© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Magumeri Attack : Failure Of Civil-Military Relations, ICIR Learns
By Obiejesi Kingsley
Following Nigerian army’s suggestions that civilians in Magumeri, a town 51 kilometres from Maiduguri, may have collaborated with Boko Haram fighters in carrying out last Wednesday’s attack on the town which resulted in the death of five security personnel, icirnigeria has obtained more information about what transpired, including the fact that residents of the town could have actually prevented the attack.
This website also learnt that four soldiers, including a Lieutenant, not five as reported, were killed in the attack. The fifth victim was a policeman with the Special Anti-Robbery Squad stationed in the town.
Contrary to the army’s claim that the attackers were from the community, we can confirm that this is not entirely true, as the terrorists came from outside town.
According to information from security sources very close to the operation, including soldiers and members of the Civilian Join Task Force, Boko Haram members arrived Magumeri early in the day before they attacked the military base later that evening around 6:00pm. Members of the community saw them but did not inform soldiers because they thought the attackers were only passing through their town to another destination.
“They said they saw them in the bush long before the attack but they thought they were just passing and would not come into the town,” a security agent told our reporter on condition of anonymity. “The suspects may have told them they were passing through.”
Still, it was expected that whether or not the suspects were going to another place, those who saw them should have alerted the military as long as they were Boko Haram members, and this is why the army accused the residents of conniving with the suspects.
The website also gathered that when the Boko Haram members decided to attack, they used the houses around as cover to avoid being detected by the soldiers. Also, they were said to have assured the fleeing civilians that they were not interested in them, just soldiers.
When the attacks began, the soldiers that ran into the community were not chased, reinforcing the belief that the attackers did not want to hit civilians. They headed straight for the military base, burning a military vehicle and soldiers’ belongings.
They also set the police station on fire but by this time the military reinforcement from Maiduguri had arrived, causing the suspects to flee. The soldiers quickly put out the fire before it spread.
Soldiers did not immediately go after the attackers, thus allowing them to escape into the bush.
“The next day, some civilians told us they saw them around Kareto but when we got there, they were not there. We heard they were also sighted at Jelli (a village near Geidam in Yobe state) but when we got to the village, they were not there. We went to a third village and still could not locate them, so we were asked to return because we have to provide security at the Sambisa forest during the army’s small arms competition beginning this week,” a soldier that was part of the army’s reinforcement but did not want his name mentioned told the ICIR.
According to our findings, the military deployment in Magumeri is too close to the population and makes it difficult for them to sight danger far ahead. This is different from other military locations, where soldiers are some hundreds of metres away from civilian settlements, usually outside town. This way, they are in a better position to monitor movements in and out of the area.
Magumeri, according the military, had never been attacked until last Wednesday. The military formation there is a garrison under 5 Brigade, headquartered in Gubio. Usually, garrisons are located inside a town, not outside, and this possibly explains why troops did not see their assailants coming into the town.
Despite this, some sources blame the soldiers for not working closely enough with the people to earn their trust and ensure that they give information about suspicious movements or activities.
“Usually in an operation like this, you need the cooperation of the people. You cannot over rely on your military might to win a war like Boko Haram. If you draw the people closer to you, there must be someone among them that will tell you when things are happening or about to happen,” a member of the army intelligence corps, who also did not want to be quoted, said.
“We have used this tactic and achieved great results in different places in this operation. I am surprised about the unfortunate incident in Magumeri but I think if the soldiers had earned the trust of the people, someone would have said something.”