The Christian Elders Forum of Northern States, CEFNS, called on the Federal Government to rebuild the over 400 churches destroyed by Boko Haram insurgency in the region.
This is even as the Defence Headquarters, DHQ, yesterday sent a high powered team of senior officers to Baga, Borno State, to assess the recent military operation in the town.
Also, six policemen and five members of the Boko Haram Islamic sect were killed in fresh clashes in Borno and Yobe states.
The NESCEF leaders, who met at their annual conference in Abuja, also called on President Goodluck Jonathan not to grant state pardon or amnesty to the Boko Haram sect.
In a communiqué signed by its Chairman and Secretary- General, Evangelist Mathew Owojaiye and Mr. Iliya Yusuf respectively, the NOSCEF said the present atmosphere of insecurity facing the nation would not give Nigerians credible elections in 2015.
The forum added that the Federal Government must rebuild the churches destroyed by the insurgents in the North, while it must also compensate Christian victims before any pardon could be granted.
The communiqué reads in part: “Over 400 churches have been destroyed or closed down. Christians are now being individually targeted and eliminated. Thousands of Christian businesses ruined, over 1,500 Christians, innocent lives wiped out. Why is government not talking about pardon to Boko Haram but amnesty? There should be no discussion of amnesty to Boko Haram until all the victims have been adequately compensated.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence has sent assessment team to Borno State to find out what happened in the border town of Baga last weekend in which close to 200 persons were killed in clashes between soldiers and Boko Haram insurgents.
President Jonathan had said on Wednesday that soldiers found guilty of committing atrocities will be punished.
Leader of the assessment team, who is also the Chief of Training and Operations, Defence Headquarters, Major Gen. Lawrence Ngubani, while on a courtesy call on Governor Kashim Shettima, said the team was mandated to find out the veracity or otherwise of the casualty figures as widely reported by local and international media.
According to Gen. Ngubani, the team was constituted at the instance of Chief of Defence Staff, (CDS), Admiral Ola Ibrahim, following the global outcry over the high level of purported number of victims reported by the media.
“The CDS felt that there was urgent need for the Defence Headquarters to carry out an independent and comprehensive on the spot assessment to find out if the actual number of civilians, claimed to have been killed in the violence is indeed true. So we are in the state to interact with the local officials, surviving victims, traditional and religious leaders as well as other stakeholders of the affected community”, he said.
The military chief added that the latest preliminary assessment of the entire episode proved that the casualty figures being reported were far from the truth, they were actually exaggerated.
“The assessment team visited Baga town and had an audience with the victims and other and relevant persons. We visited two separate graveyards where the dead victims were purportedly buried, what we saw was extremely below what was reported. We are not undermining the death of a single Nigerian, in fact it is a great loss to the nation”, he declared.
Gen. Ngubani further reiterated the determination of the Nigerian Army to partner with the state government in addressing the persistent security challenges confronting the state and the entire country at large.
In his remarks, Governor Shettima regretted the Baga killings, saying the number of the victims should not be a center of great concern, rather even it were a death of a single Nigerian, similar concern should be displayed.
“The time of who to be blamed for the incident should not be an issue for now, rather we should all concentrate on how best to restore peace and normalcy”, Shettima said.
The governor restated the determination of his administration in tackling abject poverty among youths, which described as the underlining cause of the Boko Haram insurgency.
Meanwhile, the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, yesterday began the distribution of relief materials to victims of the Baga clash.
Already the agency and the Nigeria Red Cross who arrived in the town on Wednesday have set up camps for the victims.
The camp was set up at the Local Government Clinic in Baga town.
Materials distributed include food items, mats, clothing and toiletries.
Some of the victims who needed medical attention were also attended to by the agency and the Red Cross team.
NEMA Director of Rescue and Search Operations, Air Commodore Charles Otebegde, who led a delegation of the agency officials from Abuja, said they were in the town following a directive from President Jonathan to provide immediate relief to the affected victims.
On Wednesday, the North-East Zonal Coordinator of the agency, Alhaji Mohammed Kanar, led a team of officials to some villages where some of the victims relocated and the agency convinced them to come to the camp.
Among those presently at the camps, Aisha Sanni Gogobiri, a 30-year-old mother of seven said her husband is still missing since the crisis erupted.
She was evacuated along with her seven children by the NEMA team to the camp.
Meanwhile, gunmen suspected to be members of the sect laid ambush to a patrol vehicle in Bama Local Government Area of Borno State, killing four occupants.
National Mirror learnt that the terrorists attempted to kidnap the Divisional Police Officer, DPO, who was suspected to be aboard the vehicle, but he escaped.
However, the hoodlums were said to have escaped from the scene in the patrol vehicle.
Bama is about 70 kilometres from Maiduguri.
Our correspondent gathered that the incident took place about 10a.m. around Bama central market when the terrorists, armed with sophisticated weapons, came in four unmarked vehicles and shot sporadically throwing explosives targeted at some security posts in the town.
While trying to repel the attacks, a reliable source said, the four policemen were killed. Several shops and residential houses close to the Bama central market were equally set ablaze during the encounter.
In a text message sent to newsmen in Maiduguri, the Police Public Relations Officer, DSP Gideon Jubrin said no DPO was involved in the attack, even as he admitted that there was an attack in Bama, but declined comment on the killing of four policemen, claiming that the details were still sketchy.
In Yobe State, five policemen and 20 people, suspected to be Boko Haram militants died after a midnight shootout between the insurgents and security forces in Gashua town, according to residents and security sources.
Gashua is about 185 kilometres from Damaturu, the state capital, and also a known centre of sect activities, which had witnessed series of killings and bombings in recent times.
The Commissioner of Police in Yobe, Alhaji Sanusi Rufai, said that five policemen and 20 gunmen had been confirmed dead with over N9m carted away from a commercial bank during the attack by Islamic Boko Haram terrorists in Gashua, Yobe on Thursday.
The commissioner, who made the disclosure while briefing newsmen in Damaturu, said that two policemen also sustained injuries and were currently receiving treatment.
He explained that the gunmen had earlier seized the bank manager, forcing him to open the vault where the money was carted away from together with a Peugeot 406 and Toyota Corolla cars.
Rufai said that police and military men later engaged the gunmen in a gun battle, recovering the two cars and an Isuzu Hilux van, belonging to the terrorists.
The commissioner said that two guns, two locally made pistols; two long range rifles; 19 hand grenades and assorted ammunitions were also recovered from the gunmen.
He said that one of the gunmen was captured and was now assisting the police with information on the attack.
“It is the same group using police and military uniforms that attacked Tarmuwa, Gulani and Giedam in recent times,” Rufai said.
Spokesman of the Joint Task Force, JTF, Lt. Eli Lazarus, said in a press statement sent to newsmen that most of the Boko Haram gunmen fled in the heat of the shootout and abandoned their vehicles and cache of arms.
Fati Umar, a female school teacher and resident of Gashua sent a text message out about 1a.m. saying ‘please do pray for us! We are in danger’.
Fati later confirmed on phone to journalists that dozens of Boko Haram gunmen invaded their Mobile Base area about midnight shooting and chanting Islamic slogan ‘Allahu Akbar’, meaning God is great.
“From the way they were moving, it was like they were going from house to house. They fired several gunshots around our house but the gate was firmly locked.
“It was this morning we heard they attacked a police station and the prison,” she said.
Lt. Lazarus said in his statement that the attack started at midnight.
“At about 12 midnight Thursday April 25, 2013, unknown gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram terrorists attacked JTF location in Gashua town, the Police Area Command and Gashua Divisional Police Station. Men of the JTF were able to repel and contain the attack on its location. Reinforcement was however dispatched swiftly and was able to engage the terrorists.
“Two police officers were killed in the attack while five of the suspected terrorists lost their lives during the encounter. Some of the suspected terrorists escaped in two vehicles with injuries while others are believed to still be at large. The fleeing terrorists took away one police Hilux vehicle fitted with siren at the top, one other vehicle, police uniforms and other items from the police stations.
“Items recovered include one Toyota Corolla car, one Peugeot 406 Saloon Car, one Isuzu Pick Up Van, One AK 47 Rifle, one Police Anti- Riot Gun, one locally made pistol, one Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) bomb, one generating set and large quantity of ammunition,” he said.
The spokesman urged the general public to be mindful of the fact that the terrorists are still around and are bent on wrecking havoc and instilling fear in law abiding citizens in order to make life unbearable for them. “Let no one be in doubt however, that JTF would continue to respond appropriately to such attacks”, Lazarus said.
The Task Force also urges all law abiding citizens to remain calm as it is currently on top of the situation. A cordon and search operation is currently on going in Gashua town.
To guard against the influx of illegal immigrants into Nigeria through the numerous borders, the House of Representatives yesterday passed a motion urging the Presidency to erect perimeter fences to demarcate the country’s borders with neighbouring nations like Chad, Mali, Cameroun and others.
The House in its motion sponsored by Hon. Hassan Saleh (PDP-Benue) also seeks to have the demarcations armed with sensors and cameras and decent incentives for immigration staff manning the borders to discourage them from cooperating with illegal immigrants.
In his motion, Saleh noted that most Nigerian land border posts were not “water tight”, despite the importance attached to our borderlines to ensure security, economic and social well-being of the country and its citizens.
He said: “It is disheartening to note that our borders with our neighbours remain poorly and inefficiently managed” adding that “at some of our borders, there are no flags, gates or any form of proper demarcation, rather what has been observed at some border posts such as Seme and Idi-Iroko are demarcations made of bamboo trunks.”
According to the lawmaker, besides the gross lack of security at the borders, “it has been alleged that there exists 1,497 illegal routes into the country, adding that most of our villages, towns and cities are filled with illegal immigrants who go about without any fear of being questioned about the legality of their stay in the country.”
He noted that Nigeria’s borders with other countries stretches through 3,140 kilometres running from Malaville, north of Republic of Benin stretching through Kebbi, Sokoto, Katsina, Jigawa, Yobe, Borno states down to Mfun in Cross River State that has a boundary with Cameroun.
He said that the rising tide of insecurity in the country today is a direct fallout of the porosity of the nation’s borders coupled with the lack of effective manpower, inadequate logistics and lack of conducive working conditions for those charged with the responsibility of manning the border posts.
Nigeria’s neighbours are Benin Republic, which has boundary stretching 773 kilometres in the South West; Niger Republic, 1,500 kilometres in the North West; Chad, 87 kilometers in the North East and Cameroun, 1,680 kilometers from the North East to the South South.
In another development, governors of the 19 northern states have sounded the alarm over the current destruction of lives and property going on in the region, saying that there is trouble.
Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State said except all hands are brought on deck to stop the menace, the danger it portends for the region will forever remain indelible.
Also the Governor of Niger State, Dr Babangida Aliyu, called on his colleagues to wake up to their responsibilities as chief security officers of their various states to ensure that peace returned to the zone even as he noted that the leaders in the North are facing serious challenges.
Speaking yesterday at the meeting of the Northern Governors’ Forum when it received reports of the committee it set up on Reconciliation, Healing and Security in Abuja, Yuguda said he weeps for the blood of innocent Nigerians being shed for no just cause.
He said it was regrettable that values that bound the North in the past had been eroded and thus paved way for the current insurgency going on at the moment.
Welcoming guests earlier, chairman of Northern Governors’ Forum, Aliyu, said he was happy over the report of the committee saying it has opened a new vista for resolving the Boko Haram menace in the country.
The committee in its report called on the northern governors to present a common development focus for the northern states in its bid to tackle the grim social and economic situation of the region.
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