No fewer than 100 persons are believed to have been killed in Borno State following Tuesday's attack by the terrorist group Boko Haram on four border communities with Cameroun.
The attack, it was learnt, was a retaliatory one on the villages of Attagara, Ngoshe, Agapalawa and Aganjara in Gwoza Local Government Area of the troubled state.
A resident of Maiduguri, who lost his brother in the attack, told journalists on the condition of anonymity that the armed men dressed in military camouflage drove into the communities in all-terrain vehicles and motorbikes.
They subsequently gathered the unsuspecting villagers and opened fire on them.
Gwoza is located in the southeastern part of Borno State and about 135 kilometres away from Maiduguri, the capital of the state presently ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgency.
A security source said: “The community actually thought the gunmen were military personnel. It didn't occur to them that they were Boko Haram members. It was too late by the time they found out as the insurgents indiscriminately opened fire on them.
“As I speak to you over 83 corpses are lying in the villages and yet to be buried.”
An indigene of the area, Ibrahim, but is resident in Maiduguri, also said he had been in touch with three of his relations who were fortunate enough to escape during the onslaught on the communities.
He said his fleeing relations were lucky to have escaped the attack but had to return to the village again for fear that they could be traced in the bush by the terrorists.
According to Ibrahim, his relatives who were unaware of the level of killings were shell-shocked when they found out the magnitude of the destruction of human lives and property.
Though attempts to get the confirmation of security operatives were unsuccessful at the time of filing this report, a security source disclosed that the communities lost 83 persons.
A local lawmaker, Peter Biye, and other residents also told AFP: “There were deadly attacks on these villages by Boko Haram insurgents who killed a large number of people and destroyed homes."
Biye, who represents the area in the House of Representatives, said: “We are still trying to compile a toll of the dead as people on the ground are still counting the number of casualties.”
Many residents fled across the border into neighbouring Cameroun, as soldiers were deployed to fight the Islamists, who took over at least seven villages, Biye added.
“Boko Haram has hoisted their flags in at least seven villages in the area which they now claim to be under their control," said the lawmaker.
Military jets bombarded Boko Haram positions in the affected area to try to flush out the insurgents, he added.
Abba Goni, who lives in the mainly Muslim village of Ngoshe, said the gunmen were armed with Kalashnikov assault weapons and rocket-propelled grenades. The entire village of about 300 homes was razed with several mosques, he added.
“We lost many people, including (civilian) vigilantes who tried to fight off the Boko Haram attackers. At least 100 people were killed,” said Goni, who fled to nearby Gamboru Ngala.
In the predominantly Christian village of Attagara, homes and a church were also set on fire while dozens of residents were killed, according to Bulus Yashi, who also escaped to Gamboru Ngala.
“It was a reprisal over the casualties Boko Haram suffered in the village in two previous attacks,” he said.
On Sunday, around a dozen gunmen on motorcycles opened fire on a church in the village killing nine worshippers. But residents mobilised and pursued the attackers, killing four and arresting four others, he added.
Villagers had also repelled an attack on the village on May 25, killing seven Boko Haram gunmen, he said. “We believe they came on a revenge mission,” he added.
In another community, however, the terror sect suffered some losses when 20 of its members were arrested by irate youths who took them on when they attacked their village.
A local chief, Mallam Dawa Pogu of a community in Askira/Uba Local Government Area of the state, told journalists yesterday that the insurgents invaded Mbulakudla village where they killed two people, but some brave young men pursued them and arrested 20 of them.
He said they were subsequently taken to security operatives in the area for appropriate action.
According to him, the insurgents attacked the village at about 2 am on Tuesday and started shooting into the air and raiding people's houses.
They killed two people in the process but where subsequently repelled by the youths who came out en masse to confront them.
Pogu said if the people do not wake up to protect themselves, the entire village would soon be wiped out by the sect.
He said: “We are thinking of the future of our children, they come they kill and they leave unchallenged. If we continue like this, there will be no village around our area in the near future.
"Everybody is running from one village to another village and when the other supposedly safe village is attacked, they run again to another village. For how long shall we continue running away from these criminals who have no respect for religion or tribe?"
He revealed that all villages along the highway from Maiduguri to Askira/Uba had all been wiped out with only few villages left standing.
“We have security but they cannot come to our aid because they too are human and have their own problems, they would not come to rescue villages that are being attacked. Unless the government looks into their problems and solves it, we will continue to have problems,” he said.
He said the last time he held discussions with some security operatives, they told him that they were not mobilised and their allowances had not been paid.
According to him, not all security operatives stationed in their localities were trustworthy, as the villagers often wonder why the terrorists kill people and destroy property at will despite the presence of security personnel in the state.
However, as the terrorists continue to ride roughshod over villages in Borno State, the governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima, has given the task of selecting schools outside the state for the 57 rescued Chibok schoolgirls to an inter-faith and civil society group.
Shettima also assigned to the Kaduna-based Inter-Faith Mediation Centre, whose members were in Maiduguri with some medical experts yesterday, the task of counselling the 57 girls.
The governor instructed them to search for good schools for the rescued girls in Abuja or other areas, noting that his administration was determined to do everything within its power to give quality education to the traumatised girls.
Shettima disclosed that the Borno State Government had earmarked N100 million for the education of the Chibok schoolgirls, adding that he was optimistic that those still being held would be released.
He said: “Our hearts go out to all the rescued girls and to those still in captivity of the so-called Boko Haram. We are willing to do everything within our power to give them quality education, including those still in captivity. We are willing to rehabilitate all of them to end their trauma.”
He revealed that with the directive given to the centre to choose schools for the girls, it would also be engaged in the counselling exercise, after which it would have the capacity to make informed decisions appropriate to the future of the girls.
Shettima said he was hopeful that the schoolgirls would emerge from the trauma of their experience at the end of the exercise.
In their remarks, the leaders of the centre, Pastor James Wuyeand and Imam Mohammed Ashafa, disclosed that the centre was established in the aftermath of the sectarian crisis in Kaduna State some years back.
They said the centre is backed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
They commended the state government for constituting a counselling team made up of medical experts and psychologists for the schoolgirls even before the voluntary intervention of the mediation centre.
“We are here not to reinvent what has been done. We have been to other African nations like Chad, Central Africa Republic and Sudan, among others, but we have the urge to replicate the same in our country.
“Ours is a psycho-therapeutic approach, we are to generate data and then follow up the girls' progress in their education. The medical personnel will also assist in some medical checks in collaboration with the local doctors. We are here to complement your efforts,” the inter-faith body said.
Chief of Staff to the Governor, Alhaji Abu Kyari, further explained that the Chibok schoolgirls had been divided into three categories, namely, the 57 who escaped; 119 who were not abducted but ran away from the school when the abductors came; and the 219 still being held by the sect.
It was learnt that the state team on the counselling of the Chibok schoolgirls assigned to give local support and data to the mediation centre include the Commissioner for Health, heads of state-owned health institutions, and experts from other federal institutions in the state, among others.