Barely 24 hours after accusing soldiers of extortion, the Governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum, has accused the military of plotting to evacuate two communities without following due process.
The governor was Tuesday morning in Jakana and Mainok villages where he stopped an ongoing move to mandatorily move the villagers to an IDP camp in Maiduguri.
It is not clear if the army’s decision to evacuate the community is related to the recent attack.
The army, according to the governor, did not notify the state government or the federal government before embarking on the evacuation.
Mr Zulum said, “no formal piece of notice was given to his government, nor the state emergency management agency nor the Northeast Development Commission that such exercise would be carried out.”
The governor, according to government sources, got the hint that the soldiers had stormed Mainok village, 65km from Maiduguri, with dozens of trucks, at about 4 a.m. with the plan to move the people out of the communities.
Driving to Mainok and Jakana villages, this reporter noticed that vehicles were not allowed to ply the route as soldiers barricaded the highway at Mainok and profiled the villagers to be taken to Maiduguri.
However, at about 11.30 a.m., the governor’s convoy came across the Theatre Commander’s convoy heading towards Maiduguri from Mainok.
The Theatre Commander’s vehicle stopped by the roadside and he was later seen to have alighted his vehicle and hailed the governor’s convoy to stop.
Mr Zulum stopped his car as the army general, Olusegun Adeniyi, approached him for a brief talk.
Journalists were not allowed to go near the two officials.
The governor’s convoy later proceeded to Mainok as the theatre commander’s travelled the opposite direction to Maiduguri.
Along the way, several empty trucks were sighted coming from the direction of Mainok accompanied by patrol vehicles filled by armed soldiers.
Shortly after that, this reporter noticed several commercial vehicles parked on a long queue outside Mainok village.
Inside the village, thousands of the villagers, mostly women and children, were seen standing along the roadside with their baggage.
The villagers told this reporter that soldiers ordered them out of their homes at about 5 a.m.
“We don’t know what is happening; all we know is that the soldiers came in here at about 5 a.m. and asked us to gather by the roadside. They said they are going to take us to Bakassi IDP camp in Maiduguri,” said a young man who identified himself as Wuri Ya’a.
Another villager, Modu Mussa, said: “We have been out in the cold since the early morning Islamic prayer.”
“They said they are taking us to camp in Maiduguri. They blocked the road all morning until about 11.30 a.m. when the soldiers heard that the governor was coming before they hurriedly left and asked us to return to our houses.”
“They hurriedly left towards the direction of Damaturu with the trucks, while few others went towards Maiduguri.”
The governor later addressed the agitated crowd who were lamentingvery loudly that their rights have been abused by the soldiers who forced them out in the cold.
The governor, who spoke to them in Kanuri dialect, later briefed the press, explaining his mission to Mainok and Jakana villages.
“I’m back here in Jakana and Mainok community because I received information that the Nigeria military would be evacuating Mainok and Jakana, ” he said.
“I have called and spoken with the Chief of Army Staff to refrain from this action.
“As much as possible, we want to commend the efforts of the federal government in reducing the menace of insurgency in the state.
But instead of asking them to leave, what we are looking at is to ensure that these communities are protected. We are not in support of displacing the communities.
“We are fully in support of the Nigeria military and the police going to search communities and arresting culprits in this insurgency and other nefarious activities.”
The governor said the displacement of the communities without adequate logistics preparation would further create a humanitarian crisis for the state government.
“It is expected that whenever such evacuation activities would be conducted , the military must duly notify the state and federal governments; the SEMA and NEMA shall also be notified; other security operatives like the police and DSS must be notified as well.
“I am quite sure that no information has been passed to the Nigerian police, neither the DSS nor Civil Defence were informed about this evacuation of these communities to Maiduguri. Therefore, the government of Borno will not accept this and we are never in support of this evacuation exercise.
Warning to the residents.
Despite his move to stop their forced evacuation, Mr Zulum also warned the residents of the two communities that they must cooperate with the government and its security operatives to expose members of Boko Haram in their communities.
“I have told them that it is very important for them to expose such culprits if they exist in their communities ” he said.
“Government of Borno state will continue to support the Nigeria military in exposing the culprits behind this insurgency. But this Maiduguri-Kano road has never been closed since 2011. Jakana community has never been displaced, and therefore displacing these communities located on this highway means closing the road and restricting commuters’ movement along Maiduguri-Kano highway. And that entails closure of this road.
“We are pleading with the federal government and the Nigerian army to rather ensure the communities along this highway are protected and the route secured. We insist people should freely move along this road while supporting their desire to expose and arrest the culprits,” he said.
The military has not reacted to the development in Jakana and Mainok.
But the Nigeria Army Operations Media Coordinator, Aminu Iliyasu, responded to the governor’s allegation on Monday that soldiers were extorting travellers who do not have national ID cards.
His statement reads:
“The attention of the Nigerian Army has been drawn to an online publication on 6 January 2020 by Premium Times as well as some amateur video clips circulating on some social media platforms.
“In the said publication, His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Borno State, Prof Babagana Umara Zulum was alleged to have accused soldiers of Operation LAFIYA DOLE deployed along Maiduguri – Damaturu Road of extorting commuters and causing them unnecessary hardship.
“The Nigerian Army as a professional and disciplined institution views such allegations seriously, particularly coming from a State Executive.
“It is on record that, whenever such allegations of troops’ misconduct were made in the past, the Nigerian Army never reneged in conducting thorough investigations to establish them and where any infractions were established against any personnel, appropriate sanctions were applied in line with extant rules and regulations as provided for in the Armed Forces Act CAP A20 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria.
“Thus, the Nigerian Army wishes to assure the good people of Borno State and indeed the nation at large that any allegations of misconduct by Nigerian Army troops will be duly investigated and culprits will be dealt with accordingly.
“However, it is important to unequivocally observe that public outbursts, particularly by eminent personalities such as a State Executive, could be counterproductive and indeed capable of reversing the gains recorded so far in the ongoing fight against insurgents and other criminal elements across the nation.
“The Nigerian Army wishes to emphatically reiterate its steadfastness on the protection of lives, properties of all law-abiding citizens as it is committed to wiping out insurgency in the North East and other forms of criminality across the country. Additionally, citizens’ continuous support and cooperation are highly appreciated.
“Any observed misconduct by troops could be reported directly through a toll – free code 193 for immediate remedy.”