Boko Haram ‘taking over’ Nigerian villages near border with Cameroon
Associated Press in Maiduguri
Boko Haram militants are taking over villages in northeastern Nigeria, witnesses say, killing and terrorising civilians and political leaders as the Islamic fighters make a comeback from a year-long military offensive aimed at crushing them.
Nigeria's military has insisted that the big influx of troops, and a year-old state of emergency in three states, had the extremists on the run.
But while Boko Haram has in large part been pushed out of cities in the northeast, they have been seizing villages with thatched-roof huts in the semi-arid region where they once held sway, boldly staking their claim by hoisting their black flags with white Arabic lettering.
Nglamuda Ibrahim, a local government official, says the militants hoisted their flags in Ashigashiya, which borders Cameroon, several weeks ago without interference from the security forces.
Muhammed Gavva, a member of an anti-militant vigilante group, named another dozen villages that also fell to Boko Haram, all also close to the Cameroonian border, with no action taken by Nigerian security forces.
Gavva said one road to Maiduguri - the capital of Borno state, and where the military joint task force has its headquarters - was so dangerous that even soldiers did not dare to travel it.
The seized villages are near Gwoza, a regional centre whose emir was killed in a Boko Haram ambush last week. Emirs are traditional religious rulers who have been targeted for speaking out against Boko Haram extremism.
Borno Governor Kashim Shettima travelled on Saturday to Gwoza to pay his respects to the fallen emir and was quoted as saying it was a terrifying ride.
"If I say I was not petrified travelling the road to Gwoza I would be lying, because that road has been designated a no-go area for about two months now due to the incessant attacks and killings that occur there," the governor was quoted as saying by website Information Nigeria.
A local journalist who was in the convoy, escorted by 150 soldiers, counted 16 towns and villages that were deserted along the 135-kilometre route.