Boko Haram fighters have seized two more towns in the Northeast, as the battle to reclaim Bama, Borno State’s second largest town, raged yesterday.
Another Borno town Banki, on the border with Camroon, has been taken by the sect, whose men also “strolled” into neighbouring Yobe State town of Bara, capital of Gulani Local Government Area.
The capture of Bara makes it the second local government capital to be taken by the sect in Yobe, following last month’s capture of Gujba.
Gwoza, another Borno town, had earlier been taken by the sect, whose fighters sacked the Police Academy near the hilly town, where sect leader Abubakar Shekau declared as “Islamic Caliphate”.
Residents who fled Bara, the Gulani Council headquarters, said the insurgents took over the council secretariat and the local Government Lodge.
“The boys entered the town yesterday in the afternoon with Hilux vans and motorcycles, preaching in different places.
“They went to the Government Lodge and the Local Government Secretariat complex which they are now occupying. People were afraid but they kept on announcing that they only came to do the work of Allah(God) but not to kill anybody.
“They were preaching that people should leave their government work and join them in working for Allah,” Ibrahim, who fled Bara last night, said.
Member representing Gulani in the House of Assembly, Hon. Abdullahi Kukuwa, confirmed the takeover of his local government by the insurgents.
“As I speak with you now, my local government has been taken over by these boys. They are doing what they want. It is very unfortunate that government is not taking drastic action over this matter,” Kukuwa said.
Residents said the sect members were preaching across towns and villages in the two local government areas without hindrance from security operatives who have long vacated the areas.
Reports indicate that the insurgents freely gathered locals of Goneri, Ambiya, Buni-Yadi, Gujba and Buni-Gari under Gujba Council Area as well as Kukuwa Gari, Bularafa, Bumsa and Bara of Gulani Local Government Area, preaching their ideology and soliciting for followers.
“The boys (Boko Haram insurgents) often move from town to town and gather the people for open preaching asking for the support of the people in joining the group, which is aimed at instituting Shariah legal system in the region,” a resident added.
He said though the insurgents allow people to ask questions, people were always careful not to ask “provoking questions” in order not to attract death sentence.
“They give time for questions but nobody asks why they are killing or kidnapping people because everyone is afraid to die as such a question may provoke them,” he said.
On the attack on Gulani, Abubakar(not real name) explained: “When they realised that people were panicky, they went to the Ward Head’s house and registered their arrival, telling him that their coming was just to preach and not to harm anyone. The insurgents called the early morning prayers, led the prayers and preached for over an hour before going back to the Government Lodge where they camp.”
Speaking on their mode of dressing, the residents said the sect members are usually dressed in half military uniforms, armed with guns on their shoulders, driving freely in Hilux vans and motorcycles.
Gulani and Gujba have been cut off from state capital Damaturu following the blowing off of the Katarko Bridge by the insurgents last month.
The BBC yesterday reported the capture of Banki, which borders Cameroon, after government troops left, quoting residents.
The military was yet to comment on the latest towns to reportedly fall to the insurgents in recent weeks.
Fears have been raised that their main target is Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
Residents from Banki said government troops abandoned their posts as the militants advanced on the small border town on Tuesday.
Most of the people remaining in the town were women and children, as many of the men had fled, one man who was hiding in the bush told the BBC Hausa service.
The militants have not harmed anyone in the town, residents said.
Cameroon’s army also said that Boko Haram militants crossed into Cameroonian territory on Monday night.
The militants were pushed back after a three-hour battle, it said in a statement.
About 40 militants were killed and an army corporal was seriously wounded in the fighting, it added.
Boko Haram’s five-year insurgency has intensified in recent months despite the deployment of thousands of extra troops to the worst-affected areas.
The military has denied that Nigeria’s territorial integrity is threatened.
The United Nations (UN) refugee agency said thousands of refugees are fleeing northeastern Nigeria into Cameroon to escape Boko Haram fighters pursuing a new strategy to hold territory they are calling an Islamic caliphate.
Spokeswoman Helene Caux said Cameroonians also are abandoning their homes since the Islamic extremists last week began attacking villages inside Cameroon. They slit the throats of three people in a Cameroonian Catholic church. It appears to be a new tactic for Boko Haram, which previously had only kidnapped Cameroon citizens for ransom.
Caux said yesterday that more than 10,000 Nigerians have fled into Cameroon and Niger since last week.
The most recent influx came in from Bama.[The Nation]