LEADER of the terrorist Islamic sect, Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, has re-designated Gwoza town that was seized by his men last Thursday as an Islamic caliphate.
Shekau announced the declaration that Gwoza had become an Islamic caliphate in a video obtained by the Agence France-Press on Sunday.
The terrorist also vowed that his group would not leave the town.
“Thanks be to Allah who gave victory to our brethren in the town of Gwoza and made it part of the Islamic caliphate. By the grace of Allah, we will not leave the town. We have come to stay,” Shekau said in the 52-minute video.
In a July video, Shekau had voiced support for the leader of the Islamic State militants, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who in late June declared himself “the caliph” and “leader of Muslims everywhere.”
The AFP report however said it was not clear if Shekau was declaring himself to be a part of Baghdadi’s call or if he was referring to a separate Nigerian caliphate.
In the 19th century, a Sokoto caliphate was proclaimed across most of the modern day northern Nigeria and was considered separate from other Islamic kingdoms, such as the Ottoman Empire.
There was no indication that Shekau was actually in Gwoza for the filming and his whereabouts remained unknown but he vowed that his fighters would keep control of the area.
The United Nations humanitarian office had earlier in the month confirmed reports that Gwoza was under rebel control.
Boko Haram is also believed to be in control of other areas near Gwoza in southern Borno, as well as large swathes of territory in northern Borno and at least one town in neighbouring Yobe State.
Experts have described Boko Haram’s gains in recent weeks as unprecedented, saying the group was closer than ever to achieving its goal of carving out a strict Islamic state across northern Nigeria.
A major military offensive at the onset of the emergency rule in May last year appeared to put the militants on the defensive, flushing them out of their strongholds.
But critics say top brass failed to sustain the pressure and allowed the Islamists to retake some of the areas they had abandoned.
In an apparent mutiny, some troops rejected deployment in Gwoza last week because of lack of adequate weapons.
Show of power
After Shekau’s speech and in demonstrating their being in control of Gwoza, insurgents were seen, in the video, atop pick-up trucks firing rocket-propelled grenades and other heavily armed insurgents firing weapons as they walk calmly along the road.
The footage appears to show them taking over a military base, stealing weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition as well as fuel cans.
In one frame, a fighter stands on top of a tank, waving the Islamists’ black flag.
The AFP reports that the end of the video depicted scenes of grisly executions, similar to those released by IS in recent weeks.
In one scene, about 20 men in civilian clothing are shown with their hands tied behind their backs and lying by the roadside before they are shot at close range.
A second scene shows two men, whom Shekau said disguised themselves as women to escape the town, beaten to death with shovels. Two others similarly dressed are shot beside what appears to be a trench full of bodies.
Military denies takeover
The military authorities meanwhile have debunked the claim by Shekau that he had declared Gwoza the seat of a new caliphate in the North-East.
The Director of Defence Information, Maj. Gen Chris Olukolade, said in the Defence Headquarters Twitter handle twitter.com/DefenceInfoNG that the military would not allow any part of the country to be ceded to the insurgents.
Olukolade described the declaration by Shekau as empty, insisting that the territorial integrity of Nigeria was intact.
He said that a military operation to retake Gwoza was underway.
He said, “The claim is empty. The sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Nigerian state is still intact.
“Any group of terrorists laying claim to any portion of the country will not be allowed to get away with the expression of delusion and crime.
“Appropriate military operations to secure that area from the activities of the bandits are still ongoing.”
Insurgents seize 200 rifles
Meanwhile, investigations have revealed that 200 AK 47 assault rifles belonging to the police were carted away by the Boko Haram insurgents, who attacked the Police Academy in Gwoza last Wednesday.
About 159 of the guns were seized from men of the three mobile police units— Mopol 50, Abuja; Mopol 38 and Mopol 58 based in Akwanga, and Lafia respectively, who were undergoing training at the academy.
It was learnt that the authorities resumed the suspended training with the batch of 159 personnel from the Police Mobile Force only for them to be attacked a week into the exercise.
Fifty-three policemen were drafted from each of the three mobile police formations, thereby bringing the total number to 159 aside from those on the ground.
Before the attack on the police academy, the riot policemen, investigations further revealed, had been instructed to keep all their arms in the armoury hence the insurgents did not encounter any strong resistance.
The policemen reportedly fled for their lives in view of no arm to confront the terrorists.
A security source said that the arms and ammunition, which the mobile policemen submitted at the armoury included AK 47 assault rifles.
A Unit Commander, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, who is from the South-South zone (name withheld, was said to be among the policemen missing after the attack on Gwoza.
The missing commander was part of the Mopol 58 team from Lafia.
The source said, “A total of 159 personnel were taken to the training academy for this exercise, which had been put on hold for a long time.
“Surprisingly, they were attacked on Wednesday, about a week after their resumption for the training in Gwoza.
“The policemen were taken from Mopol 50, Abuja, Mopol 38, Akwanga and Mopol 58, Lafia, Nasarawa State.
“On that Wednesday, when they were attacked, the training was going on and they were directed to keep all their guns at the armoury.
“It was during this period that the insurgents came from different directions, cut the men off from the Armoury.
“Under that circumstance, what do you expect the boys to do? They had to flee the academy to save their lives.
“As of today, we have not seen one of our units; also the Commander of one of the unit is still missing. He is an Assistant Superintendent of Police.”
One of our correspondents learnt that the insurgents were still in firm control of the Police Academy as of Sunday.
Investigations revealed that Special Forces were being mobilised to retake the police academy on Sunday.
A security source said that troops were already on their way to Gwoza to address the issue.
Tension in Nasarawa
There was anxiety in Nasarawa State on Sunday over the missing policemen of Mopol 58, Lafia; and Mopol 38, Akwanga.
Some of the survivors of the attack on Gwoza, who found their way back to the state, said a few of their colleagues fled to Chad, Cameroon and the Niger Republic.
When one of our correspondents got to Mopol 58, along Lafia-Makurdi Road and 38 Squadron in Akwanga Local Government Area at 4pm on Saturday, he saw a police van that brought some policemen who escaped.
Some policemen were also seen in groups in the barracks and at the gate of Mopol 58 discussing the fate of their colleagues at Gwoza.
The attack at Gwoza, some of them said, invoked the memory of the Alakio episode in the Lafia Local Government Area where over 120 security operatives were murdered by suspected Ombatse militia cult.
One of the survivors, who spoke to The PUNCH and pleaded for anonymity, said they saw hell in the hands of the Boko Haram insurgents.
He said, “When we got to Gwoza, we were asked to drop our guns and go into the hall. When all of us were in the hall, Boko Haram came from nowhere and opened fire on us. I and others ran into the bush. We saw hell, I don’t know how I managed to escape.” he narrated.
Confirming the incident to The PUNCH on the telephone, the Commissioner of Police in Nasarawa State Command, Ibrahim Idris, said the policemen went for training in Borno State but that he did not have the knowledge of what actually took place in Gwoza.
The Force Public Relations Officer, Emmanuel Ojukwu, could not confirm the number of missing rifles.
He, however, noted that investigation to unearth the circumstances surrounding the attack was underway.
When asked if it was standard procedure for trainee policemen at the academy to be asked to drop their weapons, Ojukwu said he did not know if the riot policemen were ordered to drop their weapons.
He said that all standard procedures must have been complied with by the management of the academy.
I don’t know if the trainees were asked to drop their weapons, but I know that all standard procedures must have been complied with. But like I said, we have launched an investigation into the attack, so I don’t have much information in the situation right now,” he said.
Meanwhile, the police have denied that it planned to ask the military to secure its facilities.
They added that they were only collaborating with them to fight the insurgency in parts of the country.
Ojukwu said, “It is correct that the police are collaborating with other security agencies to provide adequate protection for our formations in the troubled parts of the Northeast sub-region.
“We are well able to discharge our constitutional and statutory responsibilities, and deliver quality service to the good people of Nigeria. The Nigeria Police is your helper and friend. Let us work together to reclaim the glory of our land.”