistics with which they carry out many successful operations in the state.