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Borno residents want phone network restored as Boko Haram gets deadlier

September 30, 2013

Residents said the shutdown of phone network for more than three months has failed to stop Boko Haram.
Embattled residents of Maiduguri and surrounding towns and villages of Borno state are bemoaning the shutdown of telecom services by security operative as a strategy for curbing Boko Haram insurgency.
Mobile telecommunication services were grounded in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, since the federal government slammed emergency rule on the three states in May, 2013.
The military believes Boko Haram’s deadly campaign was largely aided by mobile phones, which the insurgents used for detonating explosives and sabotaging planned operations against them.
Phone services were however restored in Adamawa and Yobe states two months after, as security improved in the two states relatively.
Borno state, the epicentre of the Boko Haram insurgency, has remained under a total shut down of telecom lines, despite the nearly 100 percent restoration of normalcy within the metropolis of Maiduguri, the state capital.
But despite the grounded telecom networks, Boko Haram fighters have continued to stage bloody and even more sophisticated attacks on targets around the cities of Maiduguri and Damaturu.
On the average, at least 700 persons have died and more are still being counted as Boko Haram, with an enlarged arsenal comprising of stolen military arms, munitions and armoured tanks, overrun towns, villagers and even military formations.
Concerned residents are of the opinion that the once lauded effectiveness of the grounded telecom networks have now turned out to work in favour of the Boko Haram and against the military stratagem.
Umar Babale, a commercial cab driver, told PREMIUM TIMES that a majority of those killed in the Benisheik attack of September 17 were people who had travelled 135km just to make phone calls in the neighbouring town of Damaturu, Yobe state capital.
“All passengers in my 18-sitter bus were people who had travelled to make phone calls in Damaturu. Many of them died when we were attacked. And more could have been saved had they been able to make calls to alert those behind,” said Mr Babale.
A soldier in Benisheik town, who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES on condition of anonymity, said early warning signals could not be made due to lack of telecom service.
“We had to run on foot into the village to alert the people that they are in danger and should run for their lives because we too have been overpowered,” the soldier said.
“It is even becoming impossible for us to get alerts from our civilian scouts once they spot any unusual movement in the bushes. In most cases, before our scouts could make it to our base, the Boko Haram terrorists may have reached their targets and carried out attacks,” he said.
“We want this network to be restored because, we are more endangered by the shutdown’, Yamta Bwala, a media practitioner said. There is no use keeping us in the dark, while these killings still continue on the highway. Some of the people that were found dead in the bushes after the Benisheik attack were found holding phones in their hands. It was assumed that they may have been saved, had they been able to get calls across to their relatives.”
Most resident of Maiduguri believe that the relative peace being enjoyed in the state capital was not all about the shutdown of communication, but the rare courage and bravery of the Civilian-JTF.
“It doesn’t really make sense keeping the telephone lines shut down for about five months now, and yet the killing is on,” Bitrus Amos, a retired security personnel said in an interview. He refused to give his real names.
He recalled the situation in Yobe state where phone network was restored after the brutal killing of about 30 school students in an attack on a secondary school by Boko Haram in July.
That led to pleas by the people and the state government for services to be restored. And since then, no serious attacks were recorded in Yobe state.
“So, the military strategy of shutting down telecom lines can only be effective for a short period of time. If phone lines are shut down for as much as over 100 days as we are currently experiencing in Borno state, it would certainly turnout to be counter-productive, and even the insurgents would get used to it and begin to develop counter-strategies that would undermine the military,” Mr Bitrus said.
He added:“We must remember that even the security operatives rely on the GSM networks to trace Boko Haram insurgents whose means of communication has not for now gone beyond the use of mobile telephones. So it doesn’t make sense holding unto a strategy that is apparently not working but endangering the lives of the people it is designed to protect.”

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