Members of two chapters of the civilian Joint Task Force (JTF), which helps Nigerian soldiers in the war against the Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, are offering conflicting accounts about whether Boko Haram had captured Bama, a major town in the state that was the scene of fierce gunfight two days ago.
Residents who fled the town as well as Senator Khalifa Zanna, who hails from the town, have asserted that the Islamist insurgents took Bama after Nigerian soldiers retreated en masse following a major case of death by friendly fire.
However, just as reports emerged that Boko Haram had overrun Bama, the state government stepped up propaganda to deny that insurgents had gained the upper hand in such a strategically important town.
Yesterday, the Borno State government helped arrange a widely orchestrated press conference for leaders of the Maiduguri-based youth vigilantes, also known as “civilian” Joint Task Force (JTF), to deny reports that Boko Haram militants had seized Bama from Nigeria troops.
At the press briefing, held in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, the “civilians” JTF’s spokesman, Jibrin Gunda, said his group categorically refuted the statement credited to Senator Zanna, who represents Borno Central, that Boko Haram had captured Bama. Mr. Zanna made the assertion in an interview with the Hausa service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Mr. Gunda said, “Our security personnel are doing their best. Yesterday, our gallant soldiers successfully repelled the terrorists who attacked Bama. And Bama as a town in Borno State has never been overrun or overtaken by the militants even for a minute. Even now, our soldiers are in full control of the town.” He urged President Goodluck Jonathan to investigate and prosecute the alleged sponsors of Boko recently named by an Australian hostage negotiator, Steven Davis. “Nigeria is superior and better than any person in this country,” said Mr. Gunda.
It was unclear why the Nigerian military left the business of presenting their case about Bama to the “civilian” JTF, but the Nigerian military appeared tongue-tied about the status of Bama.
Even as members of the Maiduguri-based civilian JTF were insisting at their press conference that Bama was still in the hands of soldiers, their colleagues from Bama had arrived in Maiduguri after escaping from the advancing column of Boko Haram insurgents. In separate interviews with SaharaReporters, some of Bama’s top civilian JTF leaders declared that Bama had indeed fallen to Boko Haram. They also offered a starkly different account from the rosy picture painted by the state government in Maiduguri regarding the outcome of the battle for control of Bama.