NIGERIA’S top Islamic leader on Monday accused the military of fleeing when Boko Haram attacks, returning only when the violence has ended to “terrorise” the victims.
“Soldiers take to their heels and abandon their bases, arms, ammunition and other military hardware on the approach of the insurgents!” said a statement from Nigeria’s main Islamic body, the JNI, speaking on behalf of the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar.
“Nigerian Security Forces only surface after the deadly attacks and terrorise an already terrorised people by installing road blocks and searching homes,” it added, in the harshest-ever criticism from the key Islamic leader.
In one of the latest humiliations for the Nigerian army, Boko Haram on November 10 overran Chibok town in a string of victories by the militants, in which Nigerian soldiers are reported to simply turned tail and fled.
Chibok is the town from which the militants abducted more than 200 schoolgirls in mid-April. It was an embarrassing setback for the military because of the status the town has come to assume as a symbol of the federal government’s ability to get on top of the crisis posed by the insurgency.
However, the military retook the town a week later with the help of local vigilantes armed with old rifles, but mostly bows and arrows. The vigilantes and emerging militias have been widely praised for standing up to Boko Haram and beating them back. although experts warn that they could pose a security nightmare of their own in the future.
Boko Haram, however, continues to sow terror. On the weekend reports emerged that the group had killed 48 fish vendors in an attack on fish sellers near the border with Chad.
A fish traders’ group said some victims had their throats slit whilst others were tied up and drowned in Lake Chad.
The attack took place on Thursday, but the news took several days to come to light because Boko Haram has destroyed mobile phone masts in the area.
On Wednesday, Boko Haram gunmen attacked the village of Azaya Kura, also in Borno state, killing at least 45 people.
In that attack too, victims’ hands were tied behind their backs and their throats were slit.
Boko Haram has been waging an insurgency in Nigeria since 2009.
It has stepped up attacks against civilian targets since the Nigerian military launched an offensive against the group last year. Speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York in September, President Goodluck Jonathan said the insurgents had at that point killed over 13,000 Nigerians.