INSIDE THE LION’S DEN OF NIGERIA’S BOKO HARAM – AL JAZEERA

JSTF soldier(r)and cop on urban combat and house clearing operations at Damaturu, NE Nigeria June 2012

JSTF soldier(r)and cop on urban combat and house clearing operations in NE Nigeria

AL JAZEERA
4 December, 2012

My five days in Maiduguri in northeastern Nigeria – the epicentre of violence perpetrated by the armed group, Boko Haram – was fraught with danger. I had been trying to get access to report from the city for over a year. I had been told that I needed clearance
from the head of Nigeria’s armed forces
to report from the ground. I’d also been
told that Maiduguri was classified as a
“security zone”, off-limits to journalists,
according to the ministry of information. In the end, I decided to take a chance and make the journey, hoping to come out with some reportage but prepared to get absolutely nothing too.

All this was against the advice of security advisors, professional colleagues, NGOs and government contacts. For months I had heard that Boko Haram had taken control of not just Maiduguri, the state capital, but large swathes of Borno State. I had been to Maiduguri a few times before, including in 2009 when I reported on the killing of the group’s leader,Mohammed Yusuf, while in police
custody.

Before the chaos took hold, I remembered Maiduguri as a surprisingly cosmopolitan and peaceful town with an eclectic mix of people of different faiths,ethnicities, and subcultures; as well as different types of food and music. The people of Maiduguri had struck me as ordinary people, with a somewhat royal air, steeped in their tradition – but at the same time having a somewhat modern and outward look.

Borno State shares borders with the former French colonies of Niger to the north and Chad to the north-east – giving one a strange feeling of being in Francophone Africa too.

During my five days there, I found a
Maiduguri under siege by Boko Haram
fighters and the Joint Task Force. The
colour described above had been replaced by a city enmeshed in roadblocks,checkpoints, sandbags on virtually every major road and intersection. The city was patrolled by heavily armed military personnel donning ski masks, poised to fire at any moment.

A TV vehicle like our own, visibly packed
with television equipment, could easily
provoke suspicion. So our first priority
was to unpack our kit at our hotel so we
could travel light, and go out and talk to
as many people as possible. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible,
to film openly in Maiduguri because of the threat of violence from Boko Haram.

In our time there we heard the noise of
bombs exploding, and bullets being fired – followed by the screeching of JTF sirens that seemed to be coming from all directions. This happened every 2-3 hours.We later learned that Boko Haram had attacked a JTF position with rocket-propelled grenades just adjacent to our hotel.

We were stopped from filming on several occasions by JTF patrols who demanded to know whether we had military clearance to report from the city. It seemed like the only reason we were not forcibly stopped from news gathering was because the soldiers we encountered were familiar with my face and my reports on Boko Haram.This seemed to cool things down. And – it has to be said – the huge popularity of Al Jazeera English in the region helped.

The security situation in Maiduguri is so bad that tens of thousands of people from”Maiduguri-stan”, as some Nigerians nickname the city, have fled. They are unable to live a normal life, not knowing whether they may be caught up in the daily bomb explosions, suicide attacks and gunfire that rocks parts of the city. Those we spoke to who chose to remain in Maiduguri say it’s because it’s their home and they have no other place to go to, or the means to leave for elsewhere.

According to Father David Bridling, from St Patrick’s Catholic Church, half the Christian inhabitants of Borno State have left. But the “irony” of the Boko Haram insurgency is that more Muslims than people of any other faith have been killed by Boko Haram attacks – even though the group claims to want to “grow” Islam in Nigeria.

The curfew in Maiduguri is strictly
enforced. No movement is allowed in Borno State between 2000GMT and 0500GMT. But inhabitants have adopted their own timetable for staying alive.

People we spoke to said nobody tries to leave home before 11am and everyone gets back home by 4pm, as most of the fighting between Boko Haram and the JTF happens in the early hours of the day. If there’s no fighting, people rush out to do whatever small-scale business they can to survive, and quickly return home.

Three senior JTF personnel who were gracious enough to meet with us informally about the situation tried to explain just how bad the Boko Haram crisis is.They used the words “war zone”, “Iraq”, and “guerilla war” to describe the battle. They explained that Boko Haram fighters are embedded in many of the communities and neighbourhoods in the city, and that it was impossible to distinguish their fighters from civilians.

Two of the JTF personnel expressed
confidence that the “war” would soon be over, though another was more sceptical,explaining that Boko Haram fighters’ “jihad” in Nigeria was being inspired by conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen. Worryingly for Nigeria and for the region, neighbouring Mali’s northern region – which has recently been overrun by al-Qaeda-linked groups – was mentioned as a possible place from which Boko Haram fighters may be getting weapons. This officer saw no imminent end to the crisis.

Poverty, unemployment, a lack of
education, marginalisation, and endemic corruption in Nigeria are cited as some of the reasons why Boko Haram has not been stamped out in over a year of fighting with security forces. There is a feeling that the Nigerian government is not addressing these issues,focusing too heavily on a military strategy to rid the country of the group.

Whatever the case, the journey out of the Boko Haram crisis in Maiduguri will be a complex one. Until the authorities can find a solution that quells the fighting and stops young men from being recruited to the group, Maiduguri will remain in crisis.

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12 Responses to INSIDE THE LION’S DEN OF NIGERIA’S BOKO HARAM – AL JAZEERA

  1. wocon45 says:

    Sometimes i wonder what people in BH afflicted areas do with their camera phones……i even wonder if they have social media accounts… smh

  2. peccavi says:

    Fascinating.
    Algiers, Fallujah, Basra and Sangin come to mind.
    It is not insurmountable though.
    May God protect our brothers and sisters in Maiduguri

  3. Henry says:

    I saw the documentary on al-jazerra news channel, and to be honest, the correspondent raised many valid issues. It wasn’t a smear campaign, it was just bitter truth.

    Poverty, lack education and un employment fuel the insurgency in the north, heck the statistics released by nigeria’s national bureau for statistics, does not do good for pleasant reading. Only about 7% of women in the north are educated comparing to the south of the country where more than 80% of women have at least a secondary school education, shows the dis parity and magnitude of the problem FGN faces in dealing with boko-harm / terrorism in the north.

    Of course the claims of abuse cannot be ruled out, as no matter how much we praise the nigerian military on this blog, we know that when they go ballistic, they really go ballistic. This is not to say that the military has not done marvellously well in tackling this current insurgency. Let us not forget that full scale insurgency in nigeria took off in 2011, you could say 2010 with the october 1st bombing, but that was mend. All involved in the bombing have been either arrested or killed, with gbomo gomo arrested and henry okah cooling of in his cell in south africa.

    To be honest, unlike the niger delta crisis, I do not see and end to this problem. Terrorism, ideology, diabetes, is like a disease that has no cure, but can be controlled. Look at turkey(over 27years), IRAQ(over 10 years), thailand, the Philippines( over 50 yrs), the united states( 1993- To be honest, unlike the niger delta crisis, I do not see and end to this problem. Terrorism, ideology, diabetes, is like a disease that has no cure, but can be controlled. Look at turkey(over 27years), IRAQ(over 10 years), thailand, the Philippines( over 50 yrs), the united states( 1993- To be honest, unlike the niger delta crisis, I do not see and end to this problem. Terrorism, ideology, diabetes, is like a disease that has no cure, but can be controlled. Look at turkey(over 27years), IRAQ(over 10 years), thailand, the Philippines( over 50 yrs), the united states( 1993- To be honest, unlike the niger delta crisis, I do not see and end to this problem. Terrorism, ideology, diabetes, is like a disease that has no cure, but can be controlled. Look at turkey(over 27years), IRAQ(over 10 years), thailand, the Philippines( over 50 yrs), the united states( 1993- till date).

  4. Henry says:

    For me, the best bet to reducing terrorism in nigeria is through jonathan’s carrot and stick approach. A full blown military intervention in maiduiguiri would only succeed in producing more radicals, causing more by far more civilian deaths and destruction of property. This current approach( carrot and stick) should be sustained. If we can take out the moderate’s from the extremists( radicals). It would do us a whole debt of good.

    FAMILY VALUES
    It seems our blind hatred for the government and our neighbours, has left us with a gaping hole, loss of family values. If parents can instill back into their wards family values, love and friendship of our neighbours no matter their religious back- ground, I do not think anybody in his right senses would carry kalashnikovs to murder or kill himself just to murder other countrymen of a different faith.

    GOVERNMENT at state and local levels of our society have proven to be utter moronic, non more is this carelessness more visible than in the north (with jigawa and gombe states been the only positives) of the country. Right here in the south, we’ve seen state governments not all of them, try to be independent of the federal government and not over depend on the federal government monthly allocation. Infastructural development has improved, with the compulsory and free education programme run by many southern governors, and free health care for patients who fall on certain age brackets and the drive to increase IGR. However in the north apart from gombe , jigawa state and to an extent niger state, the rest of them just depend on the F.G for everything, no progress from them. In manner states up north orientation has to first change, education has to be seen as a necessity and not something peeps can do without. Of course the government at state and local level have got the biggest roles to play to seeing this change of mind set.

    Right abuses
    Rights abuses have been committed, no doubt about that. Are the soldiers not human beings, it is at the level at which amnesty international and the likes claim, that is debatable. It is not possible for a soldier who has been trained to deal with a situation like an IED blast to always over react, what I believe happens is a situation where, as they say “their training kicks in”, as a re enactment of that sort of situation must have been carried out over and over in training. Rights abuses take place, it is the level at which the so called human rights organisations say they occur that is in doubt.

    Extremist/ radicals / plain old terrorist who do not want to change.

    No matter what the government does right, these set of people will never change, they belong to the ONE WAY TICKET out of earth group, these ones no dey hear word. The 20 members of the bounty list belong to this group. The only way to reason with them is to kill them. These people are who the stick approach in ( carrot and stick) are reserved for. Naughty terrorists, with stupid ideologies that don’t make any sense or demands that are down right un achievable. It is because of this group of people terrorism would not end. They say they are fighting for GOD…….smh. The heavy handed approach of the government should be brought down on them.

    In all despite the fact that there are challenges, the nigerian military has distinguished itself as a dependable, efficient fighting force, ready to tackle head on and win no matter how contemporary the challenge might seem. A military which has had to evolve rapidly, and as such score by far more successes than the detachment 8 of indonesia.8The whole nation owes a debt of thanks to the nigerian military, the whole of africa owes the military in nigeria a debt of thanks, as challenges at home is seen as no obstacle to giving a helping hand to our neighbours( I do no think we should continue helping others though, the freebies should stop).

    • jimmy says:

      OGA HENRY
      I AGREE almost with everything you have said with the exception of the fact you don’t see this ending. I actually will tell you how it will end.
      1) The f.g. shows more strong willed leadership in dealing with the problems of Nigeria i.e. Makes a determined effort to stamp out corruption especially inthe north ,
      2) Improves the infrastructure thereby creating employment opportunities all over nigeria
      3) Imposes a National power and water emergency and gets the G-8 INVOLVED whereby they are building Ppower stations and an array of network of gas lines and transmission lines on a 24hour /7 day week till Nigeria has power 24hours a day.
      4) Prosecute Political holders of office who steal public funds
      5) Equip the ARMED forces to the appropriate standards whereby they are not begging for funds
      6) Re organise the NPF whereby it is no longer a by word for corruption but a symbol of everything that is good about Nigeria. Pay them with a pay increase every year with respect to the cost of inflation just like the britsh do
      7) Invests heavily in bringing Nigerians with their HIGHLY DESIRED technical skills home
      9) LAST BUT MOST IMPORTANT encourage people in a people awareness campaign to vote for people who are the most competent not because they belong to a certain ethnic group.

      • Henry says:

        Oga jimmy, you’ve made solid points, but haven’t we heard all these over and over again, that it know sounds like a broken record in our ears. Is it not time we as a nation, sit down and profer workable solutions, and not the usual fight corruption talk we’ve been having since the advent of the fourth republic( no need going way back to when buhari overthrew shagari over allegations of corruption), and then press home our demands, make sure they are seen through and not the usual lassie affair attitude nigerians always exhibit.

        Adding to your last paragraph, and what I think triggered the post election violence of 2011 after buhari lost. You had a candidate, GEN buhari who campaigned mostly in the north west and north east, went to lagos a couple of times(south west), visited onitsha(south east) and sent his V.P to port-harcourt (south south) and he was expecting to win the election compared to GEJ who visited all the states in the federation. When GEJ roundly trounced him in the election, he cried foul, fraud and his supporters ran into the streets like mad dogs murdering youth corpers.

        My point is that if not for the fact that most of his supporters up north, lacked education, that would have seen that campaigning only in the north east and north west cannot win you an election in a country like nigeria, you must visit all the states in the federation, and perhaps the senseless killings at that time would have been avoided. The same thing applies to members of boko-haram. That is why education is a key part to addressing the insurgency in the north.

  5. makanaky says:

    My brother we should stop blaming what is not in existence as the cause of BH insurgency.
    Poverty,unemployment,lack of education etc who is the cause ? The North ruled Nigeria for how long ? There is one fundamental truth here but it is very bitter, The religion they practise is the major problem a situation where you say God gives and God takes and no matter your situation it is normal but dont try to better it.
    Many Northerners are damn lazy, I have the opportunity to have stayed in those area (Maiduguri,Benisheikh,Gworza,Dikwa,Damaturu,Potiskum etc) in the early 90’s to mid 90’s what do you see Alan goro is what you hear and see every where.
    The ruling class takes all and the poor worship and sing praises of them. They should attack their ruling class who is depriving them of everything and stop killing innocent souls.
    In the South we have our own problem but people are making means for things to happen for themselves, they dont just sit under DONGOYARO trees the whole afternoon and then go to a house on an Alhaji in the evening to have supper.
    They should wake up from their slumbber, Christians and Southerners are not the cause of their problems but themselves and their ruling class.
    How do you employ a person who never went to school when these days the minimum is now school certificate.
    Guys lets be honest and stop looking for excuses why the demons are reighning supreme up North.

    • Henry says:

      Of course all your points are valid. When I raised the issue of education, I did not say it was the root course. No, that’s impossible. However you cannot deny that in a region like the north of our country were illiteracy level is terribly high, the lack of education would surely fuel the insurgency. Coupled with the fact that the religion in it self is intolerant. It is a perfect mix for disaster.

      I was not even referring to the government at the federal level. The comparism I was trying to make, and hope that the guys up north learn from, was to present the successes recordered by the governments of rivers, akwa-ibom, lagos, edo state in education, like in many other states through out the south of nigeria, were education is free & compulsory. In fact in akwa ibom state, free education is offered to students up to SS3 level or so. Parents or wards of children are arrested and fined, if their kids are caught playing around or hawking during school hours. My hope is state governments up north, should adopt this strategy/ method, to help reduce illiteracy amongst their populace. An educated society begets, an enlightened populace.

      It is no blame game or accusation and counter accusations. Just trying to profer solutions to a very serious problem.

  6. doziex says:

    The nigerian govt has to make a tactical shift. The NA cannot defeat islamic fundamentalist terror and northern nationalism at the same time. Nor should it be trying to.

    The face of the govt’s fight against the islamists should be more the likes of NSA Bello, more Maj. Gen, Y.S. Bello, and less GEJ or any other Non-northern official.

    This is tricky to pull off, but it is doable. The russians have just accomplished the same in chechenia, where the the son of a prominent chechen nationalist runs chechenia thru indirect rule.

    He is pro chechen nationalism, but anti islamist fundamentalists, and moscow has brilliantly exploited the split.

    Whatever, the fair allocation to the bornu state region is, the federal govt must see that it is spent on the citizenry and not partially or wholely stolen as before.

    For security reasons, the elected governors if not cooperating may have to be sidelined for a bit. The NSA under mr. Bello should oversee the expenditure of the federal govt allocation. and other “carrots” the govt can afford.

    So in other words, we should maximize the efficacy of the carrot and that of the stick.

    The security forces need to be paid better, and on time. Their welfare packages must not be held hostage by any official, the NSA must see to this.

    Then they must be equipped with MRAPS, drones, helicopters and appropriate training based on the latest experiences and best practices.

    The EU anti terror official is in nigeria, as we speak, asking us what we need. She even specified their desire to assist the various JTF comands.

    (1) we need training/ mentoring based on their lastest experiences in iraq & afghanistan.

    (2) We need any excess logistics or used equipment they are willing to part with. Lethal and non lethal alike.
    Nigeria should pay the expense of transportation of the goods, if it is being donated to help us.

    (3) We need the humility to learn from those with experience and that are currently better than us.

    May God have mercy on Nigeria.

  7. Spirit says:

    @ Makanaky, una don talk am finish!

    In this same North that is beset with Illiteracy, Poverty etc, there are christians! CHRISTIANS ARE LIVING IN THIS POVERTY STRICKEN NORTH AND THEY ARE NOT KILLING AND MAIMING NON-CHRISTIANS!
    Please why are they not killing/bombing muslims? These christians are indigenes of the North, being governed by the same corrupt, clueless leaders,subjected to the same abject poverty. Why are they not suicide-bombing people?

    The North has ruled this nation for more four decades out of five, mostly under military regimes where they had all the chances of diverting all the budget to the North by military fiat, what did they do with it?

    Go to the town that boasts of having produced nineteen Major Generals and see the place, you will weep! A southern town with just a colonel will point at the borehole or transformer that the officer bought for his community.

    What are we talking about here? Lets call a spade by its name; SPADE.

    The northerner should ask the leaders what went wrong. The should hold their leaders accountable instead of bombing. Afterall, GEJ has done more for them in two years than some people did in eight.

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