By Tom Garba, Yola
Madagali the last of Adamawa’s troubled territories under occupation of Boko Haram sect to be liberated by the military, in March, had been under control of the insurgents for close to seven Months since August 2014 when it fell under insurgents control.
However, since its recapture by Nigerian forces, assisted by local hunters, the people of Madagali have not been fortunate to enjoy the relative peace enjoyed by their peers in Mubi, Maiha and its nearby neighbour in Michika because of its proximity to Sambisa forest.
Madagali which shares an adjoining border line with Gwoza local government of Borno State to its South, has had its own share of ill-luck, being the next door neighbour to the vortex of the Islamic extremists Boko Haram sect, enclaved in Gwoza, by the Sambisa forest.
The intermittent attacks by the sect had meant that over 30,000 internally displaced persons, who returned, going by reports, have faced even dire consequences settling down since the majority, depend on subsistence farming for their livelihoods.
However, in Kirchinga, Gulak, and Shuwa were some residents, about estimates of returnees, when interviewed, noted that nearly half of the population, from the area who fled the fighting have returned.
But the minus, however, is the loud chorus of neglect and abandonment, which the locals say appears to be their only lot, as many continue to view the area as ” a no go area”.
Even though those who have returned to Madagali say peace and tranquility is gradually setting in, they are however, crossed with some of their fellows who fled the fighting and have continued to shy away from returning despite some remarkable progress
Our reporter who was in Madagali, and spent a night with the locals write on the self help initiative taken in the area, and which may just be the elixir, to make it possible, for residents who fled the insurgency from the area, to feel safe to return back to their homes.
It would be recalled that about seven local government areas in Adamawa fell under control of the dreaded Islamic sect. Five out of the seven councils namely- Mubi North, Mubi South, Maiha, Michika and Madagali are situated on the Northern fringes of the state, with its border lines skirting the boundaries of the republic of Cameroon.
However, the other two, Gombi and Hong local government councils, belonging to the Central Senatorial District, going by political configuration in the state, only suffered minor disruptive activities, since they were quickly recaptured shortly after falling to the sect.
Until early, this year, since the territories in Adamawa where captured in August of 2014, the efforts of troops to retake the conquered territories had proved elusive.
It was therefore not hard at the time to point, and link the upscaled military activities against the insurgents by the erstwhile Goodluck Jonathan administration, especially with the mandate it gave the security agencies to reclaim every captured territory, to the country’s upcoming election fixed for the first quarter.
The success recorded by the troops translated, in the troops reclaiming back all towns and communities in Adamawa, Borno, Yobe and Gombe, after routing the terrorist.
The administration under former President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, had stepped up, its anti- terrorism war on February 14th, charging all territories captured by the sect were reclaimed before the March 28th General elections.
Which was rescheduled because of invidious security climate hanging over the land in the face of the fast approaching polls which required that every eligible citizen be guaranteed to vote.
But since March after Madagali was recaptured from the hands of the insurgents, many of the residents who fled the fighting in the area have braved the odds and returned while others remained skeptical about returning, perhaps because of sporadic attacks, unleashed by the sect in the area.
However, Mr. Wajau Hyariju a retired teacher, who said he returned back to Gulak in April, lamented, that until the last three Months when over 500 local hunters were mobilized, those who returned could not live outside of Gulak because of intermittent attacks by the sect on soft targets.
Places like Gata, Lemu, Disa, Jaji, Gwubbla, Isgea, Zagore, Kobara, Metiku, Mezou, and Mildo, he said were among the worst hit by sporadic attacks waged by Boko Haram sect on hapless residents who had returned.
This however, Wajau said used to be the trend before stakeholders in the area led by the lawmaker, representing the council in state legislature Hon. Emmanuel Tsamdu, together with other stakeholders contributed to fund about 500 local hunters, charged with the task of protecting vulnerable communities in the area from further attacks.
He said although remarkable progress has been made since the arrival of local hunters to the area in August, he however noted that mis-information about the true security situation in the area had continued to hamper the return of many of the residents whom he described as being ” influential”.
Perhaps one of the greatest disservice the ominous cloud of insecurity has caused the people of Madagali, Wajau queried, is the revision of over N690 million worth, which the current leadership in the state led by Sen. Mohammed Jibrilla Bindow, capitalized upon, and diverted to the state capital.
The roads contract which already has been funded through a bond payment by erstwhile administration of Rt. Hon. Ahmadu Fintiri, was meant for the construction and rehabilitation of roads between Madagali and Michika, but this was not to be however, as new administration citing security concerns in the area, instead used its discretionary powers to fund the construction roads rather in the state capital.
The retired teacher who enumerated some of the challenges encountered by returnees, said “none of them will tell you that they can’t sleep with all of their eyes close”.
” Obviously not, they will tell you that the problem of Madagali is mainly the problem of lack of clean drinking water and shortage of food”.
Lamenting the neglect of the area by state government, he said, since April when he moved in with his family to Gulak, the headquarters of Madagali local government, he has not witnessed any assistance from any agency of government to the area.
He observed that most residents who have returned and who are staying in Gulak, Barkkin Dutse and Sabon Gari area of Madagali are forced to travel 25-30 km, to Michika to get medical care every time their children or relations took ill.
He said he is perturbed that Madagali has continued to be overlooked by the government and even aid agencies, who should ordinarily help bring relief to the area but, have also shied away, from doing so.
Stressing that those concerns are ” not anchored on the reality on the ground”.
Even though, a recent suicide attack in the suburb of Gulak which killed 12 persons, including the 3 female suicide bombers and over 20 persons with severe injuries, is all to blame, for dashing whatever, little hopes there may have been about the safety of the area.
Our reporter found out that the people of Madagali are gradually finding peace again. Perhaps, notable in fuelling the pervading air of safety, is the salutary effort of the civilian JTF ,who complimenting the effort of the military have also been able to liberate some communities and villages, from the grip of the insurgents which they use as hideout to disrupt the peace in the area by picking on soft targets to cause mayhem.
Another interesting find, is that the resident of Madagali, urgently require, access to clean portable drinking water since the armed conflict resulted in the destruction and vandalization of the power infrastructure, which has hampered the functioning of the boreholes.
There’s also the urgent need to get hospitals and medical centres opened as they are currently still shut, even though the member representing the area in the state assembly Hon. Emmanuel Tsamdu said there’s a subsisting directive urging health workers in the council who have been living in Yola the state capital to relocate and reopen the Madagali General Hospital.
The lawmaker who decried the state government neglect of his constituents, shed light on why he had to stamp his feet on the ground to ensure that a vigilante force force was set up to safe guard the area from sporadic attacks.
He noted that because Madagali shared a common boundary with Sambisa forest, the increased military operations ongoing in the area, was bound to have a collateral effect on the area, adding that it was only natural to expect that as troops try to achieve the December deadline set for them to rid the North East of insurgency, and pummel the hot bed of insurgents in the Sambisa forest, most of the insurgents escaping from their den will obviously pose a threat to the civil populace.
The result, he added is that some of the insurgents who are lucky to have escaped, are the ones who now ransack remote communities in search of food and shelter.
He however, said the development had taken its toll on food supply in the area since many of the locals now feel unsafe to go to their farms for fear of their personal safety.
” Our people are running short of food supply, you know food which is a necessity remains the greatest need of the people of Madagali for now,” he said.
” As I speak to you there has not been any intervention by the state government.
” We have not seen and we have not heard anything about this funds. Because nobody has come to their aid except Red Cross, the UNHCR and other aid agencies,” Tsamdu said.
Hence, to curtail the upsurge of sporadic attacks on villages and communities sharing borderline with Sambisa, he said, stakeholders in the area, decided on raising a counter-insurgency force of over 500 local hunters and vigilante to act as a bulwark against further attacks by the insurgents and also liberate communities which the insurgents have captured.
He also said the upkeep of the force which enjoins harmonious partnership with the military, has continued to be footed by the stakeholders because the Adamawa state government has not been forthcoming with funding.
Since the mobilization of local hunters to Madagali as the community’s own self help response to check the incessant sporadic attacks by members of the dreaded Boko Haram sect on villages and towns in Madagali, significant success has been achieved, by the vigilantes, as locals revealed, that those communities have come under constant attacks like Mezao, Mildo, Wakara, Walu, Metiku and Lansaa, forcing them to seek refuge in Gulak have since returned back to these communities.
Meeting the man leading the vigilante force and who does not mince, words that he has what it takes to enter Sambisa forest and rid it of the dangerous forces who have turned the forest to be their safe haven.
Bukar Jimeta, is the leader of the over 500 vigilante force guarding Madagali villages and environs, from the rapacious attacks of insurgents who cross over from their hideout in Sambisa forest to unleash mayhem on communities located in heartlands of Madagali in Adamawa state.
Bukar’s who mission is to rid Madagali land of any vestiges of Boko Haram fighters and their sympathizers and also defend remote communities such as Grata, Lemu, Disa, Jaji Gubbla, Isgea, Zagore and Gobara, which lay close to Sambisa forest from attacks, said since August when he and his men were called for this mission, over 500 insurgents have been killed while over 800 women and children were also rescued.
He also revealed that in Gatar and Lemu, were his men battled with the insurgents, before liberating the towns after fierce fighting, with the insurgents whom they routed, they were able to rescue about 570 women and children from both towns alone.
In the course of the mission, he said that they have trekked to Gobara, a town he noted was just less than 10 kilometre away from entering the forest of Sambisa, stressing that the only reason they didn’t proceed into Sambisa forest was due to lack of mobility.
But he however, has not jettisoned the possibility of going into Sambisa forest, despite his obvious constraint, as he noted that the journey to Gobara always takes them a night fall going by foot.
The amazing thing about, Bukar Jimeta, whom his lieutenants, often prefer to call in the Hausa language ‘Sarkin Mutuwa’ meaning the ‘ Commander of Death’ is their mysterious claim that he can hand pick bombs and that no bomb can ever detonate were he is.So, I asked him if it was true what his men said about him, and the reputation he has carved for himself as the commander of death, as he is renowned to catch the insurgents by mere hands without firing a shot.
And true to his depiction, Bukar, brandishing a AK 47 he confiscated from the insurgents, as part of his prized spoils of war demuredly replied, “No bomb can detonate wherever we are”.
He went further to explain with a queer look on his face, and eyes that appeared glazed, and suddenly with a wry smile on his face, he boasted that he has once dug out 4 landmines with his bare hands, retorting to the question.
” There was this operation we embarked on with the military and we encountered 5 land mines. I removed 4 of them and asked the soldiers to proceed.
The insurgents who spotted us even fired a rocket launcher, it failed to explode were I was nor did it imperil us,” he proudly said.
He said his ultimate goal is to be able to enter Sambisa forest, adding that, if he did, the place would fall to him.
” We don’t have the necessary logistics, otherwise we would have gone into Sambisa forest and liberated it.
The same way we have done with every town and village which the sect once controlled before we wrested it from their control, from Gombi and now Madagali”.
Sarkin Barkan (I.e Head of Vigilantes) Kirchinga Alh. Adamu Kirchinga said although their work as vigilantes and the successes they have recorded, has gone unnoticed by many in the state nevertheless, he said, the intervention of the vigilantes is better appreciated by the natives.
He stressed that in Kirchinga, the intervention of the vigilantes has made it possible for all those who fled the area to now return because of the relative peace the vigilantes stationed in the area have created.
He said before now, most residents only felt safe staying in Gulak, were the military detachment to the area, is stationed but now with the presence of the local vigilantes in places like Jalingo, Mezao, Mildo, Wakara Walu Metiku and Lansa, natives of these communities have since returned back to their abodes there.
He said a very important part of the campaign undertaken by the vigilante since they were mobilized to counter insurgent activities in Madagali, which he said, has now spanned over 3 three Months, is the dismantling of Boko Haram camps and the liberation of women held captive by the insurgents.
Speaking on his discovery in one of their raids which led to the liberation of Jaji, from insurgents control, Adamu said he was shocked to find out from the confession of the some of the women, out of the 279 rescued women and children that most of them served as sexual slaves of the insurgents.
Others, who are older, he added, were lucky to just work only for them. He also added that, in the same raid, they also recovered 120 rustled cows from the insurgents, but regretted that with all of this successes it is the military, whom it presents with this finds that gets all the credit.
” If we had all the necessary logistics and means of communication, these women and children that were rescued, and taken to Yola. We could have been the ones taking all the credits,” he said.
On their relationship with the military since the start of this campaign, Adamu revealed that it has been harmonious, except lately that mistrust appears to have set in.
Explaining the cause of the suspicion, which has come between them and the military, Adamu said their suspicion has been fuelled by one incidence which they discovered that some of the insurgents captured and handed over to the military, after a while were set free and made to go scot- free.
The discovery, he said had threatened to put both camps on a collision course. In the wake of a similar incidence, the military had ordered them to stand down from their planned raid, of a settlement, which led to the recapture of one of the notorious Boko Haram kingpin, troubling some Madagali communities. But the intervention of their, commander, Bukar Jimeta, helped to dissuade the military from stifling their activities, ” so we went about our duties without any hindrance”.