A Nigerian governor from the northeast survived an attack by the Boko Haram Islamist fundamentalists on Wednesday and blamed the incident on sabotage and lack of commitment by the military.
Babagana Zulum, governor of Borno State in Nigeria’s northeast region, Wednesday evening survived an ambush by Boko Haram insurgents at Kukawa near Baga, a fishing town by the border of Nigeria and Chad.
Zulum and his entourage came under a barrage of gunshots just moments after he inspected a guard of honors mounted for him by the Army at its base in Kukawa. He had to be shielded by soldiers who surrounded and shepherded him into a vehicle as the firing continued, with some of the soldiers in the background returning fire.
He was on his way to Baga to distribute food materials to internally displaced people there but was forced to abort the journey.
There are shouts of “Bend down, bend down,” as the governor could be seen bending down in the middle of soldiers. An Armored Personnel Carrier pulls by, as more gunshots ring out in the video that has gone viral.
“The fact is that the shooting that has happened is not from Boko Haram,” the unruffled governor told one of the army officers who came to urge him to continue the journey into Baga.
The officer tries to reassure the professor and engineer that what had just happened was an attack launched by pockets of Boko Haram insurgents – not more than 10, who infiltrated into the town.
But the governor was neither impressed nor convinced. “You have 1,181 soldiers and 75 commanders and we cannot go into Baga,” the governor fires back at the soldier, who declares that: “Going into Baga is not a problem at all”.
“As far as I am concerned, there is no Boko Haram inside the town (Baga). There was a very serious shooting by the Nigerian armed forces who are residing inside Baga. Their commanders can confess. The situation is very embarrassing,” the governor said in an interview with journalists as he recounted his ordeal.
The governor wondered why 1, 181 soldiers with 75 officers cannot go into a town that has not more than 10 Boko Haram fighters.
Zulum acknowledged the sacrifices being made by the soldiers and declared that: “We remain grateful to all of you, but I think the commitment is not there”.
“What happened in Baga is complete sabotage. The issue is not about the president,” he said arguing that the president has done what he should do. “The soldiers are on ground; the equipment are on ground. We have about 1,181 soldiers in Baga, with 75 officers (including Buratai himself, the Chief of Army Staff). So I think the problem is in the command and control structures that have to be looked into” he said.
There have been reports about a loss of morale among the soldiers who are fighting the insurgents. This month, over 300 soldiers were reported to have resigned from the Army, citing challenges they face in the fight against the insurgents.
“There is Boko Haram now (in Baga), the governor insisted in his conversation with the army officer. “If there is no Boko Haram, why can’t we go in,” he queried.
The officer, who was delegated by the sector commander to persuade Zulum to continue his journey tried to convince the governor that the pocket of attackers who infiltrated had been cleared. “We have done that now. We did the clearance, me and the sector commander. We saw their withdrawal track,” the officer explained.
“What happened in Baga is a compete sabotage. People should not blame the president nor Buratai to some extent. The issue of command and control structure has to be looked into,” Zulum reiterated.
He said the government would give the military sufficient time to organize and occupy Baga, which he said is very important. The shores of the Lake Chad provide employment opportunities to not fewer than 10 million who are residing in the northeast, while some are even coming from the far northwest, according to him.
“I see no reason why they should be left there is they cannot occupy Baga town, which is very important,” Zulum said.
He warned that if the military failed to retake and occupy the town within the permissible time, the government would organize the people and the community to take their destiny in their own hands “so that we can go and occupy Baga”.
“We must do something. In the next two months we must occupy Baga. We are going back to Baga to ensure that people will return to Baga. That is the only possible solution because people should have their means of livelihood,” the governor insisted.
He said the people of that area must be on their own, instead of living as Internally Displaced people and depending on others such as non-governmental organizations for help.