Governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum, on Monday blamed Nigeria soldiers for the Sunday night attack by Boko Haram that killed over 30 stranded travellers.
"I am being pushed to the wall to say the truth," the governor said in anger.
"Since my inauguration as the governor of Borno State from May 29th to date, Auno town has been attacked for about six times now. And the reason is that the military has withdrawn from Auno town.
"We have made repeated plea to the military to re-establish a base in Auno since it is one of the flashpoints of the Boko Haram, but nothing has been done to that effect."
Governor Zulum said this while visiting the scene where Boko Haram gunmen had attacked and massacred many travellers that were stranded outside the military entrance city gate outside Maiduguri, usually locked at 6p.m.
PREMIUM TIMES had earlier reported that at least 20 persons died in the deadly attack on Auno, a village 25 kilometers away from the main town of Maiduguri, the state capital.
A troop's commander who was with the governor during his visit to the scene of the attacked tried to argue that soldiers were on ground in Auno, but the governor rebuffed him that "no you were not here."
"Please we are not here to fight or argue; the fact is that nobody was here," the governor insisted.
"There were no soldiers here; they have all withdrawn. We are not being confrontational or undermining the capacity of the Nigerian military, but the fact is that we have made several attempts for the Nigeria military to establish their unit in Auno but nothing was done.
"As soon as it is 5 o'clock and they closed up their gate, they abandon the people and move over to Maiduguri. You have to tell us if you are willing to establish your unit in Auno or not.
"If you are not willing to ask your soldiers to relocate and establish their unit in Auno so that the people here can return and live their normal lives, you can tell us, so that we can know what to do as government," he said.
The governor confirmed that many lives were lost in the attack.
"Look at it, for God's sake, more than 30 lives were lost here in Auno," he said.
Addressing the military commander, the governor said, "if you doubt what I am saying, can you count them by yourself?"
The governor said the Auno attack was forewarned.
"Information was circulated and we got a security report from DSS that Jakana can be attacked, and they came and attacked as predicted, " he said.
"This is sad because the Borno State University is not more than 8km from here; which means this is an attack on Maiduguri town. So if you cannot protect Maiduguri, then what happens to the rest of us in the city?
"Kindly move your soldiers here at the entrance gate of Maiduguri back ahead of Auno. This gate is a major problem for us; remove it and take it backward."
The governor however pleaded with the people of Auno and the entire Maiduguri to "remain law-abiding and nobody should take law into his hands."
Theater Command reacts
Reacting to the governor's accusation, the Theatre Commander, Olusegun Adeniyi, blamed the attack that led to the massacre on travellers who disobey the 5p.m. highway curfew between Maiduguri and Damaturu, the capital of Yobe state.
Mr Adeniyi, a major general, said the incident would not have happened if the travellers respected military directive, which bans plying of the road from Benishek, a local government headquarters to Maiduguri, after 5p.m.
"It was reported and it was confirmed that the Boko Haram came on motorcycles to carry out the attack," he said.
"They came and packed their motorcycles in Auno village and attacked vehicles of transporters, not people of Auno, but vehicles of transporters that were parked in the village. Let me express my profound sadness at this Boko Haram attack. It is disturbing; it is wicked and I pray such would not happen again."
While promising that the troops under his command were "going to do more to ensure incidences like this become a thing of the past", Mr Adeniyi called on all to support the military and make the Damaturu-Maiduguri safe.
"And we will not be able to achieve our objectives until people realize that there is a counter-insurgency operation being conducted throughout the Northeast. So as a result of the dastardly activities of the Boko Haram, certain measures have to be taken to safeguard lives and property. And the military is conducting intense counterinsurgency, which makes us to work 24 hours a day, especially on Road Maiduguri-Damaturu," he said.
"By the day we are busy securing the Maiduguri-Damaturu road ensuring that commuters were able to move, and the road has been safe since and that's why since the last attack the road has remain safe; and by night we go after these Boko haram that are actually coming to attack people in their communities.
"The army usually carry its night attack and ambushes on Boko Haram with the understanding that the road has been closed to commuters and there are no vehicles on the road. And the incident of yesterday was still surprising and we must examined it; if that road is really safe. If you know that this road closes by 5 o'clock, from either Maiduguri or Damaturu side, then why are you plying it at about 3p.m? You will find out that there were about 200 vehicles lined up in Auno, in Jakana, in Mainok, in Ngamdu and even in Kukareta.
"Many times they would even be seen insisting that the soldiers should open the roads for them to get to either Damaturu or Maiduguri. It is not safe to be lining up such a large number of vehicles in this village especially knowing the wicked intentions of Boko Haram.
"If you are going to ply the Damaturu-Maiduguri road, for a slow car, make sure you are on that road by 3 o'clock in the afternoon so that you can clear off before 5 o'clock. And if you are driving a big truck, make sure you have started your journey around 12 or 1pm so that within 5 hours you have cleared all the road. The public must understand the soldiers expected to go on night patrols in the bushes cannot again be drawn to the road to protect vehicles of people that refused to obey the law; they refused to obey rules and regulation. Nigerians have to look into this matter critically. Soldiers shouldn't be diverted from their night operations to go and protect vehicles of people that found themselves where they were not supposed to be. That road closes by 5p.m. You cannot be on the road that has been closed to prevent Boko Haram movement; now that they cannot move, they came to set the place on fire.
"The press should help me to communicate to the public, this is an appeal that we don't want to see vehicles plying that road once it is 5 o'clock. Or would we deny that these are trouble areas?"
President Muhammadu Buhari has commiserated with families of victims of the attack, saying that his administration will "continually frustrate the devilish operations of Boko Haram, and bring it to an end."
According to presidential spokesperson Garba Shehu, Mr Buhari condemns the "murderous and cowardly attack on innocent passengers by the Boko Haram terrorists near Maiduguri", adding: "this administration is ever determined to frustrate their goal to hold Nigeria to ransom". "The commitment of this administration to protect the lives of Nigerians will not be derailed by the cowardly and indiscriminate violence against innocent people by Boko Haram terrorists."
Mr Buhari said "that terrorists are clearly on a back foot and their days are numbered".
"As our armed forces continue to receive more hardware and intelligence to counter our current security challenges, the remnants of Boko Haram will ultimately be crushed. The peculiar challenges of asymmetric warfare notwithstanding, our armed forces are ever determined to defeat these enemies of humanity," he said.