Participants of two sections of the civilian Joint Task Force (JTF), that helped the Nigerian soldiers in the war against the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, are giving divergent detail on whether Boko Haram had captured Bama, a major town in the state that was the scene of fierce gunfight two days ago.
Among the residents who fled the town was Senator Khalifa Zanna, who hails from the town, he asserted that the Islamist insurgents took Bama after Nigerian soldiers retreated en masse following a major case of death by friendly fire.
However, just as reports emerged that Boko Haram had besieged Bama, the state government stepped up propaganda to deny that insurgents had gained the upper hand in such a strategically important town.
Yesterday, the Borno government helped arrange a widely orchestrated press conference for leaders of the youth vigilantes, to deny reports that Boko Haram militants had seized Bama from Nigeria troops.
At the press briefing, held in Maiduguri, the “civilians” JTF’s spokesman, Jibrin Gunda, said his group categorically refuted the statement credited to Senator Zanna, who represents Borno Central, that Boko Haram had captured Bama. Mr. Zanna made the assertion in an interview with the Hausa service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Mr. Gunda said, “Our security personnel are doing their best. Yesterday, our gallant soldiers successfully repelled the terrorists who attacked Bama. And Bama as a town in Borno State has never been overrun or overtaken by the militants even for a minute. Even now, our soldiers are in full control of the town.” He urged President Goodluck Jonathan to investigate and prosecute the alleged sponsors of Boko recently named by an Australian hostage negotiator, Steven Davis. “Nigeria is superior and better than any person in this country,” said Mr. Gunda.
It was unclear why the Nigerian military left the business of presenting their case about Bama to the “civilian” JTF, but the Nigerian military appeared tongue-tied about the status of Bama.
Even as members of the Maiduguri-based civilian JTF were insisting at their press conference that Bama was still in the hands of soldiers, their colleagues from Bama had arrived in Maiduguri after escaping from the advancing column of Boko Haram insurgents. In separate interviews with Sahara Reporters, some of Bama’s top civilian JTF leaders declared that Bama had indeed fallen to Boko Haram. They also offered a starkly different account from the rosy picture painted by the state government in Maiduguri regarding the outcome of the battle for control of Bama.
One of the Bama leaders said he found it hard to understand why their colleagues in Maiduguri were lying to the press about the status of Bama. He said that he had fled Bama along with many soldiers to Maiduguri. “I even used my car more than fifteen times to drive soldiers from Konduga to Maiduguri,” he said.
A top-level source disclosed that the State government was behind the effort to calm frayed nerves in Maiduguri as rumors spread that Boko Haram might attack the capital city.
Deputy Governor Umar Zanna of Borno later called his own press conference and described the attack on Bama as unfortunate. Even so, he assured the people of the state that the government was on top of the situation. He added that refugees at camps were being taken care of, and commended Nigerian security forces for engaging the militants in a fierce battle. He disclosed that more than three thousands displaced people from Bama and Konduga were now in Maiduguri.
Contradicting the Deputy Governor, two soldiers who fled Bama related that the town remained in the hands of Boko Haram. One of them stated that a few soldiers had set up a roadblock in Konduga.
It was disclosed yesterday that Bama fell after an Air Force jet deployed to fight the insurgents made a costly error of bombing the army barracks in Bama, inflicting heavy casualties on the soldiers and causing disarray among the survivors. Most of the surviving soldiers fled as Boko Haram insurgents rode into town.
Some fleeing civilian residents said the Islamist sect had began a house-to-house sweep, capturing and killing adult males suspected to be members of the civilian vigilante group that had resisted the terrorist onslaught.
Thousands of civilians had fled their homes and trekked from Bama to Konduga, adding that some slept in the bush before they arrived in Maiduguri yesterday. One such Bama resident, Modu Bura, said he and three of his children were part of the group that made the perilous escape.
Senator Zanna reiterated that the militants were firmly in control of Bama. He said they had killed two of his nephews earlier yesterday, adding that the insurgents also killed the son of a prominent Bama-based businessman, Hamza Mbusube, yesterday 20 kilometers from Bama.