Boko Haram Takes Over Chibok
Boko Haram has seized the northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok, from where 276 girls were kidnapped more than six months ago and which the government vowed to secure after the mass abduction.
The April 14 kidnapping in the impoverished town in southern Borno state brought unprecedented global attention to the armed Islamist group’s brutal five-year uprising.
Heads of state and top celebrities joined a viral social media campaign calling for the rescue of the seized, mostly Christian, schoolgirls, 219 of whom are still being held.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has repeatedly promised to rescue the schoolgirls, including on Tuesday when he launched his bid for a second term in office ahead of February 14 polls.
In a July meeting in the capital Abuja with those affected by the kidnapping, Jonathan and top military brass also pledged to provide better security for the town.
But the violence in the northeast has intensified since, with Boko Haram reportedly seizing more than two dozens towns and Nigeria’s security forces reportedly absent in many areas.
The military was not immediately available to comment on the developments in Chibok.
But given the town’s symbolic significance, its fall will likely raise fresh doubt about Nigeria’s ability to handle the Boko Haram threat.
– ‘They are in control’ –
“Chibok was taken by Boko Haram. They are in control,” said Enoch Mark, a Christian pastor whose daughter and niece are among the hostages being held.
Mark and the senator for southern Borno, Ali Ndume, said the militants attacked at about 4:00 pm (1500 GMT) on Thursday, destroying communications masts and forcing residents to flee.
Ndume said that he had received calls from fleeing residents about the attack that the town “was now under their (Boko Haram) control”.
“There is no telephone service now in Chibok, which is why it took time before the reports reached me,” he added.
Mark said the attack on the town appeared to come after Boko Haram overran the towns of Hong and Gombi in neighbouring Adamawa state following the group’s ouster from the commercial hub of Mubi.
“They came in and engaged soldiers and vigilantes in a gunfight,” he added.
“Some of us managed to escape. All the telecom towers in the town were destroyed during the attack with RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades).
“No-one can say what the situation is in the town in terms of destruction to property.”
– Inside information? –
At the July meeting with Jonathan, Chibok community leaders stressed that aside from the trauma of the mass kidnapping, locals remained in daily fear of attack and pleaded for more security.
Ayuba Chibok, whose niece is among the hostages, said at the time that people told the head of state that they “were tired of sleeping in the bushes”.
In a series of phone calls to AFP in recent months, Chibok elders stressed that security had continued to deteriorate, despite the promises made at the meeting.
A senior rescue worker warned late last month that Chibok’s fall was imminent.
Pogo Bitrus, chairman of the elders forum in Chibok, also confirmed the attack but said Boko Haram may have had inside information about security in the town.
“The vigilantes use shotguns and cartridges and have been short in supply, so the leader left yesterday for Maiduguri to procure more in the event of any attack,” he said by telephone from Abuja.
“But Boko Haram launched the attack while he was still in Maiduguri. He was due to come today, so it looks like they knew what was happening.”
Bitrus said the vigilantes were preparing for a counter-attack and troops had been deployed from Damboa, 36.5 kilometres (22.5 miles) away by road to the northwest.
“I can assure you they are going to retake Chibok,” he added.
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