There are indications that the need to feed the over 200 students of Government Secondary School, Chibok, abducted by Boko Haram insurgents on April 14 has put pressure on the Islamic terrorist group to steal food items and loot communities close to Sambisa Forest in the North East.
Saturday PUNCH investigations revealed that the violent Islamic sect had in the past week stepped up the looting of villages, markets and food stores in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states for food items including grains and bread.
Residents of these communities told Saturday PUNCH that the rate at which the insurgents stole their foodstuffs was unprecedented, noting that the pressure to feed the abducted girls might have contributed to the desperation of the insurgents to steal and kill the villagers in the process.
One of the villagers, Bukar Umar, who resides in Kamuyya village in Borno State, told one of our correspondents that though it was normal for the insurgents to ask communities to contribute money towards “God’s work,’’ they were usually satisfied when communities raised money for them.
He, however, said the insurgents in recent times had stepped up their activities by invading their communities and carting away food items.
With the pressure on Nigerian soldiers to clamp down on the Islamic sect, it was learnt that the insurgents no longer felt safe to go to markets to buy food items for fear of being arrested.
Some of the insurgents recently met their waterloo in Madagali, Adamawa State, where they were given up by a local food vendor from whom they had planned to buy foodstuffs.
Consequently, members of a vigilance group pounced on them and killed over 70 of them while seven others were reportedly handed over to the police.
The vigilantes acted after they were tipped by the local food vendor that the insurgents were coming to get food before going for a major operation in a neighbouring village.
A Madagali resident, who did not want his name mentioned, had said, “The vigilance group mobilised, laid ambush and waited patiently for the insurgents.
“As soon as the insurgents, numbering over 100, showed up in the village to pick up their favourite meals, the vigilantes attacked them, killing most of them in a hail of bullets.”
Security personnel, during the week, also repelled attacks by the terrorists on Kubla, a border town between Adamawa and Borno states.
A security source said, “The heavily armed terrorists arrived in Kubla and started burning houses and stealing foodstuff, until a contingent of the military was mobilised to confront them.
“The soldiers engaged the militants in a fierce exchange of gunfire to repel them,” the source said.
The source, who did not disclose his name because he was not authorised to provide details of the attacks, added that the insurgent had set to extend their stealing spree to Taraba State.
Residents of Limankara, Kamuyya, Kirenowa, Kimba and Makor communities in Borno State said the insurgents usually carte away food items and livestock after killing people in their areas in recent attacks.
In Limankara, a Borno border village with Adamawa State, the insurgents who killed many persons and carted away property worth several millions of Naira were said to have particularly gone for the available food items in the village.
In Kamuyya village, a resident, Bukar Umar, said over 20 insurgents, who must have emerged from the bush, stormed the Kamuyya weekly market when traders were conducting their businesses and opened fire into the crowd before setting shops and vehicles on fire.
According to him, the hoodlums were well armed with sophisticated weapons, and after raiding the area, they went to the major market and shot sporadically and indiscriminately into the crowd, killing 20 persons on the spot and burning most of the shops in the market.
He said the attack lasted for over two hours last Sunday. “The invaders had a field day wreaking havoc on us. They snatched several vehicles and loaded them with bags of assorted foodstuff, before fleeing the area.”
In Kirenowa town, where 20 persons were killed last week Thursday by the insurgents, they were said to have ransacked the town for food items, which they subsequently packed away in stolen vehicles.
The insurgents on Sunday intercepted a vehicle loaded with bread, killed the four occupants and drove the vehicles towards Sambisa Forest. The vehicle, which was on its way to Polka from Gwoza, was attacked at Waraba village.
Some of those who spoke to our correspondents appealed to both the state and the Federal Government to immediately come to their rescue by giving them food and rebuilding their burnt houses.
One of them, Modu Kaka, said: “It has been difficult for our people to feed because our food items have been carted away and we are left with little to share among ourselves.
“To even get another supply is a problem, if you get that, you are only inviting them to come back and that makes it necessary for security personnel to be deployed here.”
The village District Head of Limankara, Alhaji AbdulKareem Wahab, claimed that 1,750 bags of assorted grains were loaded in seven stolen vehicles that were taken away by the insurgents during the week.
He said, “The invaders had a field day wreaking havoc on us. They snatched several vehicles and loaded them with bags of assorted foodstuffs, before fleeing our area.”
Also in Kirenowa town, residents said scores of armed insurgents invaded the area around 12noon, shooting everyone at sight and setting houses, shops and vehicles on fire.
A resident of the area, Mallam Goni Bukar, said, “The militants, armed with sophisticated weapons, raided the area and proceeded to the major market and began sporadic shootings into the direction of crowd, killing 20 people on the spot and burning most houses and shops in the town.
“They snatched several vehicles and loaded them with bags of assorted foodstuffs and fled. They destroyed everything we have, carted away our food and burnt down the remaining ones.”
It was also gathered that after wreaking havoc in Marte, the hoodlums invaded nearby Kimba and Makor villages, where five people were killed in each of the villages.
Bukar added, “After the carnage in our area, the militants proceeded to the two neighbouring villages and killed 10 persons, even as they set ablaze several houses and vehicles. They equally carted away their food items.”
In a recent attack on Shawa, a neighbouring Chibok community, the terrorists stole food, after killing no fewer than 10 people. In another attack on Alagarno village, Borno State, the gunmen also stole food and razed their victims’ homes.
One of the residents who spoke with journalists, Mallam Umaru Saina, said, “They destroyed everything we had and burnt down our remaining food after stealing what they needed. What is most painful is that they did not spare our kids. They killed children and women.”
Apagu Maidaga also said Alagarno residents hid in the bush and watched while the extremists set ablaze their homes of thatch-roofed mud huts.
The British newspaper, The Mail, had last Sunday reported that Nigerian journalist, Ahmad Salkida, who is trusted by both the Federal Government and the Boko Haram leader as a mediator, visited the camp where the abducted schoolgirls were being kept.
Sakilda was quoted as claiming to have seen the abducted schoolgirls being “well fed and adequately sheltered.”
Saturday PUNCH gathered during the week that the insurgents resorted to stealing following the shortage of food to feed themselves and their hostages.
It was also learnt that the thirst for more loot prompted the terrorists to invade Kamuyya village in Biu Local Government Area of Borno State last Sunday.
The recent activities of the sect have left the communities attacked further impoverished and many found it difficult to feed as their food items have been carted away.
It was also learnt that the violent sect had begun to pile up food items in preparation for a long drawn battle with the military, especially as the United States, United Kingdom, France, Israel and other foreign collaborators are assisting the Federal Government to ensure the safe return of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls.
With the allied forces believed to be on the ground to help the Nigerian military rescue the girls, it was learnt that the insurgents did not want to be caught unawares by running out of strategic resources, especially food.
Saturday PUNCH further learnt that this development also contributed to the latest strategy of carting away food from communities, and the rustling up of the residents’ cattle in the last one week.
In recent publications, some residents of the communities close to Sambisa Forest told journalists in Maiduguri that the insurgents had visited their towns recently asking for money to execute “God’s work.”
The villagers were only able to raise N70, 000. The insurgents left with the money but with a message that they would come back for the balance.
They threatened to come back for the balance at a stipulated time or they would kill the villagers.
One of the villagers, Bukar Umar, said the villagers took the threat with levity. They thought it was “madness gone too far.”
He said, “Actually when they issued the threat, we took it lightly as we were all relaxed and nobody bothered to make any extra effort to raise the amount they requested. May be that was what caused this bloody attack because we were unable to meet their demand.”
Speaking on the growing raid of the insurgents for food, a military source said, “The military is aware of this and knows that the insurgents are doing this for a strategy but it is inevitable that we have to confront them if the schoolgirls and other girls and women they have abducted are not released.”
He said, “They should continue to pile up food items as much as they can but wars and battles have different complexities and when we get to that stage we will definitely know which strategy to deploy.’’
Unconfirmed reports had indicated that certain helicopters used to drop food items and other needs in the Sambisa stronghold of the Boko Haram group.
Security experts said the growing focus on the Sambisa forest must have disrupted the routine of the helicopters, thus putting pressure on the group’s supply chain and fueling more attacks on villagers in the North-East.