• UN condemns continued attacks on civilians
• Air Force plans fresh onslaught on terrorists
It was a black Easter in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, as no fewer than 29 persons were feared killed in a crossfire between the Boko Haram insurgents and the military on Sunday.
The confrontation ensued when the Boko Haram insurgents launched a coordinated attack on a military camp and the adjoining Bale Shuwar and Alikaranti communities on the outskirts of Maiduguri in a move to infiltrate the state capital.
According to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) report, echoes from sporadic gunshots and multiple explosions which lasted for hours on Sunday evening were heard from the outskirts of the city.
The insurgents attacked the military base in the Cashew Plantation area at the entrance to the city with suicide bombers, mortars and guns, leading to a prolonged battle.
There were conflicting casualty figures.
“So far, we have recovered 18 dead bodies from the two villages,” Bello Dambatto, an official from the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) told the Agence France Presse (AFP).
“The victims were killed while trying to escape the fight between the insurgents and the military,” Dambatto said.
The Nigerian Army confirmed that 15 persons, including a soldier, lost their lives and 83 others wounded in the attacks.
Brig.-Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, the Deputy Director, Army Public Relations, Operation Lafiya Dole, said in a statement in Maiduguri that the gallant troops repelled the insurgents’ attack.
“Troops deployed in the Cashew Plantation around Bale Shuwa and Alikaramti villages have quashed an attempt by Boko Haram terrorists to penetrate Maiduguri metropolis on Sunday at about 8:10 p.m.
“The insurgents met with stiff resistance of the troops who killed the insurgents and neutralised seven suicide bombers in the encounter,” he said.
According to him, when the terrorists were unable to force their way into the metropolis, they retreated and callously resorted to attacking locals, who were fleeing in confusion from Bale Shuwa and Alkaranti villages.
“Sadly, 15 persons including a soldier have so far been confirmed dead in the encounter, while 83 persons who suffered varying degrees of injuries are receiving due medical attention. Troops are still on the trail of the insurgents,’’ he said.
But the Borno State Police Commissioner, Damian Chukwu, said 29 persons, including Boko Haram terrorists, villagers, and a soldier died following the attacks, adding that 86 villagers who also sustained injuries were receiving treatment in a specialist hospital.
At a press briefing in Maiduguri, Chukwu disclosed that 13 terrorists, 13 civilians and a soldier were killed in twin attacks. The remaining two persons might have been those who died in hospital. He said the suspected insurgents and suicide bombers took advantage of a wedding ceremony to sneak into the villages to kill by detonating their explosives.
The Chief Medical Director of the State Specialist Hospital, Dr. Laraba Bello, said that out of 81 injured persons, two died, while three were referred to the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH).
The Air Task Force Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, AVM Idi Lubo, said the force was set to begin a new phase of onslaught against the insurgents.
Lubo disclosed this in Yola yesterday while representing the Chief of Air Staff at a feast organised for officers and men to mark the Easter celebrations at the Yola NAF Base.
Lubo said NAF would be supporting the Multi-National Joint Force in the new phase of onslaught, adding that the best should be expected from NAF during the operation.
“We are starting an operation in the next few days that would last for about three weeks. So, I employ you all who work on the machines, to do everything possible to ensure that you keep these machines serviceable as you have always done for us.”
Meanwhile, the UN Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Yassine Gaba, has condemned the attacks on military and communities in Borno on Sunday.
In a statement by the Public Information Officer, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Maiduguri, Nigeria, Yasmina Guerda, Gaba also expressed dismay over the recent attacks on Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states.
“The recent weeks have seen a steady continuation of attacks on civilians in the three most conflict-affected states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, in the north-east. Since the beginning of the year, reportedly, at least 120 civilian women, children and men were killed and over 210 sustained serious injuries, in over 22 attacks allegedly by non-state armed groups directly targeting civilians. Civilians are also regularly abducted, as in Dapchi, Yobe State, where 110 schoolgirls were taken on 19 February.
“Innocent civilians continue to suffer daily from direct and indiscriminate attacks in the north-east of Nigeria.
“Endless numbers of explosions, brutal killings, abductions and lootings continue to uproot the lives of women, children and men daily. I call on all parties to the conflict to end this violence and to respect human life and dignity.”