Boko haram insurgents infiltrated Gudumbali, a community in Guzamala Local Government of Borno state. Musa Umar Bologi visited the area and presents first-hand information from the residents, military in addition to his observations.
The night was gradually creeping in, but the residents of Gudumbali were still going about their dealings.
Some children sat in front of a mud thatched house, making drawings in the sand. Looking innocently with smiles on their faces they waved at passersby, as they continue with their play.
Some meters away were elders of the village seating on bare floor under a neem tree holding a meeting. Unlike the children, they wore sad looks, and their eyes were all fixed on an elderly man facing them. He is the leader of the returnees.
72-year-old Usman Kachala was dressed in a blue kaftan and a white cap. He hung a white cloth round his neck and sat facing other villagers as they converse in local dialect. He looked sad, but his voice was calm as he spoke.
“The terrorists come through the east end towards Damasak,” said Kachala, pointing towards the direction. “They came in large numbers at about 4pm when we were still in our market, and people ran for dear lives.
“Within the few hours that they stayed, they made life hell for us. We couldn’t move freely, and we had to keep our wives and children in hiding inside our houses….only men that are brave could move around at that time.
“We didn’t see any soldier around and there were no shootings. After at about two hours after they came, the terrorists started checking each houses and ransacked them of food and other items they felt was useful to them. They also collected all our money.
“They also went to the barrack and set it ablaze. …then after some hours again, at about 1am, they started withdrawing and ran into the bush. That was when we saw soldiers coming from different directions.
“I think because they heard that the soldiers were coming that was why they ran away… now we are free again and have put what had happened behind us.
“It was traumatic, but we did not incur any casualty, neither did we hear that they killed any soldier.”
Going round the village, this reporter observed that apart from burnt military base and vehicles, no bullet shells were seen on the ground, confirming the residents’ narration, and revealing that there was no battle between the insurgents and the troops in the village.
Gudumbali is an agrarian settlement in Northern Borno. It is about 200 kilometers from Maiduguri and almost 20 kilometers to Chad Republic. It is strategic community for the terrorists operating along the fringes of Lake Chad, as it is among the areas they get food supplies from.
The terrorist took over Gudumbali in 2014, but was recaptured by the military in early 2016. However, terrorists had launched several attacks in the community, but were repelled by troops. And since the military recaptured Gudumbali, until recently only soldiers inhabit the community.
The return of natives and residents to Gudumbali began this year after a military operation code-named Operation Last Hold was launched in April, 2018. The aim of the operation was to ensure quick return of the people of the community who had sought refuge at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in Maiduguri. The operation was also to restore economic activities of the community.
The operation yielded results, as the people did not only return to the community but also began their farming activities and other businesses.
However, the recent attack by the terrorists seems to remind them of the bad old days. But they have kept hope alive and continue to stay, having confidence not just in their leadership, but also the military that has continued to protect them against the marauders.
According to a military source who didn’t want his name revealed, Boko haram terrorist first attempted to attack the military base in Zari, but having gotten intelligence report, troops left the camp and laid harm bush for them and killed scores of the terrorists.
“The terrorists ran always and tried to regroup and attack a smaller base in Malunti, but were also severely dealt with,” he said.
He also narrated that while the fights were ongoing in Zari and Malunti, some of the terrorists infiltrated Gudumbali and started harassing the villagers and collecting their money and food items.
“It was when they heard that troops were coming that they fled the village. The troops followed them into the bush and killed scores of them,” the source said.
Overcoming the terrain
Over the years, military operations against Boko haram in Nigeria usually experience some setbacks during rainy season. This is due to the terrain of the North east, especially in areas around the Sambisa forest and Lake Chad. The soil textures in these areas cannot support movement of heavy military platform in this season, thus making it difficult to launch attack on the terrorists.
“The bad road makes quick response and reinforcement of troops difficult,” the military source said. “The equipments get stuck in the sand, and bringing them out is a difficult task. In the process, troops are also exposed to great dangers, as the enemy can take advantage of that.”
While attention had been placed on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and the city centre, Borno state government is yet to engage in reconstruction of roads, which military experts said would make movement easy for military operations.
“The civil authorities have a very big role to play in the overall peace process,” said the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai while addressing journalists during his visit to Gudumbali. “They must ensure infrastructural development. The local administration must come back and established full control; and so also the civil police.”
A visitor’s welcome
As the army chief’s convoy entered Gudumbali, the atmosphere became charged. Women and children came out from their houses, even as the night begins to throw its blanket. They walked about a kilometer beside the convoy, hailing the visitor, until the vehicle halted and the occupant alighted from the car to the waiting arms of the elders.
The army boss in company of top military commanders came in persons to identify with the residents and assess the damage inflicted on the military locations during the recent terrorists attack.
“I have come here to see things for myself,” he said. “We are going to have a complete re-organisation of the whole operation, which we have already started. In this kind of war you must have some challenges and setbacks. But the most important thing is that the challenges are being addressed and we will not have such occurrence again.
“And as we all know Gudumbali is very importance in the overall counter-insurgency operation. The residents already have confidence in us, and we shall continue to protect them and the territorial integrity of our country against any aggression.
“I assure you that we will do our best to protect this country from any external aggression, and to make sure this kind of attack never happen again.”
The army chief toured the village on foot.
Tears in the hearts
43-year-old Salisu Gulumbi, is passionate about his home, and like many residents of Gudumbali, is faced with several hindrances.
“Although there is fear, but I am going to stay in my village,” said Gulumbi who returned to the community three months ago. “I have a farm, but most times we are being harassed by the terrorists on our farms. They collect our money, and clasp on any of our domestic animals that they see.
“Some crops are due for harvest, but people are afraid go and harvest for fear of being kidnapped or killed by the insurgents.”
“We want government to increase the presence of soldiers in the community down to our farms so that we can be more secured.”
For women, they have different pains. “We want more hours to go to the market,” Zainab Wakili said. “We also want the curfew relaxed so that we can stay late outside and be able to visit our friends in other places.”
Across enemy line
We left Gudumbali at 7: 30pm and by 9:12pm we were at Kukawa, after two and half hours journey from through the night.
We had passed through this town with the army chief in the day time during Operation Last Hold; but this this time we passed it at night despite eminent risks – ambushes and snipper bullets from the enemy.
As we moved within shrubs, our vehicle got stuck in the sand but was later pulled out and we continue our journey through the night to the next military location.
Credits | Blue Print