BOKO Haram insurgents have reportedly taken over the town of Bama in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state, following heavy fighting with government troops, but the military disputed the claim.
Scores of Boko Haram militants on Monday launched pre-dawn attacks on troops that had deployed in the town in preparation for a large-scale offensive to reclaim territory seized by the Islamists.
Hours of intense fighting, which followed previous attempts by the group to seize territory in Nigeria’s far northeast, led to an exodus of thousands of residents to the state capital, Maiduguri.
The military said on its Twitter account @DefenceInfoNG on Monday evening that it had pushed back the insurgents and followed up on Tuesday morning with another, which stated simply: “#Victory.”
Residents say Boko in control
But residents who fled the 75 kilometres (45 miles) to Maiduguri claimed the insurgents drove out the troops and took control of the town, including its military base.
“Bama is now in the hands of Boko Haram because not a single soldier remains there,” said Umar Dahiru.
“More than 400 soldiers in Bama joined residents in fleeing the Boko Haram insurgents who took control of the military barracks,” he told AFP.
People coming to the city have to pass by the University of Maiduguri, where one student, Aliyu Dawud, said he saw “many soldiers driving into Maiduguri in open vans” on Monday evening.
“Some of them had no boots, some had only vests on them while others had no guns. From their looks they were on the run for their lives,” he added.
The military initially seemed to have the upper hand against Boko Haram, but that changed when the military jet bombarded its own troops, forcing soldiers to flee, one resident said.
“The jet could not distinguish between soldiers and Boko Haram and bombarded the military barracks which was at the time under the control of soldiers,” said Yasir Zarami.
“The aerial bombing destroyed the military barracks and forced soldiers to flee towards Maiduguri along with thousands of civilians.”
Borno senator Ahmed Zannah told BBC radio’s Hausa service late on Monday that Bama fell to Boko Haram and soldiers were forced to flee because the jet bombed and destroyed their barracks.
Maiduguri, which is the Islamists’ spiritual home, has had its curfew extended from 7:00 pm to 6:00 am (1800-0500 GMT).
The military said this was to prevent “infiltration into Maiduguri Metropolis by insurgents who suffered heavy casualties”..