By Tajudeen Suleiman
There are indications that the remnant of the Boko Haram sect may be holing up in communities close to Sambisa Forest following the successful execution of Operation Lafia Dole by the Nigerian military.
Camp Zero, the last remaining hideout of the Boko Haram insurgents in Sambisa Forest, was destroyed in December by Nigerian soldiers, forcing many of them to flee.
From the accounts of residents of communities close to the forest, some of the escaping terrorists might have taken over some villages and forced the local people to flee.
Tales recounted to icirnigeria.org by some residents of villages in Damboa Local Government Area of Borno State also indicate a deep ideological division among members of the sect.
According to residents who escaped, while some of the insurgents were ready to live in peace among the villagers, insisting only that everybody practice Islam, other members of the sect were ruthless and did not want to see the residents and were ready to kill them all.
Part of Sambisa Forest is under Damboa local government, located in the south western part of the Borno State. Other parts come under Askira/Uba, Konduga and Jere local government areas of Borno State and extend to Bauchi, Gombe, Yobe states and even Kano in its Northern fringes.
Residents of Zindiya, Kulus and Goniri villages who spoke to our reporter at the Bakassi IDP camp in Maiduguri on Friday December 22, a day after Camp Zero fell to the military, gave accounts of the divisions, differences in ideological temperament and in-fighting among members of the sect.
The insurgents, they said, had arrived in their villages over time as they escaped from the onslaught of Nigerian soldiers in the final push to destroy Sambisa Forest.
Umar Alli, 52, from Kulus, who was among 201 displaced persons brought into Bakassi Camp from different communities under Damboa local government, said they could no longer remain in their village because of the in fighting among members of the sect.
He recounted: “Mustapha (name of a member of the sect in the village) and his boys told us not to go anywhere that they will not kill us. He said he and his boys have resolved to pursue their religion strictly and renounce violence. He said we should stay in our houses.”
However, another group of Boko Haram members, less sociable and more ruthless, entered the villages and chased out the residents, threatening to kill anyone they see.
“We packed our things with our women and children and trekked for several hours to Goniri where they told us we would find soldiers who will take us to Maiduguri. We trekked for six hours before we came to Goniri from our village. It was from there the military brought us to this camp.”
Alli believes members of the sect have since taken over his village and said it was unsafe for anyone of them to return there now.
Mallam Goroma, a resident of Zindiya, also in Damboa, told icirnigeria.org that Boko Haram members also came to their village, took it over and ran the place until they fled.
According to him, the insurgents prevented them from going to farm or trading.
“They were fighting among themselves. Some told us they will not harm us but others asked us to leave. They have taken over our community,” he said in Hausa.
Goroma said all residents of Zindiya had left the village and only members of the sect can be found there. He said the military has tried but urged them to flush out the remnants of the sect from all villages under Damboa so that they could return home to farm.
Some of the women who spoke to this website said they trekked several kilometres carrying luggage and their children on their backs before they were found by soldiers who brought them to the camp.
There were no young men or young girls among residents of the villages brought to the camp as those ones had fled the communities long ago to escape Boko Haram conscription.
Those left behind were old men and their wives and their little toddlers who followed them to the camp.
It was reliably gathered from other IDPs interviewed at the camp that despite the successes recorded by the military in the North east, members of Boko Haram might still be alive in several communities across the state, especially in communities close to Sambisa, where they are hiding among the people.
That is why even though all the local government areas have been liberated from Boko Haram, residents have failed to return for fear of attack.
That is also why commercial or private vehicles still cannot ply Maiduguri-Bama and Maiduguri- Damboa roads, without military escort. It is the same with Maiduguri-Gamboru Ngala road.
But, the military, perhaps, already had the information that escaping Boko Haram insurgents might be holing out in communities close to Sambisa, as it has sent out an alert to residents to report any suspicious individuals to the authorities.
Significantly, Lucky Irabor, a Major General and Theatre Commander of Operation Lafia Dole, said while briefing the press on the fall of Camp Zero that “We have won the war, but we need to win the peace!”
At the briefing held on December 28, last year, Irabor urged the people “to remain vigilant and report any suspicious movement of persons and objects to the military or to the nearest security agencies.”
President Muhammadu Buhari had on Christmas Eve announced the fall of Camp Zero, the last stronghold of Boko Haram in Sambisa Forest. He said he was delighted of the news and proud of the gallantry of Nigerian troops.
“I was told by the Chief of Army Staff that the camp fell at 1:35pmon Thursday, December 22, and that the terrorists were on the run and no longer have a place to hide,” the President disclosed.
But if the IDPs are to be believed, Boko Haram is still far from been crushed and the military will do well to look closely at communities around Sambisa to rout out remnants of the sect.
On Tuesday, Boko Haram members believed to be fleeing from Sambisa made unsuccessful attacks on Dar village, Madagali Local Government of , Adamawa state.
Chairman of Madagali Local Government, Yusuf Mohammed, told newsmen that the attack was repelled because of the prompt response of security operatives in the areas.
He praised the gallantry of security personnel and local vigilantes in the area and called for more support to keep the region secure.
Akintoye Badare, an army Major and Spokesman of the 28 Task-Force Battalion, Mubi, confirmed the development adding that there were no casualties on the military side during the operation.