June 9, 2013 – Boko Haram Members Camp Ground, Attack (Command) Base Exposed By Nigerian Soldiers
When Brig. Gen. Christopher Olukolade, Director of Defense Information, Defense Headquarters led a crop of foreign and local journalists on assessment tour of military special operations against the Boko Haram sect in Borno last Wednesday, expectations were high among media men that they might at last visit the famous Sambisa forest, identified as a major operational base/camp of the sect. The journey rather turned to be northward of the state specifically Marte, a small community at the Nigeria-Chad border where the insurgents had not only established their camp but also sacked the local government administration and hoisted their red flag.
The journey which started from Maiduguri through some major towns like Mafa, Dikwa, Kwaga Ala in the central part of the state ended at New Marte. New Marte which is located about 20 kilometres from Old Marte came into being as a result of the establishment of the Chad Basin Development Authority (CBDA) in the mid ‘70s by the Federal Government for the development of agriculture in the area. Office and residential accommodation as well as recreational centres were built for the officials of the basin by the then military government, leading to an upsurge in commercial and social activities in the area. Both the workers at the basin and their host communities co-existed peacefully. Even when the Chad Basin agricultural programme was abandoned for several years, the people still enjoyed their quiet, rustic life until Boko Haram moved its operational base near them. Things began to fall apart and gradually a people known for communal life was enveloped in fear as villagers withdraw to their houses at midday.
Marte is bordered on the southern part by Mafa and Dikwa local governments, Ngala Local Government by the east and Monguno Local Government by the west while substantial part of its northern fringe bursts into Chad Republic.
Reputed for its Sahel vegetation with many shrubby plants, Marte provides fertile land for the growth of grains and wheat. Its closeness to Lake Chad encourages farming activities by the Chad Basin Development Authority as well as the residents. Ironically, Marte has lost its serenity and its agricultural potentials for about six months now and rather than witnessing planting of grains and other crops, the people only see bullets, pellets, shells, cannonballs and cartridges of the Boko Haram sect and later armored tanks and other hardware by the military task force. Its communal life was disorganized by the rampaging insurgents while the innocence of its girls, mostly teenagers( 13 or below), was terminated through forcible marriages , military forces and villagers alleged. “We were strangulated,” Mohammad Walkore, a resident summed it up.
He said many of the residents were chased out of their houses by the insurgents, adding that they only returned when the territory was recaptured by the special military task force. “Most of the insurgents had been here for long. They had snatched more than ten vehicles and animals. May be we may go back to our farms now that soldiers are around because we were afraid to go to our farms,” Alhaji Kalgo said at Kirenowa, headquarters of Marte Local Government while expressing their joy about the gradual return of normalcy in the area. Another resident, Ibrahim Garba disclosed that countless marriages had taken place before the arrival of the military forces, adding that it was a lawless community until relief came their way.
Life at the sect camp
One of the camps at Leshe is a few kilometres away from New Marte. The camp which is tucked between the desert prone area and greenish shrubs occupied a large portion of land though most of the camp activities of the sect were believed to have taken place within a small portion of the camp. The shrubs, according to military sources provide shades and hideout for the insurgents. ‘With these shrubs, nobody would know anybody was here, they will even be difficult to detect from aerial patrol,” the source said.
At one end of the camp is a makeshift clinic for the sect members under a tree with a cloth ‘roofing’ suspended on it. Medication, condoms and used clothes were scattered on the ground, a reminder of the look of Kanama camp of the self-styled Taliban group in Yobe after they were dislodged by the then Col K.A.S Yahaya-led special military force in 2002.
There were also burnt vehicles at the camp.
Commander in charge of Combat C at New Marte, Lt Col Gabriel Olufemi told journalists that Boko Haram had hoisted its flags up to Kirenowa, Headquarters of Marte Local Government after it vandalized public buildings including a Chad Basin workshop, local government secretariat and hospital among others. He said the sect’s red flags have been removed, adding that the Nigerian flag has been hoisted in the area, an indication that the military troops had reclaimed the area from the grip of the insurgents .
He said the troops dislodged the insurgents but did not give any details about the number killed or arrested. He said some abandoned the camps at Marte and Mafa and scattered, adding that many of them were eventually apprehended. He stated that the military troops intensified patrol of the area and has established “enabling environment” for the police to return. He also disclosed that the district head and the Mai of Marte have resumed work.
Can Boko Haram re-group?
Curious journalists were quick to ask about the possibility of the insurgents regrouping around the area especially with the nature of the environment and its closeness to Nigeria’s border but the military authority seems not to have an answer to the poser, at least for now. Olufemi said “he does not think the Boko Haram sect is regrouping” after dislodging them from Marte and its environs. But when reminded of the sect’s first uprising in July 2009 in the state, he said “we learn lessons after every assignment.” He said troops had re-filled many pits dug by insurgents to cut off communities . He also alleged that electrical poles and cables had been vandalized by the sect adding that the church, a police station and telecommunication mast were burnt also. Residents said they discovered a wide gap between what the Boko Haram were saying and what they are doing.
Defense spokesman, Brig Gen Olukolade said members of the sect that died in the military offensive at the camp could be difficult to ascertain judging from the mode of operation of the sect. “About 100 of them may have died but we couldn’t count the exact number because Boko Haram men have the tradition of fleeing with their dead and injured persons,” he said. Military sources had earlier hinted that some of the sect members had fled into neighboring communities with few of their injured colleagues and the dead as the military forces intensified the offensive against their camps.
At the Bilingual Tsangaya Boarding School, there’s another operational headquarters of the special military task force at Kirenowa headquarters of Marte Local Government (Combat I) led by Lt Col D.R Hassan and charged with the responsibility of recapturing Kirenowa and Hausari camps. Close to the Boko Haram camp is a canal which believably shields away the camp from ‘intruders.’ “The Kirenowa and Hausari camps are strategically located. On May 16, we had an encounter with them. They put up lots of resistance but we dislodged them. They’re good at taking away their injured or dead colleagues,” the military officer explained.
Village Head of Kirenowa, Sheikh Jarma said he was elated with the coming of military troops but appealed to the Federal Government to provide food and drugs for the communities. He said most of the people have been chased out of their farms by the sect, a development which he said has adversely affected farming activities and may affect food production this year.
[Report by Sunday Sun]