Some survivors of the Tuesday morning ambush on a convoy of dozens of vehicles under armed escort have narrated their woes blaming the security agencies for poor preparation.
The survivors also confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that 16 women were among those kidnapped by the Boko Haram after the ambush.
The ambush, at about 10 a.m. on Tuesday, was on a large convoy of commercial, private and government vehicles travelling from Maiduguri to the southern part of Borno State, passing through Damboa.
Armed escort of soldiers is often required to travel through the recently reopened Maiduguri-Biu federal highway.
The road, which also has a link to the gates of Sambisa forest, had been closed for about two years after Boko Haram captured towns and villages along its axis. It was only opened for commercial motorists in February 2016.
But since its opening, Boko Haram gunmen have staged several attacks on vehicles plying the road.
The latest of such attacks was that of Tuesday morning, which occurred at Abbari-Dalwa village located about 30km from Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
The Borno State Commissioner of Police, Damian Chukwu, had in a press briefing informed journalists that two people were killed during the ambush
The casualty has now been confirmed to be at least three.
In a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the Borno State Commissioner of Health, Haruna Mshelia, said of the three trucks conveying drugs and related items to the health facilities in Damboa and Chibok, only one was able to escape and made it to its destination.
“It was indeed a sad development; but it is one of those hazards that one confronts in situations like this,” he said.
“We lost the driver who was shot at during the attack and one other person with the driver who tried to take over the steering before he too was shot at and the vehicle summersaulted.
PREMIUM TIMES was able to confirm from a security personnel who witnessed the incident that the second person referred to by the health commissioner was an escort soldier in the vehicle.
The police commissioner had on Tuesday confirmed that a police sergeant, Bala Tiiseh, was also among those killed; thus bringing the casualty to three.
The Nigerian military is yet to issue any statement on the attack.
Mr. Mshelia also said the driver of the second truck who could not manoeuvre an escape with his truck amidst the confusion, had to flee leaving his vehicle behind.
“The insurgents took the second vehicle away, but the soldiers are still trying to trace and rescue the vehicle,” he said.
“But the driver of the second vehicle has since arrived Maiduguri safely, while the third vehicle conveying drugs to Chibok got to its destination safely as well.”
A member of the Borno State House of Assembly, who represents Chibok Local Government Area, Aimu Chibok, was among those that escaped from the attack.
In a phone chat with PREMIUM TIMES, the lawmaker described the incident as “embarrassing”.
The lawmaker, a retired senior police officer, blamed the military and police for poor management of the situation.
He said he was in the same car with the Vice Chairman of Chibok Local Government Area as well as the District Head of Chibok when the gunmen opened fire on them.
The officials were on their way to Chibok to witness a federal government project that was to be flagged off in the town, he said.
The vice chairman sustained a bullet injury on his thigh, while the district head was hit in the arm. Both of them are currently receiving treatment at a hospital.
“It was a huge embarrassment to our government and its security outfits”, said the lawmaker who felt the attackers had prior information on the movement of the convoy from Maiduguri.
“From what I observed, it appears the terrorists had information that three trucks loaded with drugs would be passing through that route”, he said.
“And secondly, they may also have been aware of the fact that there were also in the convoy a large deployment of police officers (who) would be packed in a school bus.
“To me it was improper for armed policemen to pack up like sardine inside a bus on such kind of journey.
“It was only God that helped even helped the policemen.
“My vehicle was right behind the 80-sitter school bus conveying the 63 policemen. Just as the driver was trying to negotiate a bend, we started hearing loud shooting from all sides. The bus driver could not manoeuvre the bend, so he had to abandon the bus and fled while the police officers in the bus continued to escape through the window amidst the rain of bullets from the insurgents. As our vehicle tried to drive pass the bus, an RPG was fire at the bus, which scattered it.
“You needed to see how the shooters were going after their fellow human beings as if they were animals”, he recounted.
He said the shooting lasted about 30 minutes.
“The insurgents were all dressed in black attires as they continued to shoot without ceasing for a second. It was very embarrassing seeing armed policemen running for their dear lives because they found themselves in an unfavourable situation. It was a shame to see what happened that day, especially in a country that prides itself as one of the best in West Africa.
“The method of escort provided for more than a hundred convoy of vehicles was the worst I have ever seen in my life. It was too poor.
“But in our case, all the four escort vehicles were leading ahead without any one behind, or in the middle of the convoy. If not that the escort vehicles managed to reverse back to engage the attackers; they would have roasted the hundreds of passengers in the convoy.”
The Borno police commissioner had earlier confirmed the 63 police officers were in a bus when the attack occurred.
“It was based on that approval by the IG that one officer and 62 men of the Nigeria Police Mobile Force were deployed from Delta State to Askira,” Mr. Chukwu said, explaining how the officers were recently deployed to Borno based on a request.
“And the vehicle conveying the deployed unit who were in an 80-sitter bus, had to join the convoy of civilian travellers being escorted by the soldiers,” he added.
But the Borno lawmaker, Mr. Chibok, faulted the arrangement.
“I pity those policemen who were put into that kind of conveyance,” he said.
“How could a deployment of policemen who were all armed be packed inside a bus and ridiculously being escorted by other security operatives. They are supposed to be their own escort since they were all armed, for God’s sake.”
The lawmaker said Nigeria might not get out of the Boko Haram insurgency in the next ten years unless the military changes its strategy by taking the war to the insurgents in the bushes.
“We can’t continue like this; we have to take the war to them; waiting for them to come and be repelled cannot help us.
“I have served in the Nigeria police force for 35 years, but I have never witnessed such kind of embarrassing situation in my life”, he lamented.
THE KIDNAPPED WOMEN
PREMIUM TIMES also gathered that the 16 abducted women were driven away in a TATA truck by the insurgents.
The identities of the victims are being kept for safety reasons.
A police officer who was also privy to the arrangement for the transport of the women said on phone that all the 16 were driven away by the insurgents after the driver was killed.
“When the Boko Haram were attacking, the males in the TATA truck were able to quickly jump off the vehicle, but the women could not; that was how they were rounded up and driven away by the Boko Haram,” the source, who sought anonymity as he was not permitted to speak to journalists, said.
An unconfirmed report that reached PREMIUM TIMES late Wednesday evening indicated that some of the kidnapped women were found somewhere in Damboa.
The police, however, denied knowledge of the kidnap.
“I don’t have any such details of such abduction or rescue,” the Borno Police Public Relations Officer, Victor Isukwu, said in a text message response to our enquiry.