Ibrahim Abdulziz and Haruna Umar
YOLA, NIGERIA: Islamic extremists overran a major northeastern town that is home to Nigeria’s defense chief on Wednesday, looting the army barracks, freeing prisoners from jail and frightening thousands of residents to flee, said residents and officials.
The continuing attacks cast doubt on the military’s announcement Oct. 17 that Boko Haram extremists had agreed to an immediate cease-fire. Boko Haram has made no announcement that it is ending its 5-year-old insurgency that has killed thousands and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes in northeastern Nigeria.
“We are scampering for our lives,” said Ahmad Garba, a resident of Mubi, a commercial center of more than 200,000 people and home to the chief of defense staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh.
“They attacked the military barracks, police stations and the prison. As I am talking with you now, thousands of people have deserted Mubi and neighboring towns, some heading toward Cameroon republic as others headed” south to Yola, the capital of Adamawa state, while others ran to hide in the bush, he said.
Other fleeing residents said the Nigerian Air Force was counter-attacking with helicopter gunships, even as soldiers were seen retreating to Yola.
P.P. Elisha, a spokesman for Adamawa state Gov. Bala James Ngillari, confirmed that insurgents earlier Wednesday seized the town of Uba and then pursued fleeing soldiers to Mubi.
In neighboring Borno state the insurgents on Monday kidnapped dozens of boys, girls, men and women in attacks on the towns of Gava and Zalidva in Gwoza local government area, according to a security official and to the top official for a vigilante civilian group fighting the insurgents, Abbas Muhammed.
Local government official Modu Musa said the insurgents burned down more than 200 homes and set ablaze more than 300 vehicles including trucks and tricycle taxis.
He and Muhammed said many people were killed in the attacks, but they could not give an approximate number. Residents of Mubi and Uba also reported many deaths.
Badeh had announced the cease-fire and officials had said they hoped it would quickly lead to the release of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram from the northeastern town of Chibok six months ago.
Boko Haram is split into many groups, so it is unclear if the government has negotiated with one group while others are upholding the cease-fire.
The military and government’s failure to contain the insurgency comes as President Goodluck Jonathan is expected on Thursday to announce that he will be a candidate in the February presidential elections.
Umar reported from Maiduguri, Nigeria.