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More than a decade after insurgency, Borno residents may soon breathe fresh air

Borno State governor, Babagana Zulum

In the last week or so, the war against insurgency in the north east has been characterized by sustained onslaught against Boko Haram elements. These onslaughts have resulted in about a hundred terrorists surrendering to the military.

At the end of a security meeting held on Saturday in Maiduguri, the commissioner for information, Borno state Babakura Abba-Jato, expressed satisfaction with the growing number of insurgents surrendering to the military.

The governor, Babagana Zulum who chaired the meeting also expressed happiness with the exercise ongoing on the shores of the lake Chad which has produced the surrender of many insurgents.

Reports say these sustained operations led to the rescue of another Chibok girl, Ruth Ngladar Pogu.

According to a statement signed by Zulum’s spokesperson Isa Gusau, Ruth and her apparently repentant husband surrendered themselves to the Nigerian military on July 28 at a location in Bama.

Our correspondent also gathered that the repentant insurgents are also calling their friends to come out. According to the source; “That’s how we got the latest chibok girl. And I learnt more of the girls are coming out soon”

In the last 24 hours, the Nigerian Army has confirmed this with the disclosure that at least 1,000 Boko Haram/Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) members have laid down their arms and surrendered to its troops.

This according to the army has been made possible under the auspices of the Operation Safe Corridor, a multi-agency humanitarian effort, led by Defence Headquarters, that was launched in 2016 to encourage terrorists to surrender.

If these operations are sustained, the repentant insurgents re-integrated into the society and gainfully engaged, then a new lease of life may be in sight for Borno Residents who have over the last few years settled into a flight-ready lifestyle necessitated by reports of suicide bombings, attacks and killings. Since the war against insurgency began in Nigeria’s northeast in 2009, more than 30,000 people have died while millions have been displaced.

In this with our correspondent Seun Tokunbo-Peters, a journalist based in Maiduguri withheld) speaks on what life has been like for the Borno Residents, since 2015.

Interviewer: How many local governments in Borno state are realistically still under the control of Boko Haram?

Abadam and guzamala are local government still under the control of Boko Haram. Why we would say that they are still under the control of the enemy is because there are no civilians there. Abadam and guzamala is where tense military operations are still ongoing. So you find the military there. So it’s still a warzone. And even last month, the Governor was there. From Niger… He went to see Nigerian refugees there… Cause there are plans to repatriate them back to Nigeria. And so from there he moved to Guzamala to see what the situation is. And the military told him point blank why it’s not a good idea to bring civilians there.

There are a lot of Boko Haram elements that are living there and because of that, it isn’t a good idea to bring civilians. Because of the war situation, there is a likelihood of a lot of landmines there and it’s going to take a lot of work to bring civilians, it will take a lot of work to rid the place of the IEDs and to really push back the Boko Haram elements before you consider bringing in the civilians. So as it is, the military are not even safe enough, not to talk of bringing civilians. So Guzamala and Abadam are still places where Boko Haram have control over.

Interviewer: Is it true that Boko Haram recently declared rulership over some Borno territories?

Well, Boko Haram, they can do anything o! I know in the early days of Boko Haram, they had a direct contact with journalists that were there. I wasn’t there but I heard that about 8 or 10 journalists that were there, they called them on phone and they all clustered around the phone, put it on speaker and everyone was hearing what was being said. And everybody was recording it. So there’s always a channel through which they give out information. But these ones just came up and you know, the social media space these days… There’s a lot of fake news. Anyone could have thought of anything. And I won’t be surprised if a member of Boko Haram has leaked that kind of information. But then with the death of Shekau, you know Al barnawi, that’s the head of the other faction, he’s not a vocal person. He doesn’t make as much noise as Shekau was making. So how do you substantiate the source of that information? You know, it’s not from Al barnawi and Shekau is dead. It’s what it is. It’s just an unsubstantiated claim that we all saw on social media.

Interviewer: Talk to us about how you live in Borno state, given the insurgency…

Well for now, there’s a whole lot of difference.. coz I started living in Maiduguri in 2015. There’s a whole lot of difference between 2015 and now. When I got to Maiduguri, most of the roads were one way, they blocked the other road. In the community, instead of traffic police, there were a lot of military situated in short short distances conducting checks and all of those things you know.. curfew was 7pm, by 7pm everyone was in. In fact it was first 6pm when I first got to Maiduguri, then later 7pm, then 8, 9, later they moved it to 11. So that’s the yardstick for measuring improvement and how Boko Haram have been pushed out of Maiduguri. But then we’ve witnessed attacks, we’ve witnessed suicide attacks in mosques during Friday prayers, early morning prayers. We’ve witnessed suicide bombs in IDP camps, inside Maiduguri. And some of those incidents were very close to my house. I live inside GRA. During one of those incidents, we had to run away because it was so close. And then just this year, after a long time that we hadn’t witnessed those types of incident, this year, Boko Haram shot rocket launchers into town. People died, right inside town because it was close to NUJ where we hangout almost every day. Sometimes we even go there to work when you want to use the internet and other facilities. Maybe you don’t want to stay in other places, …. So we hangout there. There’s no day that you don’t find at least 10 colleagues in NUJ…. In fact we were calling people at NUJ when it happened. What is this we’re hearing? Are you guys safe, are you guys okay?

So you can’t go three to four kilometers outside Maiduguri without an escort and be confident, you just know that it’s a fifty-fifty thing, either you run into Boko Haram or they attack from the bushes.

Yes we are safe but I strongly believe that we are safe because Boko Haram is not particular about unleashing violence on Maiduguri but not because it is over, or not because they are not able to. And so because of that, we are security conscious. As a Maiduguri person, anywhere we go, we carry that attitude, that mindset anywhere we go. There’s always cash, we must have emergency cash. As emergency flags you know, you must always have cash. You must always have some emergency money that can take you to at least maybe a hundred to two hundred kilometers you know. And you must always have cash somewhere on you that no matter how broke you are, you don’t spend it, in case of emergency. And if it happens that you need to make a quick dash, so you don’t become stranded.

Interviewer; So in the case of a real emergency, what will your exit strategy look like?

At some point, a lot of women…remember I told you one of the times we had to live where I was leaving because of an attack that was coming from behind. The only thing I could pick was my laptop. Because I felt, well, if it is clothes, you can always buy clothes. So my camera man took his camera. For him, that was the most valuable thing to us. And then for ordinary people, you found that a lot women started buying gold, instead of keeping money in the bank, because when it really matters, you don’t have easy access to the money. So they buy gold.And then people keep hard currency. Hard currency like dollars. That way, you are able to save a lot of money in just one piece of paper. And if you have to exchange during an emergency, it gives you a sizeable amount of money. So these are the strategies that we started adopting. And even now that I am in Lagos, which is reasonably safe, I still have my hundred dollar bill because I don’t know what will happen and I cannot afford to be stranded.

Interviewer: Thank you for your time.

*Source: Thank you for the opportunity*

This is what life has been like for residents of Maiduguri up until July 2021. But if the military operations record more success stories, then dual carriage highways converted to one way traffic routes in over 5years will open up fully. Commerce will return to deserted towns, trading will improve, IDPs will return to their homesteads while farmers will be able to farm again.

For instance, the Baga international fish market in Kukawa LGA which is in the heart of Lake Chad will return, meaning the return of a source of livelihood for residents in the border area and a source of revenue for government.

Life will return to border towns like the Banki/Cameroon border in Bama local government and Gamboru Ngala which borders Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Niger republic which also means the return of human activity needed to drive cross-country commerce.

Also Damboa/Biu road will be reopened thereby marking the resumption of large scale farming activities.

This will indeed be a milestone achievement for the administration of Governor Babagana Zulum who has shown commitment to ending the war on insurgency and returning the remaining Chibok girls to their families.

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