A “ghost town” of burnt-out homes and looted properties greeted residents returning to Gamboru in northeast Nigeria for the first
since Chadian forces retook it from Boko Haram.
Scores of people
crossed the 300-metre (yard) bridge that forms the border with Cameroon
under military escort on Friday to survey the ravaged town.
Haram seized Gamboru, in the violence-wracked Borno state, in August
last year, forcing thousands to flee across the frontier to the town of
Fotokol, on the other bank of the river in northern Cameroon.
forces, who have joined the regional fight to crush the Islamist
insurgency, retook Gamboru earlier this month, after intense fighting
that left hundreds of insurgents dead.
“We met a ghost town strewn
with burnt vehicles, destroyed buildings and emptied homes,” Kachalla
Moduye told AFP by telephone from Fotokol after a two-hour tour of the
“Many homes were burnt in the Boko Haram invasion and in the
fighting to reclaim it by Chadian soldiers. Those that were spared were
looted by Boko Haram in the five months they stayed in the town.”
has been repeatedly targeted in the bitter conflict, which has left
more than 13,000 people dead since 2009 and made more than one million
It was the first town recaptured in the regional
fight-back by troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, which was
launched because of dawning fears of Boko Haram’s threat to regional
Gamboru residents who hoped to salvage personal effects were disappointed as they found their homes empty.
was nothing in my house save the three wooden beds and my old cushion
chairs. Every other item was stolen,” Fanna Bukar, a mother-of-three,
“Even my sewing machine, which I so much looked forward to salvaging, was gone.”
But even though their possessions were gone, locals said the tour was reassuring.
is believing. We are now convinced our town has been liberated and we
hope to come back and rebuild our lives once Boko Haram is finally wiped
out,” Moduye said.
“I’m sure we will return soon to start a new life,” Bukar added.
– ‘Seeing is believing’ –
Haram fighters meanwhile prevented hundreds of residents from leaving a
dozen villages in the nearby Marte district due west from Gamboru, as
Chad conducted sweeping aerial and ground attacks.
affected were Kwalaram, Bukar-Mairam, Abbaganaram, Sidir, Kirta,
Jibillaram, Zannari, Kutukungulla, Baranga, Kitikime, Krenuwa and
“They will not allow everyone to leave and threaten to
kill anyone that attempts to flee,” Maji Zaram, who escaped from
Kitikime to Fotokol, said.
Zaram said he pretended he was going into the bush to gather firewood but escaped and threw away his axe.
“They (Boko Haram) said we must stay with them in good and in bad times,” he added.
“They said we can’t leave them after partaking in all the booty they brought to us.”
troops this week pushed deep inside Nigerian territory for the first
time, bombarding Dikwa, 50 kilometres (31 miles) from Gamboru to the
southwest, near Boko Haram’s Sambisa Forest stronghold.
military also said they attacked Sambisa Forest and Gwoza, where the
group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, first proclaimed the existence of an
Islamic state inside Nigeria last year.
Maji Ariye, a Nigerian
refugee in Fotokol, said the villagers were “reaping what they sow”, as
many had decided to stay voluntarily when Boko Haram moved in.
said they would rather live under Boko Haram because the militants were
bringing in free food and other consumables from raids elsewhere, he
“Now that the table has turned against their benefactors they want to leave,” he said.
warned several people to leave because when soldiers deployed there
would be no hiding place for them but they refused to listen.”