Reporter’s Diary: When Journalists Tour the Battlefield in the North-East
By Abdulsalam Mahmud,
The Nigerian Army has organised a media tour to the North East Theatre of Operation especially in Borno State. The aim of the tour is to ascertain the level of performance in the war on terror against the dreaded and lingering Boko Haram’s insurgency ravaging the North East particularly in Borno State which is the epicentre of the conflict.
The team arrived Maiduguri International Airport on Wednesday 5th February 2020 at exactly 1:40pm from Abuja comprising different local and international media organisations.
On Thursday the 6th of February, 2020 the Acting GOC 7 Division, Brig. Gen Abdullahi Khalifa Ibrahim accompanied by the Acting Director Army Public Relations Colonel Sagir Musa led the media team with some of his Commanders and other senior officers under his area of responsibility to the war zone where troops and other security agencies are really battling the Boko Haram and ISWAP insurgents in the most difficult environments and conditions ever seen or imagined by this reporter. The condition is terribly pathetic and yet the Nigerian Army troops and other security agencies are there in the trenches under the heavy sun and cold weather conditions. Many have lost their lives, limbs and blood in the real war to end the most dreaded terrorist groups in the world.
In the light of the mission to unearth and report the true situation in this part of Nigeria, the team started the journey from Maiduguri to Konduga – Bama, Gwoza to Magadali for interactions with the local people in Bama, Gwoza, Pulka and Madagali.
From Bama the team proceeded to Banki junction, the road that leads to Cameroon and saw the troops in the trenches placing an eagle eye on the earmarked movement and main supply routes of the terrorists. At this point, the team witnessed and interacted with the commuters that came from Madagali, Gwoza and pulka areas and others coming from Maiduguri, Bama heading to Gwoza, Madagali up to Adamawa State. One interesting aspect of the interaction with the commuters was that they ply this road without escort thereby dispelling the rumour that no vehicle or human being use the road. As to whether the commuters don’t fear or experience Boko Haram attack on the road, all the ones interviewed acknowledged a serious reduction of terrorists’ attack on commuters along this road. Of course, there are recorded cases of such incidents but they were mostly not planned but through opportunistic encounters with marauders as opined by a passenger in one of the vehicles moving to Maiduguri from Pulka.
The team further moved to Gwoza to see the level of destruction, where the acting General Officer Commanding 7 Division took the team to a particular bridge that was destroyed by Boko Haram in Limankara, Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno State.
Limankara – Gwoza is a mountainous community housing the famous Mobile Police Training College that was once over taken by the terrorists until it was recovered by the Nigerian Army and handed over back to the Nigerian Police. At the area, one could see Army, police, Vigilantes and hunters providing security in the college and the Limankara community as a whole. The bombed bridge is also yet to be repaired or reconstructed by the concerned authorities.
Generally, the condition of the road from Maiduguri to Bama, Banki junction, pulka, Gwoza upto Madagali the last point of the tour, the condition of the road is horrible. This, in itself, is another glaring insecurity. Most times terrorists planted Improvised Explosive Devices that resulted in the killings and injuries of security agents and innocent citizens and the possibility of accidents appears on the increase owing to the bad conditions of the road. At one instance, the team saw a Bombed bridge that was rebuilt by the Nigerian Army engineers to ease troops and commuters movements.
From Gwoza – Limankara the team moved to Madagali where the commanding officer of 144 Battalion that is stationed in the area Lieutenant Colonel U.S. Abdulsalam who explained the efforts of his troops in the struggles to end the insurgency.
At the location, the troops looked happy, cheerful and formed up for the Acting GOC’s address to officers and men of the Battalion. He charged the troops to remain focused and more committed in making sure the activities of Boko haram come to an end. He conveyed the appreciation of the Chief of Army Staff for their gallantry and sacrifices to the nation. He urged them to redouble efforts to end the menace.
In Madagali, some of some journalists sneaked to the town where they interacted and interviewed some of the residents as well as the commuters. They both expressed commendations and appreciations to the Nigerian Army and the security agents for restoring peace in their area and for ensuring that terrorists are not allowed to come back to Madagali and surrounding localities.
Response from Bama resident one Abubakar Muhammad was encouraging as he said that peace has been restored in Bama as witnessed in the commercial activities in the Bama market. Many heavy loaded trailers were moving freely along the road heading towards Bama and Gwoza areas.
Babagana Maina, a Bama resident said they are living peacefully in Bama town, but that the only challenge they are facing is the occasional terrorist attacks on neighbouring villages which he urged the Army to brace up for the challenge.
Brig. Gen A.G. Mahmuda, the Brigade Commander 26 Brigade Task Force Brigade explained some of the challenges in his area of responsibility.
According to him “Our major challenge is the Improvised Explosive Device that is always put in place by Boko Haram Terrorists, but we are bracing up to the situation because our explosive ordinance device team can now locate and detonate or remove the IED that are planted by Boko Haram,” he revealed.
On the whole, the war on terror is on course. There is no doubt the security agencies are on top of the situation, are indeed denying the insurgents freedom of action and they seem to degrade the terrorists as the terrorists only strike on soft targets in addition to flamboyant occasional encounters with the troops. In the face of the media tour of the battlefield, it is safe to say that the security agencies deserve support, prayers and encouragement from Nigerians.
Mahmud Abdulsalam is a PRNigeria staff writer