Saturday, November 15, 2014 10:16 pm
Residents in the Nigerian town of Chibok, Borno state were looking to local militias — and not the army — for rescue just days after the Islamist Boko Haram militants seized control there.
The town in the northeast Borno state has been under a global media spotlight since Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls there in April, most of whom are still being held. It was again the focus when militants seized the community on Thursday after firefights with militia members that sent the Nigerian army fleeing.
“They (Boko Haram) had a very intense battle with the local vigilantes there, throughout the town,” Ayuba Chibok, uncle to one of the kidnapped girls, told AFP. “For now I have faith in them (vigilantes) much more than in the Nigerian army.”
The militia fighters, who are government-backed, have become a key part of the battle against Boko Haram.
Some 48 hours after the initial fighting, Boko Haram militants still had control of Chibok and “numerous people were dead,” said Pastor Enoch Mark, whose daughter and niece are among the girls held by Boko Haram.
Since capturing Chibok, Boko Haram militants have torched its churches, though most of the town was already mostly in ruins after the attack in April that ended with the girls being taken. The local police station, government offices were never rebuilt.
Neighbouring villages were also burned during Thursday’s battle.
Neither the Nigerian army nor the office of President Goodluck Jonathan responded to AFP’s requests for comment on the symbolic capture of the village.
Jonathan has been heavily criticized for his lack of reaction during the mass abduction in April and only met with the hostages’ families in July.
“He promised that the government and the soldiers know where the girls are and that we would be united with our sisters,” Chibok said. “And he also said that he would increase the security in our town, but it is the contrary that happened.”
Despite their sparse resources, the militia fighters, known collectively as the Civilian Joint Task Force, appear to have become a subsitute for the army in many areas of the restive northeast of Nigeria.
Armed with bows, machetes, clubs and homemade rifles, the fighters retook the commercial hub of Mubi in southern Borno state from Boko Haram with the help of hunters.
However, as claims that Boko Haram has committed massacres continue to mount, similar charges are being leveled against the militia fighters.
One militia member claimed to have decapitated 41 Islamists near Biu in Borno state, where witnesses said they saw the fighters carrying the heads of their victims through town on wooden pikes.
“All I know is that the commander of the vigilantes is going to take back the town,” said Chibok community leader Pogu Bitrus, who added vigilantes are short of ammunition, but will attack. “The military withdrew as usual.”