Weaponizing blackout: How insurgents plan to perpetuate darkness on the Lake Chad

Photo source: Shutter Stock

In the last week of January 2021, the Jamaatul Ahlil sunnah Liddawati wal Jihad (JAS) faction of the Boko Haram was believed to have carried out an unusual attack using explosives to bring down a transmission power line that plunged the city of Maiduguri into two months of blackout.  

The attack on that power installation was the first in about six years since the group carried out a similar attack on another power line that supplied electricity to the city through the southern flank of the Damboa axis. 

The attack on the power tower had kept Maiduguri and its environs in perpetual darkness. 

Engineers of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) suffered several landmine attacks as they struggled to fix back the fallen towers. Their efforts yielded a positive result on Wednesday, March 24th when they finally switched on the light to a thunderous jubilation of a city that had suffered the impact of a blackout-induced strained economy. 

But Maiduguri enjoyed the lights from the national grid only for 72 hours before it blinked off in the early hours of Saturday, March 27.

The JAS fighters had again attacked yet another transmission tower at a location not far away from where the last one was brought down. 

The residents who initially thought their days of difficulties was over, were left disappointed and hopeless. It took the TCN engineers six weeks and some days to temporarily reconnect the broken lines. 

And now with two more towers destroyed, only God knows when the lights will return to the city. 

The terrorists had in the last 12 years of the insurgency deployed all forms of attacks on civilians and government forces. They destroyed several critical public infrastructures like bridges and telecommunications towers. 

Pushed out of the city of Maiduguri in 2015 by the youth volunteer force known as CJTF, Boko Haram and its latter-day splinter group, ISWAP, have considered the Borno state capital a place they must antagonize at all cost. 

From the Giwa barracks attack of March 2014 to the Nigeria Air Force Base attack of December 2013, to the several attacks on Muna and Molai axis and to the countless suicide bombing attacks in markets, mosques and churches, the terrorists never got tired of attacking Maiduguri.

Though most of their attacks were repelled or resisted by the people, the insurgents still succeeded in ensuring that all but one of the six highways that link Maiduguri with the rest of the world are rendered unusable. 

To date, the routes linking Maiduguri and Monguno and that of Maiduguri to Biu are fully under the control of either ISWAP or JAS fighters who permanentlly mount roadblocks to check travellers as though they are government security forces. 

The Maiduguri-Damaturu road (best known as Kano Maiduguri highway) has all through the first decade of the insurgency remained the only motorable route that is relatively safe for commuters, until 2020 when the insurgents began to attack and abduct commuters. 

The JAS fighter’s resorting to weaponizing blackout by attacking power installations is no doubt an economic warfare being waged against Borno state and if care is not taken the entire northeast region. 

The attack on major electricity installations appears to be the last straw that may break the camel’s back for the people of Borno state. Many opinions expressed fear that Maiduguri, the largest city in the northeast region, may soon lose its resilience to the decade of attack by Boko Haram and ISWAP. 

Borno state has been operating on a limp mode due to attacks on virtually every facet of its socio-economic infrastructure. And now, with electric power, the only oxygen that has kept its economic wheel running, being taken away, it is just8

matter of time before the state comes to its knees – if something urgent is not done as soon as possible. 

Going by the modus operandi of the Boko Haram and ISWAP hostilities, the attack on the lines may continue for many weeks and months to come even if that is the only thing they can do in response to the increasing military raid and decimation of their strongholds. 

United in Hostility 

Photo source RFI

The Humanitarian Times has noticed coordinated replication of strategy between the JAS and its ISWAP rival in the recent attack on electrical installations as a tactic of crippling the fragile economy of the entire Lake Chad region. 

A recent report by Humangle revealed how the Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) had on Thursday, March 25, attacked another major electricity power installation Mane’-Soroa town of Diffa region of southeast Niger Republic. 

Unlike the Nigerian government, the Nigeriens moved quickly to restore the destroyed lines the next day even as ISWAP fighters returned to forestall the restoration process.. 

Humangle reported that “Nigerien military and Gendarmerie, alongside air support, were reported to have beat back the Friday attack on the power line repair site by ISWAP fighters on gun trucks.” 

During the fight, some three insurgents were consequently killed and some cache of military equipment recovered.

Humangle reported that “On March 9, Nigerien Electricity Company (NIGELEC) was able to restore the electricity line that connects Diffa and Maine-Soroa department after previous damage caused by insurgents on March 7. 

The video that went viral on Wednesday night showing the residents of Maiduguri jubilating over the restoration of light may have irked the terrorists who had vowed never to let anything good or comforting happen to the residents. 

Already, most parts of the northern Borno have been disconnected from the national grid due to incessant attacks and occupation of the area by the insurgents. 

Hundreds of the high-tension power towers that currently trail through the jungles being controlled by the insurgents – places hardly combed or patrolled by the Nigerian security forces. 

If the Nigerian military forces fail to wake up to the demands of their jobs and do the needful, only God can tell when and how the people of Maiduguri will get back their lights. 

The government of Nigeria must rise to the occasion and do everything militarily possible to stop the insurgents from further attacks on power lines. Else, should Maiduguri fall, the rest of Lake Chad should bid itself goodbye. 

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