Calm is returning to Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, after Boko Haram terrorists launched multiple mortar bomb attacks which left many people killed and scores injured.
It was the first major and audacious assault on Maiduguri in years, heightening fears among residents that the terrorists might be lurking around.
The attacks came as the Nigerian military was savouring the recapture of New Marte and its surrounding communities from the terrorists.
Sources said that while the final tally of casualties were yet to be officially announced, nine boys playing football at Gwange, near the house of the late General Mamman Shuwa, were killed when rockets landed in the area.
In addition, four people were confirmed dead in Adam Kolo area of Maiduguri.
The Boko Haram attacks targetted densely populated areas of the city including Kalere, which is behind the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital (UMTH); Gwange and Adam Kolo, not far from the Shehu of Borno’s Palace.
Sources said that the terrorists first launched the coordinated attacks especially in the densely populated areas of the city and attempted to use the cover of confusion to infiltrate the capital but were repelled.
One source noted that the terrorists deployed mortar bombs and rocket launchers from the outskirt of Maiduguri and targeted the civilian population, firing the first assault around 6.04 pm and sustaining the attacks for over 30 minutes, prompting thunderous sound that caused pandemonium as people scampered for safety.
Some of the victims were rushed to UMTH while others were taken to the Specialists Hospital around the Post Office area.
Governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum, was one of the early callers at the UMTH along Bama Road, where he sympathized with the injured.
Humanitarian workers, family of victims and acquaintances who rushed their injured loved ones to UMTH for treatment formed high traffic at the Accident and Emergency Unit of the hospital with relatives struggling to get the attention of health workers to treat the injured.
A doctor on duty said: “We would most likely stabilise some of the injured but the case of some of them is bad, Some of the victims would require surgery and others would need blood transfusion. There are some who lost their limbs. It is an overwhelming situation; we have many injured persons currently receiving treatment now.”
It was learnt that in other areas that similar attacks were launched, families of people that sustained serious injuries were treated at private clinics and taken back home long before the arrival of humanitarian workers.
A resident, Modu Lawal, said: “I was at a friend’s house located near the UMTH when I heard the violent explosions. I saw people running to places of safety and I had to stay at my friend’s.”
Lawal said his brother later told him on the phone that another device fired by the attackers injured people at the Gwange area.
Fighter jets and helicopter gunships were deployed and hovered in the sky, forcing the attackers to retreat.
The surprising attack came barely two hours after the military claimed to have recaptured Marte town and three other communities seized by the insurgents a week ago.
“I am sure the terrorists took time and planned the multiple attacks and targeted the city towards the evening,” a Maiduguri resident, Malam Umaru, said.
He said the terrorists deployed many mortar bombs and rocket launchers that fell on houses in areas populated by locals.
A mortar is an artillery weapon that fires explosive shells. Another source said it was the dry broad ditch (moat) dug years ago around Maiduguri that saved the day.
“The terrorists would have infiltrated the city centre if not for the ditch and considering that soldiers have been deployed to many entry points of Maiduguri. The attackers were left with no option but to use rocket launchers and mortars,” he said.
Abubakar Mohammed, a resident of Maiduguri, said, “What happened today is unfortunate, especially at a time when people around Maiduguri were happy.
“Maiduguri had enjoyed relative peace in recent times but people in the city have been weakened today following multiple assaults on the city.
“The Nigerian Armed Forces need to change their operational tactics and information flow, a lot need to be done to sustain public confidence,” he said.
In his reaction, the Chairman of the Network Civil Society Organisation, Borno State, Ambassador Ahmed Shehu, said the attack revealed the vulnerability of surrounding communities despite the security plans on ground.
First published in Daily Trust