In recent weeks, Nigerian forces fighting Boko Haram in the North-East have suffered a series of losses, the most recent being the ambush and killing of about 20 soldiers and 40 civilians in twin attacks in Monguno and Nganzai areas last month.
The Islamic State for West Africa Province (ISWAP), a faction of Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for the attacks.
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This was coming after the military high brass claimed it had seriously degraded the insurgents.
Findings by Daily Trust on Sunday showed that one of the men behind the deadly attacks on troops and civilians recently is no other than an ambitious Boko Haram commander, Modu Sulum, who has risen through the ranks and is now a force to reckon with in the terror group.
But who is this person?
Findings revealed that Modu Sulum, described by our sources as a brutal commander and leading the group’s operations in the Allagarno axis, Kaga Local Government and the fringes of the Lake Chad, was once a firewood seller.
The Kaga native, according to sources, used to convey firewood from his village, Mainok, to Maiduguri city in the days before he joined Mohammed Yusuf’s sect that would transform into Boko Haram.
“He is unforgiving,” a source who knew him back in the days said. “If you offended him he must have his vengeance. He is a tough and desperate person.”
The source said Sulum used to drive a pickup van, in which he conveyed firewood and sold to his customers. He is estimated to be in his early 40s and was married before the insurgency began.
The source, who said he did not disclose that he knew who Sulum was because he never knew who would be listening, said they knew when Sulum was attending Mohammed Yusuf’s lectures at his Markaz (his headquarters) and they had warned him to stay away from the controversial preacher.
“We warned him at the time, but he was a diehard Mohammed Yusuf’s disciple,” he said.
In 2009, Mohammed Yusuf led an uprising that was brutally crushed by the military and costing the lives of hundreds of members of the sect, security personnel and civilians.
Remnants of the sect went underground, including Modu Sulum.
In 2011, the group resurfaced under Yusuf’s number two man, Abubakar Shekau, and began its protracted attacks against the military and civilians, killing thousands over the years and devastating the economy of the northeast region.
When the group splintered into factions some years later, Modu Sulum decided to side with the Mamman Nur faction that became known as ISWAP. Under the leadership of Abu Mus’ab Albarnawi, Yusuf’s son, the faction held sway around the Lake Chad region.
With Mamman Nur himself executed by his men over disagreements within the group and the splinter group later breaking up, sources said Modu Sulum teamed up with a few other commanders to form another splinter group under the leadership of Ba Lawan.
Under the faction, Sulum, Modu Borzogo and one Kannami, have been made Amirs, each in charge of their own areas of operation.
Sulum now holds sway in the Talala, Ajiki Mongusu camps, and the three subgroups have been collaborating on the battlefield as observed in recent attacks, where the insurgents were said to have seized about nine gun trucks from the Nigerian military.
Their first attack was on troops led by Major Ali Almanga when they ambushed him and seized a large cache of arms and ammunition.
Daily Trust on Sunday also learnt that Sulum’s faction carried out attacks in Felo village of Gubio Local Government Area, in which 81 civilians were massacred some months ago.
This is a clear departure from the ISWAP ideology, where civilians are largely unharmed during their attacks. This mode of operation was also observed during the Ngazai attack, where dozens of civilians were massacred.
Sulum’s faction has also carried out attacks on Monguno, UN Hub, police stations and military checkpoints.
Sources added that Modu Borzogo might have been responsible for the attack on the UN helicopter in Damasak.
“We have been monitoring their movements. And we understand that the Modu Sulum faction seems to be more deadly among the groups that broke out of the ISWAP,” a security source told Daily Trust on Sunday
The source added, “I am very optimistic that given the manner in which troops neutralised one of its commanders in Marte, we are going to deal with them.
We are not going to allow the duo responsible for increased attacks on highways and our formations freedom of movement anymore.”
Daily Trust on Sunday gathered from an impeccable source that Sulum and two commanders are responsible for all the attacks along the Maiduguri-Damaturu road, where many motorists and soldiers have been killed and food items carted away.
He has also been blamed for the deadly Auno attacks that killed dozens of civilians, as well as the ambush on military convoy and motorists in Damboa, where dozens of soldiers were killed and a cache of weapons and military hardware were carted away.
While Sulum has been busy wreaking havoc, the Shekau-led faction has been largely silent, according to sources.
Analysts say the increasing activities of Sulum are undermining the successes recorded in the counterterrorism fight; and the longer he operates, the more difficult it would be to neutralise him.
“His brutal ways of operation should not be allowed to last long, otherwise it would cause a serious havoc on successes recorded. He has carried out more deadly attacks than the two main factions’’, a source said.
His alliance with the other commanders has been described as an attempt to consolidate their influences.
“Modu Sulum and Borzogo are a deadly terrorist group. They are currently growing in power and influence as can be seen in the terrifying and massive attacks unleashed on military bases.
They have acquired new skills and developed and deployed new strategies,” another source said.
He said Sulum’s strategies, his operation module and knowledge of the terrain meant he is a dangerous man to contend with.
“People are afraid of Amir Modu Sulum. He is known for using charms and has coordinated more attacks than the other groups. He is a daredevil commander,” the source said.
How long Sulum’s reign of terror would last remains to be known.