BY REMILEKUN DARAMOLA in Maiduguri•
The Nigerian military has rubbished the claim by the Amnesty International (AI) that the abandonment of Rann, Borno State during an attack on the town by Boko Haram that led to the death of 60 persons was both outlandish and false.
The military in a press statement endorsed by Col. Onyema Nwachukwu, the spokesman of the military counter-insurgency operation in the North East (Operation Lafiya Dole, said: “The attention of the Theatre Command Operation LAFIYA DOLE has been drawn to recent claims by the Amnesty International (AI) that troops’ abandonment of their deployment led to the killing of 60 civilians in Rann on 28 January 2018.
“Undoubtedly, it is disheartening that the situation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who are already traumatised having been displaced from their ancestral homes by insurgency is being further aggravated by recent callous Boko Haram attack on the IDP community.
“However, it is most unacceptable and unfair for AI to make such outlandish and unverified claims that troops abandoned their deployment a day before Boko Haram attack on the location, thereby exposing the IDPs to a deadly attack.
“This claim is not only bereft of truth, but in its usual mannerism, another futile effort by AI to portray the Nigerian military as incapable, as well as project the Nigerian government as not protective of her people in the eyes of the global community. It is therefore inevitable to address this misinformation being peddled and fed the public, from AI’s obviously uninformed report.
“It must be clarified that contrary to insinuations by AI that troops abandoned their deployment a day before Boko Haram outrageous attack on Rann on 28 January 2019, Rann never actually came under any attack on the date claimed by AI. Rather Rann experienced that unfortunate attack on 14 January 2018 and in that encounter, the troops proved their mettle and gallantry by neutralising two suicide bombers and three Boko Haram foot soldiers, while several took to their heels with gun shot wounds.
“With the support of troops from the Multi-National Joint Task, which later joined in the battle, the insurgents were finally overpowered.
“It is also crucial to mention here, as has been reported in an earlier press release, signed by Deputy Director Army Public Relations of Sector 1 that the Theatre Commander, Major General Benson Akinroluyo and the Commander Sector 1 Operation LAFIYA DOLE Brigadier General Bulama Biu wasted no time in swiftly responding to the development, as they immediately embarked on a long range patrol to Rann, as well as other adjoining communities within the area, during which they conducted battle damage assessment.
“Contrary to AI’s claims, at no point of the assessment, was any report of the killing of 60 civilians made either by the civilians themselves, whom the Sector Commander interacted with or by the members of the Joint Task Force who were at hand during the assessment.
“Again a Search and Rescue Operation that followed after the attack did not recover the said 60 bodies of killed civilians, as AI would want members of the public to believe.
“The troops commenced a clearance operation in villages surrounding Rann and destroyed Boko Haram terrorists camps that were uncovered during the operation.”
“In one of such clearance operations on 30 January 2019, the troops encountered an ambush staged by the terrorists along Gamboru-Mafa road and gallantly fought through it, overpowering the insurgents.
“Another issue in the controvertible AI report is the alleged attack on Rann on 28 January 2019, where as, there was no such attack. Rather, an alarm was raised by IDPs in Rann of the sudden withdrawal of Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) troops from the location, to which the authorities of Operation LAFIYA quickly responded, following which the Commander Sector 1 returned to Rann on Monday 29 January with reinforcement troops to beef-up and support the troops there.”
He lamented that, “The astronomical statistics of human casualty touted by AI and the alleged abdication of duty by our selfless and resilient troops cannot hold water in the face of facts of the several exemplary physical involvements of the Theatre Commander and the Commander Sector 1 as well as Commanders of 22 Brigade and 3 Battalion in ensuring normalcy returns to Rann and the reinforcement and replenishment of the troops.”
He said: “Evidently, in its characteristic inclination to swiftly accuse the Nigerian military of wrong doing, AI failed again to conduct a validity check on its manufactured data before cooking its report.
“No doubt, in battles, collateral damages are unfortunately incurred and troops in the front line are first victims to suffer such damages, up to the point of sacrificing their lives, as they are saddled with the duty to defend their country and the citizenry. We are deeply touched by the demise of those who fell during the callous attack of Rann by Boko Haram terrorists.
“We are also empathic with humanitarian organisations as well as members of International and local NGOs who were affected by the attack.
It is indeed another reminder and clarion call on the international and local communities to support the Nigerian military to bring the dastardly and mindless acts of Boko Haram and Islamic State of West Africa (ISWA) terrorists to a decisive end.”
The spokesman said: “We (military) seize this opportunity to reiterate that our responsibility of defending our fatherland and protecting our people remain our pride and conscience no matter the amount of distraction and smear campaigns.”
The military in another statement claimed that there was no abduction on Maiduguri-Damaturu highway as reported in some section of the media.
A statement by Lt. Njoka Irabor, the Acting Assistant Director Army Public Relation, Sector 2, Operation Lafiya Dole on Saturday said: “The attention of Headquarters Sector 2, Operation Lafiya Dole, was drawn to fake news on Vanguard newspaper website and other social media platforms alleging that suspected Boko Haram terrorists have abducted unspecified passengers plying Biu-Damaturu road on Friday.
“This is not true as there is no such incidence in the north east, let alone in the mentioned road.”
Irabor said: “What the medium misconstrued was that, as part of our routine measures to curb the criminal activities of Boko Haram terrorists and ensure safety and security of all residents and commuters, troops carry out routine patrols, checks and ambushes.
“This often necessitated the temporary closure of the roads. What happened in morning of 1st February 2019 was that there was reported suspected movement of Boko Haram terrorists and the troops swung into action.
“In order to avoid likely collateral damages, the troops temporarily halted vehicles movement. However, the road was immediately reopened after the routine military operation.”
He advised: “Members of the public and the good people of Yobe state, particularly motorist and travellers plying that route, are to discountenance the report and go about their lawful daily activities, as our troops are working round the clock to ensure the protection of lives and property of members of the public, especially on our roads.”