There appears to be a shift in the insurgency war between the military and Boko Haram insurgents in the North-East, as the latter now seem to be under heat for the first time since the terrorists started their destructive campaign in 2009.
This came as Zamfara State governor, Mohammed Bello Matawalle, weekend, warned emirs, Fulani leaders and stakeholders in the state to be vigilant and never allow the security currently being enjoyed in the state to be threatened.
His warning came as a result of last Wednesday's killing of over 70 persons in Sokoto by bandits.
Prior to about two months ago, specifically between January and April, 2020, there had been series of coordinated Boko Haram attacks and closure of many roads in some parts of the North-East, especially the attacks and ambush on military formations, humanitarian hub in Gamboru Ngala, Auno, Buni Gari, Goniri, and Baga communities of Borno and Yobe states.
Unspecified number of soldiers, other security agencies, innocent civilians and even some of the terrorists lost their lives in those attacks.
This development forced relocation of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Yusuf Tukur Buratai, and other service chiefs to the theatre of operations on April 4, 2020.
However, with the relocation, there had been a remarkable improvement in the fight against the insurgents whose many hideouts in Sambisa forest and fringes of Lake Chad in Northern Borno had been neutralized.
Though no fewer than 90 residential houses, a church, clinic, nine shops, and other properties worth millions of naira were razed in Debiro,Tarfa and Dakwaima villages of Biu Local Government Area by the insurgents who invaded the communities recently, investigation revealed that lack of telecommunications network in the communities delayed first-hand information which made it impossible for the military to get at the attackers.
However, reliable sources said local hunters who repelled the attacks succeeded in killing three of the insurgents, while one resident sustained bullet wounds on his hand from the attackers, with no civilian death.
Aside from these attacks, there had been relative calm in the three North-Eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states affected by the insurgency, as there had been incessant bombings by suicide attackers and occupation of communities by terrorists.
Sources have attributed the relative peace witnessed in the region lately to the relocation of the Army chief from Abuja to the 7 Division/Operation Lafiya Dole headquarters, as well as fresh deployment of fighter jets which mostly respond promptly to any attacks in support of the ground troops.
Similarly, the renewed synergy that now exists among the military, Air Force, Police and other paramilitary agencies as well as the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) and vigilante/hunters has played a significant role in the military's capacity to deal with the Boko Haram insurgents.
North East govs' support
Our Correspondent gathered that the successes recorded by the military against the insurgents could also be attributed the support troops received from the governors from the North East sub-region, especially Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State and his counterpart from Borno, Professor Babagana Umar Zulum.
The support cuts across provision of logistics and other incentives to boost troops morale in the war front.
The Army chief, Buratai himself admitted the contributions of the governors, describing it as immeasurable.
The COAS said: "I want to use this opportunity to thank Your Excellency, most sincerely, for all your support to the Nigerian Army and other services, the Nigerian Air Force, as well as the Theatre of Operation Lafiya Dole. Your support is quite immeasurable. We appreciate it and this has really made us to improve on our operations."
In his response, Governor Zulum assured the military of his continued commitment in the fight against insurgency.
Zulum also pointed out that he had always kept faith in the Nigerian military, stressing that despite some misunderstandings, his heart had always been with the military.
The governor said Buratai's presence in the theater of war in the last two months had added so much value to the ongoing counter-insurgency operation in the region.
He said: "Within the last two months, we have been witnessing a gradual return of peace, we are optimistic that the Nigerian military can contain the situation. Government of Borno State will do everything possible to support the Nigerian military."
Recall that Governor Zulum had for much of last year, been at loggerheads with the military hierarchy over the inability of troops to contain Boko Haram insurgents.
It was learned that since April 4, 2020, the Army chief had toured operational units and battalions in the region, giving words of encouragement to soldiers to keep up with the tempo to defeat the terrorists.
He visited the Special Super Camp, Ngamdu, in Kaga Local Government Area of Borno State, Super Camp 1, Molai, Special Forces Super Camp 12, Chabbol, near Maiduguri, and the Forward Operations Base, Alau Dam, where he personally led the troops on patrol round Mairimari and Maigilari forests.
Buratai also ensured that additional military hardware and platforms were deployed to the theatre, with prompt payment of welfare and allowances to boost the morale of soldiers.
'Buratai's presence boosted troops' morale'
According to a retired security expert who granted an interview to our correspondent, but did not want his name in print for security reasons, the successes recorded against the insurgents can be attributed to the presence of Buratai and his principal officers in the war front, as they had been giving additional military hardwares and new strategies to complement the existing ones at hand.
One of the soldiers at the frontline who is not authorized to talk to the press, also attributed one of the factors to Buratai's commitment in leading the war, overseeing and directing the overall operations in the theatre and other Nigerian Army operations across the region.
Investigation revealed that the initiation of Operation Safe Corridor for any repentant terrorist to be trained, empowered and reintegrated into the society has also played a significant role, as many of the terrorists laid down their arms and surrendered to troops during recent military onslaughts.
Another security expert based in Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, who spoke on grounds of anonymity, said: "Regular/ongoing manufacture and repairs/overhaul of combat vehicles, including Armoured Personnel Carriers and mine-resistant anti-Ambush Protected Vehicles by Buratai and his troops at frontline contributed to winning the war in recent time."
The security expert also pointed out that the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemiç which resulted in total lockdown and restriction of movement in the North-East made it easier for troops to descend on terrorists hideouts to eliminate a substantial number of them, coupled with the renewed zeal and gallantry effort of troops who took the war to the terrorists' doorsteps.
A top Boko Haram commander testified to the onslaught of the military against his men, and defected with his wife and child to a secret location manned by the Multinational Joint Task Force, MNJTF.
According to Colonel Timothy Antigha, Chief of Military Public Information for MNJTF, the defector voluntarily denounced the terrorists groups and surrendered.
The defector disclosed that he joined Boko Haram in 2015 and took part in terrorist operations in Arege, Kangarwa, Metele and Mallam Fatori, adding that he decided to surrender following intense bombing of the terrorists' positions by the military Task Force.
"Constant artillery and air bombardments have greatly affected our plans and dampened our morale. More fighters are ready to surrender, but they are uncertain of what fate awaits them. I am not sure if our spiritual direction is correct," the defecting Boko Haram commander said.
In March this year, a group of Boko Haram terrorists surrendered in Sector Four in Diffa, Niger Republic, while at the same time, some terrorists also surrendered to troops of Sector One in Mora, Cameroon and are currently being rehabilitated.
Also reacting to the present state of affairs in the North-East, Governor Mai-Mala Buni of Yobe State acknowledged the successes recorded against the insurgents, and commended the interim relocation of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, and other top military officers to the region in a renewed operation to clear the menace of insurgency in the region.
Buni described the presence of the Chief of Army Staff and his officers in the frontline states of the North-East as motivation to officers and men in the battle field who now fight with vigour, confidence and resilience.
He commended the President and Commander-in-chief of the Nigerian Armed forces, Muhammadu Buhari, for his continued support which contributed to the current successes being recorded by the military in the anti-insurgency war.
The governor called on the people of the state to remain vigilant and volunteer timely information on any suspicious movement and persons in their communities.
Matawalle warns emirs, Fulani leaders, others against bandits' attacks
Meanwhile, Governor Mohammed Bello Matawalle of Zamfara State has warned Emirs, Fulani leaders and stakeholders in Gusau to be vigilant and never allow the security currently being enjoyed in the state to be threatened.
He gave the warning against the backdrop of the killing over 70 persons in Sokoto by bandits last week.
According to him, the bandits should not be allowed to move into the state to wreak the kind of havoc they caused in Sokoto
The governor, according to a statement signed by Zailani Bappa, his Special Adviser on Public Enlightenment, Media and Communications, gave the warning when he summoned a stakeholders meeting at Government House in Gusau.
"Governor Matawalle wondered why some stakeholders who have earlier allowed peace to reign in the state are allowing themselves to slide back into criminality in some parts of the state," Gusau said.
He said the governor has vowed that his government would never tolerate such a situation.
'Already, the state government has stepped up its fight against banditry as it continues to escalate in neighbouring states, especially Katsina and Sokoto.
"This past one week, two squadrons of the Nigeria Police were established in the state, while 200 Hilux vans purchased by his administration for the fight against banditry by the security operatives have arrived the state.
"Governor Matawalle commended the Federal Government for launching a special military operation that will cover the entire states of the North-West and promised the total support of his administration to this effort," Gusau said.
The meeting which had in attendance all the traditional rulers, security chiefs, leaders of Fulani groups in the state and vigilante leaders and those of 'Yan Sa Kai, was held behind closed doors.
Governor Matawalle however, warned that the meeting was the final stage at arresting the impending threat to the current peace in the state.
He, therefore, reiterated government's commitment to deal decisively with individuals or group attempting to draw the hands of the clock backward.
President Muhammadu Buhari had last Thursday, ordered a firece military operation against bandits in Sokoto State, following last Wednesday's attacks in Sabon Local Government Area which left many dead and others injured.
"As the world and Nigeria battle coronavirus pandemic, it is tragic and unfortunate that bandits have remained active in parts of the country, killing innocent people and throwing families into despair.
"We will not abandon you to your fate because we are determined to bring these murderers to their knees and crush them totally," the President had said in a statement by his media aide, Garba Shehu.