BY GAMBO DORI, DECEMBER 20, 2021 | 02:30 PM
Last week, I flew to Maiduguri on a routine visit and when planning for the trip I realised that getting there from any part of the country is, now, not for the faint-hearted. The highways out from Abuja to Kaduna and Jos are infested with kidnappers and bandits and travelling by air could have its drawbacks too, as the airline prices keep rising astronomically. For those of us who, due to the circumstances of their livelihoods, are perforce to maintain two homes, Abuja and Maiduguri, commuting between the two cities is now a harrowing exercise, choosing between the devil and the deep sea, as they say.
I have commented a number of times on this page that Maiduguri would be completely besieged and isolated when the Damaturu-Benisheikh-Auno stretch is endangered by the insurgents. The other route via Gombe through Damboa had long been rendered impassable by them. Unfortunately, the Damaturu route, the only safe one operable for years, was targeted by the insurgents and in a series of raids made it totally unsafe, but for the brave. For years, the highway had been in a state of terrible disrepair and to worsen matters the insurgents at a point fully turned their fury to it, killing and maiming commuters at will and kidnapping for ransom when their evil minds so decided. They even had the audacity to attempt to overrun our soldiers in their super camp at Mainok, though they ended up with a bloody nose.
The insurgents knew exactly what they were doing. Their mission was to emasculate and ultimately strangle Maiduguri. After the repeated carnage they inflicted on commuters on the road they made the point that anyone that commuted on that route would be on his own. Kidnapping along that stretch is now more or less a daily affair. Even a few days ago, the insurgents were reported to have made away with hapless commuters who braved the odds to reach Maiduguri through that route.
Now, when the insurgents made the highway totally unsafe they then turned their fury on the only electricity supply line to Maiduguri and rendered it useless. They hit the Tower lines in January leaving Maiduguri and environs without electricity for months on end. In the first few months of that sad episode, I had referred to it as one of the worst shows of impunity by the Boko Haram terrorists – their show of strength and capacity to cause maximum discomfort plus the extent they were ready to go to cripple the social and economic activities in Maiduguri and the entire North East region in general. I had also opined that in many ways that dastardly act exposed the vulnerability of the transmission line, an important national asset that due to its peculiar placement is difficult to secure and protect. Fixed on towers and linked into poles running over kilometres through large expanses of land, much of it unoccupied, this important national asset became a sitting duck for these inhuman terrorists to take potshots at.
As we flew over Maiduguri, now enveloped in the season’s dust haze in this evening twilight, one could faintly pick up the ditches dug around the city to protect it against the marauding insurgents and make it difficult for any attempt to invade using vehicles. The ditches ringing the city would probably be one first obvious sign that Maiduguri has been a garrison city. The other, which is more well-known, is the fact that all the highways leading out of the city have been unsafe to travel on. These highways whether leading to Damaturu, Damboa, Ngala through Dikwa, Gwoza through Bama, Kukawa through Monguno, or Damasak through Magumeri could only be traversed at ones’ risk.
This gloomy picture I have just painted would probably be the situation as it were. But things are looking up now for the city. The Boko Haram terrorists have largely been degraded and in the last many weeks, droves of them have given themselves up to our troops. Many towns and villages that had been no-go areas are now safe for their citizens to return. This was a big relief for Maiduguri as IDP camps are now closing up and their occupants are being directed back to their towns. When I took time to go around the city in the night, I was surprised to find most of the streets lighted up despite being denied linkage to the national grid by the insurgents. And I found many homes and commercial houses lighted with solar panels.
As I write today, there are indications that some Maiduguri citizens have reported the restoration of electricity to their homes and already the social media is agog with the news. An online newspaper, the Northeast Reporters, has just announced, ‘Electricity is back in Maiduguri today after almost a year of complete blackout’. It is yet to reach some of our homes in the GRA, nevertheless, it is a gratifying piece of news and a clear indication that the pall over the city is being lifted.
Obviously, there is still some way to go to recover the preeminent status of Maiduguri and clearing the insurgents out the highways would clearly be the acid test.
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08 November 2021