SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)- Lacking confidence in government military forces, hundreds of people are fleeing Nigeria’s northeast state capital of Maiduguri as Islamic extremists close in, residents said Friday.
One prominent resident said soldiers have been moving their own families from Maiduguri since Tuesday, the day after the insurgents mounted an attack on Bama, the second largest city in Borno state. Fleeing Bama residents said the attackers warned their next target is Maiduguri.
Bodies littered the streets of Bama, where air force jets on Wednesday blew up the armoury of the military barracks to prevent the rebels from getting their hands on the weaponry, said Hussain Monguno, a leader of the civic Borno-Yobe People’s Forum.
Boko Haram has in recent weeks been seizing more towns and controls a large swath of the extreme northeast of Africa’s most populous country in a new strategy to form an “Islamic caliphate,” mimicking the Islamic State group. At the same time, it has begun attacking villages in neighbouring Cameroon.
Nigeria’s military appears incapable of responding to the aggressive land grab by the insurgents who attracted international attention with their April kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls who remain captive.
Monguno said vigilantes who fled Bama told him the city of about 200,000 people has been overrun by Boko Haram and that the fighters are killing any men who venture out. The insurgents were largely sparing women and children but killing any men they found and kidnapping some teenage boys, he said.
Monguno said the military insists that its troops are holding Bama, but that Senator Ahmed Zanna has challenged soldiers to take journalists into the city to prove that claim.
A civilian close to the military said the soldiers on Friday were in Konduga, a town 30 kilometres from Bama, but were refusing to advance to engage militants in the city. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the army.
The vigilantes also have reported that the extremists on Tuesday took the towns of Bara and Banki, southwest of Maiduguri in neighbouring Yobe state.
Boko Haram fighters have attacked the main military barracks and an air force base in Maiduguri in the past, and sent suicide bombers who killed scores of people.
More than 100 Nigerian soldiers abandoned the battle for Bama and fled across the border into Cameroon, a Western worker there told The Associated Press on Thursday, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. Last week, nearly 500 soldiers fled another border town fight and crossed into Cameroon, according to Cameroonian officials who helped repatriate the troops.
The U.S. assistant secretary for African affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said Thursday the United States is preparing to launch a major border security program for Nigeria and its neighbours.
“We are very troubled by the apparent capture of Bama and the prospects for an attack on and in Maiduguri,” she said Thursday at a high-level meeting with Nigerian officials in Abuja, the capital.
Some 26,500 residents have fled Bama to Maiduguri this week, the Nigerian Emergency Management Agency said, joining nearly 12,000 who fled Gwoza when it was taken by Boko Haram two weeks ago. The U.N. refugee agency says nearly 650,000 Nigerians have been forced from their homes by the insurgency and are displaced inside the country, with tens of thousands more sheltering in neighbouring countries. Many refugees are not counted because they have been taken in by family and friends, and human rights and aid workers estimate more than 1.5 million are affected.