• Military kills 25 insurgents in Damboa
Jaiyeola Andrews, Senator Iroegbu, Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja and Michael Olugbode in Maiduguri
There are indications that the federal government’s negotiating team has departed for N’djamena, the Chadian capital, for the planned negotiations with Boko Haram Islamic sect.
Top on the agenda, said a presidency source, is securing the release of the over 200 Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko Haram over six months ago and cessation of hostilities.
The Principal Secretary to the President, Ambassador Hassan Tukur, and Director-General of the National Orientation Agency, Mike Omeri, had confirmed at the weekend that further negotiations with the sect would start this week.
This was after the federal government and the military had announced last week that they had reached a ceasefire accord with the terrorist sect.
The talks between the federal government and the sect, which were brokered by the Chadian President, Idriss Derby, and involves Cameroun, resulted in the declaration of the ceasefire.
But since its declaration last Friday, suspected cells of the sect have launched a series of attacks on Borno and Adamawa communities in the North-east, the latest being in Damboa where 25 members of Boko Haram were killed by Nigerian troops on Sunday.
“The federal government is sticking to the ceasefire agreement despite the efforts of some mischievous elements to derail the plan. We can only determine if there is need to cancel the agreement or go on with the negotiations when we meet the sect. But we cannot just take a hasty decision based on sporadic attacks whose sources or actors have not been verified,” the source in the presidency said.
He further confirmed that a team from the federal government had left for Chad to hold negotiations with the sect, but declined to disclose the names of the government officials or the government’s representatives on the team.
However, THISDAY gathered that former Borno State Governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, who is a close friend of Derby, might be part of the team as he was seen at the Presidential Villa yesterday waiting to meet with President Goodluck Jonathan.
When he was approached by State House correspondents, he declined to speak on his meeting with the president and moved hurriedly to the Office of the Chief of Staff where he joined a former military administrator of Borno State, Brig-Gen. Buba Marwa.
Sheriff was in Ndjamena on September 8 when Jonathan met with his Chadian counterpart to discuss ways of ending the Boko Haram menace.
There was outrage in the country following the publication of photographs that suggested that Sheriff, who had been accused of being one of the sponsors of Boko Haram, was present at the meeting.
Troops Kill 25 Insurgents
Despite the ceasefire, the Nigerian military has awoken to the reality that the suspension of hostilities declared last week with the deadly Boko Haram sect has already come under threat, resulting in the killing of 25 insurgents who attempted to recapture Damboa town in the troubled Borno State on Sunday evening.
Damboa was for several days under the control of the insurgents before they were chased out by Nigerian troops who engaged them in a deadly battle.
The town is 85 kilometres away from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, and shares a border with Sambisa forest where Boko Haram has its largest training camp.
A military source, who spoke to journalists in Maiduguri on Monday, said the insurgents tried to “reclaim the town but the military could not just stand by and allow this to happen, so we engaged them in the crossfire”.
This latest confrontation further spreads doubts over the ceasefire reached with the insurgents who went on the offensive in both Borno and Adamawa States hours after the federal government announced the ceasefire.
A member of the local vigilante group in Maiduguri, Mohammed Sani told THISDAY on the phone that the insurgents invaded the already deserted Damboa at about 5 pm on Sunday.
He said some of the vigilantes stationed in Damboa called to tell them that there was an attack on the town, but they were pushed back.
Sani said: “Some of our foot soldiers in Damboa had informed us early this morning that the attack was repelled and more than two dozens of the insurgents were killed.”
He said he was told that the gunmen came from the direction of Sambisa forest, drove in several pickup vans and some military-like armoured personnel carriers.
“They engaged the military in a massive shootout for a few hours where not less than 25 of them were killed, and they were forced to retreat to the direction they came from,” he said.
A security agent, who also asked not to be named while confirming the incident, said: “There was an attack on Damboa on Sunday evening but the soldiers were able to effectively repel the terrorists and killed 25 of them during the heavy shootout.
“The soldiers were able to recover a lot of ammunition including a Buffalo armoured personnel carrier which the terrorists had to abandon in the heat of confrontation.”
Military Adopts New Strategy
In a related development, the Nigerian military has reactivated its alert level in order not to allow what it has described as criminal elements or disgruntled terrorist cells taking advantage of the ceasefire to wreak havoc on the North-east or seize territories.
According to a security source, the military rather than being on the offensive in violation of the ceasefire agreement has adopted a self-defence strategy aimed at protecting lives and properties of Nigerian citizens as well as defending the territorial integrity of the country.
The source also revealed that the military has come under tremendous pressure from the government to refrain from going on the offensive against the perpetrators of the recent attacks in Borno and Adamawa, even though there have been adequate response and return of fire when troops came under attack.
“The self-defence strategy the military has adopted is not just defending themselves but also defending Nigeria’s territory. The ceasefire is not about ceasing fire when an enemy is invading your territory or killing your citizens and you keep quiet. No, it is not done that way.
“There is also enormous pressure on the military from the political class for restraint in the face of provocation by some criminal elements acting as Boko Haram members or those trying to truncate the ceasefire agreement. However, this does not mean that military should not defend themselves, the Nigerian territory and its citizens,” the source said.
The new approach was also supported by a security analyst and former Director in the Department of State Security Service (DSS), Mr. Mike Ejiofor, who said the federal government and military should ensure that the country’s territorial integrity is preserved.
“I think despite the need to sustain the ceasefire agreement, the position of the federal government and in fact that of the military is that the country’s territory must be defended if or when attacked,” Ejiofor said.
Meanwhile, the outgoing Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, has commended the president on the ceasefire agreement reached with the Boko Haram sect, saying it is better to have peace than war.
Obanikoro stated this on Monday in Abuja while inspecting the quarter guard as part of his send-off ceremony.
According to him, Nigeria as a nation was making progress from a nation of “anything goes to a nation where we are bringing about stability”, stressing that the way the problem of militancy in the Niger Delta was conquered, in the same vein, the issue of Boko Haram would also be a thing of the past.
He said: “We came in at a very difficult time for the country and I thank God we have been able to strongly put in very hard work to ensure that value is added to what we met on the ground, and some of the successes that we have seen in terms of stability in the country is part of the contribution that we have made as the Ministry of Defence family.”
He added, however, that “funding will always be a challenge, but with the commitment and the effort we have put in so far with Mr. President at the helm of affairs, we are making progress from a nation of anything goes to a nation where we are bringing about stability”.
Speaking further on the ceasefire agreement with the sect, Obanikoro remarked: “I am excited. You know that things like this do not come easy… A lot of sleepless nights have gone into it.
“We must salute Mr. President for the courage and the conviction that we must have peace than to have war and also all the presidential lieutenants who have also assisted in facilitating the process that we are about to get into.”
The minister stressed further that he was gunning for the governorship of Lagos to liberate the state, saying: “Lagos is under bondage. The liberation of Lagos I will liken it to General (Yakubu) Gowon’s speech that it is a task that must be done.
“I am a Lagosian and I am committed to the liberation of Lagos. The commercialisation of governance is something we must put an end to.”