The Theatre Commander of the counterinsurgency operation in North-east Nigeria, Nicholas Rogers, said the military is aware that some local community leaders in Borno State have communication contacts with the outlawed Boko Haram group.
Mr Rogers, a major general, said the local community leaders should try and leverage on their link with the Boko Haram in talking them into giving up their hostility and embracing government’s offer of amnesty.
The Theatre Commander made this remark during the official reopening of the major Maiduguri-Bama-Banki road that links the two local government headquarters on Saturday.
The road was being reopened four years after it was seized by Boko Haram.
Mr Rogers addressed a gathering of returning residents of Bama and Banki communities, before the road was reopened.
He said with the degrading of Boko Haram in the Sambisa forest axis which is closer to Bama, he believed the people’s return to their reclaimed communities would help revive the once bustling economy of the area.
He also implored the people using the reopened road to abide by the code of conduct read out to them in order to avoid falling on harm’s way.
Mr Rogers implored the people to continue using the road, saying their regular plying of the road would wear out the Boko Haram.
He then called on the community leaders to also help the military with credible information or preferably use the communication channel, which he said he knew they have, to help convince the Boko Haram to give up their hostility.
“The continuous usage of the road will also scare them out and also make them to come back home,” he said.
“We want them to come back home; they are Nigerians and our brothers that’s why we have been pleading to them to leave the forests and come back home and get integrated in the larger society. That is the message to them; we are not here to kill them, but also to bring them back home so that they can also contribute to the development of the state and Nigeria at large.
“And those of you that have access to them, please talk to them, especially those of you who are local community leaders please talk to them.
“It is true that we know that some of us have access to them; they are our brothers and sisters. So if you have access to them, it is good that you ask them to come home, surrender themselves and the federal government is ready to grant them all forms of amnesty as long as they are ready to give up their arms.”
Though the theatre commander’s plea was greeted with applauds and laughter, his courage to mention what he believes was a fact sank down in the minds of many who listened to him.
One of the major stakeholders in Bama, who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES in reaction to the claims, but wished not to be quoted for security reasons, said “the general is not lying about some of our people having access this criminals.”
“They have that access because they are either once neighbors or even siblings when we were all living in our communities. But what we will not tolerate as we go back home is finding out that some person who has access to them is not giving information that will help the security in protecting us. We shall personally expose those persons irrespective of his or her status,” the source said.
Last week, the state government held an expanded security council meeting which involved most of the traditional title holders in the state at the Government House, Maiduguri, after which a 12 point resolution was issued and made available to the press.
The participants at the expanded security meeting also corroborated Mr Rogers claim on community leaders having access and likely using their link to help advance the cause of the Boko Haram.
One of the resolutions (number 7) reads that “Any person(s) or group found to be collaborating with Boko Haram, no matter how highly placed or highly connected, will be speedily brought to book in accordance with the laws of the land.”