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Swathes of 'no-go areas because of Boko Haram'

25 June 2014, 06:34

Maiduguri - At a camp for people who have fled Boko Haram insurgents, Zannaram Bukar tells an increasingly familiar story of bloodshed, fear and abandonment.

It's a tale of violence and destruction, of homes, markets and even mosques, robbing villagers not just of life but vital food stores and the precious commodity of cattle for those who survive.

But Bukar, from Abbari village, in the Konduga district of Borno state, and the 4 600 or so others in a displaced persons' camp in Maiduguri, also tell another story, backed up by those still living in the harsh, semi-desert scrub of Borno state's rural hinterland.

"There were soldiers in some villages surrounding us but the soldiers only protect us during the day. As soon as evening approaches, they would all leave," said the 52-year-old.

"The soldiers are stationed in villages near the big road. But if you go to villages situated far from the big road, where you don't even hear the sound of a passing car, you cannot find any soldier there."

The apparent lack of a military presence in some areas of Borno has led to claims that many parts of the northeast are effectively lawless, "no-go" areas for the security services.

In the latest sign of the vulnerability of civilians, militants abducted more than 60 women and young girls in a raid in the Damboa district of Borno last week.

A local senator said Boko Haram struck as people returned to tend their farms during the rainy season and there was no military presence.

In Chibok, where the militants abducted more than 200 schoolgirls in April, triggering global outrage, elder Pogu Bitrus agreed the problem was widespread.

"Some areas have been totally taken over by Boko Haram who have hoisted their flags. The whole situation is confused and people are terrified," he told AFP.

"All these areas are occupied by Boko Haram. In some of these areas they move freely with their guns because there is no one challenging them."

Rural security

According to security analysts, the military - over-stretched and under-resourced - is incapable of fighting an effective counter-insurgency.

"Large parts of Borno state are beyond the reach of security forces and are effectively unprotected," said Andrew Noakes, who co-ordinates the Nigeria Security Network of security analysts.

"Boko Haram are often able to operate with impunity."

Amnesty International claimed that military commanders in Borno had advance warning of the Chibok abduction but could not muster enough troops to send.

Locals say security forces are now avoiding areas near the border with Cameroon. Residents in Bama, 70 kilometres (40 miles) from Maiduguri, reel off a list settlements taken over by the group.

Bukar was just one of more than 6 000 people who fled their homes within a week earlier this month, after hundreds were killed when Boko Haram stormed villages in the Gwoza district of Borno.

"In many cases the military do not respond or take several hours to reach an area under attack. This is what happened in Chibok. They have also been known to flee from Boko Haram attacks," said Noakes.

A state of emergency imposed in Borno and neighbouring Yobe and Adamawa in May last year forced Boko Haram fighters out of urban centres.

But analysts say the focus on high-intensity combat in places such as Maiduguri has come at the expense of protecting people in the countryside, where attacks have increased dramatically.

"Security within rural northeastern Nigeria was not prioritised to the same degree as urban environs within the region and civilian massacres continued almost unnoticed," said Ryan Cummings, a security analyst at Red 24.

Military 'overwhelmed'

Boko Haram has also begun to show up in Cameroon, establishing operational bases and recruiting locals to launch incursions in Nigeria.

The far north of Cameroon has become a hotbed of Boko Haram activity, with its porous borders making it an easy staging post for attacks and kidnappings in Nigeria.

On Tuesday Cameroonian security forces killed eight gunmen believed to be members of Boko Haram, a paramilitary officer there said.

"With more militants, better arms and operational platforms from which to launch cross-border attacks, Boko Haram has simply overwhelmed their military counterparts within rural northeastern Nigeria," Cummings said.

Asked about the claims of lawlessness, the defence spokesman Chris Olukolade said only: "There is no part of Nigeria that is 'no go' for the military. That claim is false."

But analysts suggest that Boko Haram could be spurred on by the apparent lack of response and spread its campaign of terror.

"If the trend continues, the government could be in a position where the sect could truly be laying the foundations for  caliphate within the northeast which would be outside the control of thegovernment," said Cummings.



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