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Almost ten months after the abduction of over 200 girls in Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State, the campaign to pressure the government to rescue them persists. This interview features Bring Back Our Girls campaign Strategy Committee member Bukky Shonibare, and she talks to TAP about displacement, government’s role and what she hopes the next four years would bring in terms of improving the security situation in Nigeria’s northeast. She talks about her initiative Adopt a Camp, what ordinary people in more peaceful areas of the northeast are doing to help residents from more troubled regions, and what is needed in the government agencies’ work with displacement communities.
Thank you so for agreeing to speak with me. Please introduce yourself.
My name is Bukky Shonibare. I’m a member of the strategic team of Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) Campaign.
And a very visible member at that. What would you say has been your major motivation to carry on with your activism?
It’s my sense of empathy. It’s difficult to just continue as though everything is just OK when over 200 girls have been abducted I have a biological daughter, a six year old girl, and an adopted daughter that is a 16 year old girl and within the age range of these abducted girls. It’s difficult to not know where my adopted daughter is. Also, my compassion. I’m a deeply compassionate person. I can relate to the pain of the mothers of the missing girls.
What would you say has been BBOG’s key successes as a campaign?
When we started, we developed a strategic plan and phased it out. The first phase was creating the awareness of the issue. I would say we achieved a lot of success with that. The world got to know what was happening, everyone from celebrities to world leaders, and people took turns to identify with us, especially at the early stages of the campaign. I would say in terms of creating that awareness and letting people know that there are Nigerians who are not moving on because our girls have been abducted, there has been some success with that. We’ve done a lot since the campaign started. We’ve done a lot to engage relevant stakeholders and have done a lot of protests. We’ve shouted, we’ve cried, we’ve let the world know that we’re not moving on. The hashtag was trending for awhile. Some would regard that as success, but it only matters if our girls are back.
There’s a lot of different kidnappings even before the schoolgirls from Chibok, and more kidnappings even after that. Why home in on Chibok even as more and more issues have come up since?
Like you rightly mentioned, there have been abductions and unnecessary killings. We were expecting that government would do all things within its power to make sure that Nigerians live in a sane, secure environment. One very gruesome attack was Buni Yadi, and one would expect the govt to shut everything down and make sure there is government representation in Buni Yadi after it happened, but we didn’t see that. To this day, we don’t know what has been done for the parents of the Buni Yadi students. That jolted people, it made us think. Our government can overlook the abduction of the 25 girls [that happened in Maiduguri], and the sale of girls who had been abducted, many for 2,000 naira (About U.S.$12.00) in the northeast, and we were waiting and hoping that our government can do something, more than what citizens can do. When that did not happen, and the insurgents gained more power and increased their level of their attacks to the point that they took 276 of our girls, with 56 of them managing to escape. And if you hear the way some of these girls managed to escape, you’d wonder where they developed that kind of resilience. Some of the girls hung to the trees and waited for the trucks to move away, and jumped down when their trucks moved away. I met Kauna, she escaped by landing on her head. I met her around the 100 days of the abduction, and her neck was still aching her. Another girl Hauwa was telling me how she and her friend were her hiding under the car. These girls should be treated as girls, not soldiers. One should expect that a government does not want its citizens to go through that. It all just made us realise that if citizens do not take their rightful place, these people will take up to 1,000 one day, up to 2,000, God forbid.
What happened in Chibok shows everything that is happening to our country: corruption, insensitivity, impunity, everything that you can think of as it relates to our government and the abducted girls. But it does not mean that when other abductions happened we did not take action. When the Potiskum boys were killed, we mourned them. We wore black t-shirts, we held a candlelight vigil, we went to the Ministry of Education and protested there, and we insisted that we wanted all our schools to be secure. However, the issue of the abducted Chibok girls is our entry point into the conversations.
Thanks for explaining that. President Jonathan’s response has been heavily criticised, from at first saying the girls had been rescued, to then saying nothing when it was revealed that no such rescue effort to happened, to the intimidation of Bring Back Our Girls campaigners. What do you want to see from the President and from Buhari as well? What are you hoping that these people say or do to show they are taking into consideration people impacted by the violence?
It doesn’t matter who becomes President. Anyone can occupy that seat. I just think that whoever wins should not carry on with what Pres. Goodluck Jonathan is doing at this time. Even if GEJ comes back, he should not come back with his insensitivity. I’m expecting a sensitive government and Commander in Chief who knows what responsibility means. You have the mandate of the people. I voted for Goodluck Jonathan in the 2011 elections. People gave their votes, their mandate, their power to him. What it means, according to the constitution Section 14, sub-section 2 is this: the security and welfare of the people shall be the responsibility of the government. What I am expecting is a government that understands its primary responsibility. You lose people today, and we have a president that would go to a social event the day or the next day and be dancing. Can you see any other world leader doing that? Look at leaders of countries Nigerians sleep in embassies to run away to. It is wired in every human being to want a sane and secure environment. Is that too much for a government to give its people? If we put all our effort together and all the billions spent on our security apparatus, we should be able to secure lives and property. However, corruption and impunity are the order of the day. What I’m expecting in addition to education, health, and all other sector reforms, we want to be safe.
Considering Gujba and Buni Yadi, etc, do you think the average Nigerian cares? There have been lots of horrific incidences, but it took 12 people killed in France. Should this quest for empathy stretch to Nigerians as well?
Nigerians care. The empathy and the care that Nigerians have to each other would only be meaningful if we have a responsible government. I’ve had to go to the northeast recently, and the reality on ground is different. An average Nigerian there cares about about an average victim of insurgency. You can see a civil servant who can barely take care of his own 6 or 7 children taking in 30 or 40 or 50 IDPs. Are you going to say such Nigerians don’t care? There are people who opened their doors to fleeing residents of troubled zones and shielded them. So Nigerians care, however, theres a larger percentage of Nigerians who are cut off from the reality. We can put the responses in segments: those in the northeast who are close to what is happening in the northeast, so their empathy is higher. that’s one. There’s also the category of people in the north not necessarily from the region, like those in Abuja or other places that not as affected by the violence. We are also empathetic but not as empathetic as those in the area. There are also those who would say “Are you sure these girls have been abducted?” Somebody tweeted at me saying “Go and sleep, no girls had been abducted.” Even people that are close to us who see these things in the news but don’t believe that anything like this is happening in the south or the west who don’t believe that something is happening in the northeast. One of the BBOG campaigners Aisha Yesufu spent her Christmas in Auchi, Edo State, and she spent time sensitising people and she was asked, “where is this thing happening?” There has been people who only access local media and don’t know something like this is happening. However, our empathy only matters when our government is responsive.
In France, the total death toll was about 15, and their govt marched and joined others to join them in a unity march. Does our government do that? but If you come out to march, they’ll say you’re against the government and say you’re in an opposition party, then send thugs after you and beat you up, snatch our phones and some people get scared. Some would leave after they don’t see any result and others will stay.
In addition to your advocacy on BBOG, you are doing work with IDPs in camps. Can you talk about that.
On September 21st, we visited an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Nasarawa and took relief materials. This opened up a new chapter for me. I realised that other Nigerians, other human beings, were going through this, so I started Adopt-a-Camp. Government should be at the forefront in alleviating IDPs’ plight. In Yola, there is only one government owned camp. In Yola, there are over 600,000 IDPs. They say they’re working on a second camp. Only about 6,500 of them are int he government owned camp. That’s about 1% of the total IDPs in Yola. Even the 6,500 people are not adequately catered for, and even complain of diversion of the relief materials meant for them. So we thought we had to complement governments’ efforts to provide clothing, basic necessities like shelter and food, healthcare, education since the children no longer go to school, and economic empowerment. in Christmas, we reached out to over 1000 IDPs. We don’t want to treat IDPs as victims. They should be able to advance from being IDPs to being responsible members of their host communities.
Permit me to say at this juncture that SEMA, NEMA and all these government agents are doing their best but it would be best if this ‘best” is being backed up with a coordinated, holistic humanitarian framework. I know that basics things like food and shelter are their primary needs at this point, but we need a framework that can even inform the work NGOs like ours are doing.
A lot of people want to help, but don’t know how. Can you show us some resources? How do I know here to provide my assistance?
We at Adopt-a-Camp does a lot of work, but also Modupe Odele is also doing a lot with children IDPs, and a lot of individuals are coming up to see how they can help. A lot of that help came up during Christmas. We are currently working with some other individuals and organisations, and putting ourselves together as an association to have a coordinated framework. In weeks to come, we would be having a conference of organisations coming together to help IDPs. That way, one can easily identify organisations working with IDPs. We don’t have that right now, but we can point people in the right direction.
Thank you so much for speaking with me.
TAP interviewed a young woman from Enugu State who lived in Borno for close to a decade, and worked as a teacher in Borno State for three years. She has now returned to Enugu after having experienced wave after wave of violence in her neighbourhood. She talks to TAP about how she escaped an attack on her neighbourhood and hastily returned to her home state, the debilitating impact of the violence on her family’s livelihood. The bureaucratic hurdles that have hindered government’s reappointment of her to a school in Enugu State give insight into the situation facing many civil servants who have to leave violence-affected states to resettle elsewhere in the country.
Thank you for agreeing to speak with me about your experience. I have just a few questions for you. How long were you a teacher in Borno?
I worked with the school about 3 years. I got appointment with this school in early 2011.
What made you leave Borno?
It was this BH crisis. I couldn’t stay with the family, I have a family.
The day that you left, can you tell us what happened? Even in 2011, there was some violence going on. What made you carry your bags?
I’m not the kind of person that can stay where there is no peace. In 2008, I slept in the kitchen, this is after I had one of my babies. Where we live was in an area near the churches where they call Jerusalem. The first time they started [the attacks], they would always come to attack the churches around us. That was one of things that made us leave. They would always come when there is a night vigil. We left [this house] in 2009-2010. Early 2011, the violence was too much. We were there until 2013, then came back home.
You had mentioned before a specific incident that happened.
The one near my house?
[My children and I] came back from school, and we started hearing guns. I heard people shouting everywhere. I jumped from the bed, and I heard them say “kill them! shoot them!” we saw those children that people call almajri. They surrounded us. I don’t know how we escaped, but we did through a small gate by our house, and the soldiers helped us. By then, they had put soldiers near the churches, and the area where we lived had lots of Christians. The soldiers helped us leave that area. When we left, I couldn’t come back to my house that day. The following day, from there…. even my husband from the market, he met me where we were staying. From there he put us inside a bus. He didn’t follow us immediately, though.
Your husband was also working in Borno as well?
Yes, he’s a businessman.
What about your students? Did you lose any of your students?
No, but one my pupils lost her parents.
Was there a large population that came from the South?
I know one from the East, but they have transferred her from there. I heard that they had killed one of the teachers.
Was there a large amount of teachers from other places?
We were about three in primary school, but four in the secondary school. They’ve all left now.
From the Borno State Govt, was there any effort from them to better secure the schools that you know of, or was there no improvement?
They tried their best. They did all they can do. I don’t blame them at all.
You’ve been resettling back to Enugu with the help of the state govt. How are they helping you? Even the other teachers who came back?
It’s God that would help me. We had a comfortable life in the north. My whole life, I have never seen such suffering as now, I tell you. (inaudible, sobs)
People have been helping us, but nothing from the state government. For people to stop everything they are doing and go to another place without anything… I came back with three children. It’s been more than one year and my children can’t start school.
This is really terrible, I’m really sorry. You’re so strong for being able to live through this and come back home and build your life again.
I’m the last child in my father’s house. Honestly, they’ve been helping me. Before, I was the one that was sending everything, because of how my family is, but since we got back now [my family members] are using their last Naira to help me.
They’ve stopped paying me. Three months after we got back, the government stopped paying me.
I’m a woman of 34 years, and I already have high blood pressure. I’ve never had BP, but this suffering has caused it. Now the government is telling me to go back [to Borno]. The government has given me an approval letter [for transfer my appointment] but they’re telling me to go to Maiduguri first, but I don’t know what they want me to do in Maiduguri. If they want to help me, they should re-employ us here. I believe that God will help me.
A survivor of the Gombe attack by Boko Haram speaks to a TAP volunteer about being present at the site of the attack and what he experienced. He talked about how his own intervention helped the authorities catch a suspected Boko Haram member, and expressed the hope that justice will be served.
The first explosion came when I was at the entrance of our office at Gombe Line Park. The first car exploded and the people ran outside. The people inside got upset/confused and ran outside. We also got upset but not as those inside, so I stood still. While standing there then I saw someone with a gun who shot under a parked car, and the car exploded. He then ran into the midst of people. I grabbed him. He kept struggling to turn the gun at me in order to shoot at me. I kept my grip firm on the hand with the gun. While the struggle continued, the standby policemen came in and rescued him from us. Already there were other two of his colleagues that were spotted. They were caught too. They pleaded for mercy and protested that they were not alone, there were others around. We then handed them over to the police. In a nutshell, three people got caught red-handed.
After that, what happened?
Already the Firemen have been called. So they have started quenching the fire/inferno, but death toll was already reaching 20.
What about those that died and those that sustained any form of injury?
As a matter of fact, there is no one that can tell you the exact number of people that died. This includes the people that sustained injuries. We helped in taking the bloody casualties to the hospital.
There were those who lost their lives.
Those who lost their lives are more in number.
What is the situation now?
The situation now is that the security personnel have secured the scene denying people access. The vehicles in the Gombe Line Park that got lucky to be removed were saved, and those that could not be removed got burnt.
Where were the culprit you handed over to the security taken to?
They were taken to Police station, Gombe Division. This did not go down well with the people because they would feel better if the culprits were taken out and shot dead (jungle justice) in their presence. The police did not concede to their demand and tried calming them down but instead agitation heightened and tempers flared that the people started throwing stones at the police. The police condoned off their territory with a piece of cloth/tape and threatened that they would shoot at anyone who dare crosses the mark. Seeing turn of events, I decided to run home on foot.
In a nutshell, the arrested culprits and in the hands of the police.
They are in the hands of the police. They police said they would condict an investigation.
A young volunteer resident in Yola spoke with displaced persons granted shelter in a camp in Yola, Adamawa State. The displaced from this camp were mostly from communities on the border with Borno and Adamawa States, including Madagali, Michika and Mubi. These interviews took place in the Hausa language, and a translation of the interviews is below.
What is your name?
Why are you here?
Well, we came to camp because in this camp, government is providing security for our lives, feeding us and taking care of our well being.
Another person speaks:
My name is Mallam Garba.
You came from where?
Why are you here?
I am a refugee here in Yola. I am eating and drinking and wearing clothes. I am enjoying here.
What message do you have for the people that brought you here?
I am grateful to them. I am grateful to God.
Another person speaks:
What is your name?
My name is Haruna Jos from Lasa.
What brought you here?
We ran for our dear lives because of Boko Haram.
How long have you been here?
I have spent two weeks here.
Yes. I had an ill-health but I have recovered now.
What brought you here?
What brought you here?
Doing have any problem here?
Do you eat well?
We eat well.
It is rumoured that school has been opened for you here. Is it true?
It is true.
Do they teach?
They teach everything, including Islamic schooling.
If you are given money to start business here would you accept?
Yes, I will accept.
If you are told to go back to Gwoza now will you?
No, I can’t go back now.
Why are you here?
We are here for refuge.
Do you get enough food here?
Is it true that they have started teaching you?
What class are you?
I am in JSS (Junior Secondary School) three.
What is your challenge here?
What is your name?
How many children do you have?
I have five children.
Which town are you from?
I am from Gaba West.
Where is your husband?
He is here. We are together.
How are you coping with five children here?
Here we are. But we have no food. That is the trouble. If it is six persons they would make it five persons. As it is now I haven’t gotten food.
My name is Maryama
How many children do you have?
I have five children.
From where did you come?
How is life in camp here?
We are grateful to the government and glory be to God. But the food should be enhanced for the children so that we can also get.
How about your husband?
He is doing fine. We are together here in the camp.
if you are given a trade so that you go back to Michika, would you go back?
I would go back.
What is your name?
My name is Fatima Ibrahim.
What brought you here?
I came here for refuge.
How is life here?
Glory be to God. We appreciate Him.
How many children do you have?
is there any of them that ever got sick or something here?
Yes. This boy here was injected and he had problem with the leg.
What call would you make to the government to help?
I don’t know what call to make. We appreciate God, we appreciate you, and we appreciate government for receiving us and making us feel at home. May God meet them at the point of their need.
Another voice: Bilkisu the young girl…because of the way they are handling in Adamawa, they want their children to satisfy by these community leaders who had three name-sakes… his Royal Highness the Emir’s wife, Aisha, the other one, myself here. So
Among these ones that delivered, is there any that lost her husband during the crisis?
Camp Director responds: No. What happened is that most of them that we met they tell us that their husbands are staying somewhere in Cameroun. They cannot crossover because of the insecurity situation. So talking. Some of them who are hoping to be with their husbands here, they are the ones insisting that we should select the children after… so far these are the figures I have.
This documentary tells the horror stories of Nigerians displaced from their homes in the northeastern parts of the country as Islamist militant group, Boko Haram, attacks villages, towns and cities. The victims of the impunity of the deadly sect and the apparent inability of the Nigerian state to protect its citizens are these hapless and helps citizens. Produced by Aminu Ahmed and Nori Mathias, the documentary has only attempted to tell the story of internally displaced persons in one state (Adamawa State) of Nigeria.
Last week, we spoke to Fatima, a journalist based in Borno State. This interview took place the day after the announcement of the Nigerian government and Boko Haram had reportedly agreed to a ceasefire. Fatima talks about the challenges of covering the violence ongoing in Borno State over the past few years, the surprisingly low rate of attacks against media stationed in Borno State, local media relationship with government and military, and the skepticism of the ordinary Nigerians in the state following the news of a ceasefire between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram.
Thanks for agreeing to an interview with TAP, i am just going to go right into the questions. Can you give me your first name?
My name is Fatima.
And you are a journalist, correct?
Yes please, I am a journalist.
Are you still practising journalism right now in Borno?
Yes, we are practising for survival (laughs) yes for survival. You know, when you say ‘practising journalism’, you have to have active access to news, you have easy access to internet and you know all these comprises of practising journalism. But for now, people are afraid to come out and talk. You go to them, they will deny you interviews or they will deny you pictures. All these have really impacted in our field of journalism. For the past four months now in Maiduguri and Borno State as a whole, we do not have light, total blackout. All these contributed and the networks – MTN, GLO, Airtel, you know it is erratic, not stable. But I am glad that nowadays, things are picking up inside the town not the local government, within the Maiduguri metropolitan area.
So within the metropolitan area, it has gotten easier to get information and news out.
Now it’s easier because people are moving freely now inside the town, though you are afraid at the back of your mind but there is curfew starting from 7:00 in the morning to 7:00 in the night you can move freely but from 7:00 in the night to 7:00 in the morning, you are indoors.
I want to ask a little bit more about the challenges you are facing in terms of access to information and mobility. With a lot of things that are happening, Maiduguri seems fairly well fortified with security. It seems like a lot of the challenges though are outside the main city, places like Chibok, like Madagali, Mubi, etc.
You know the Boko Haram captured Bama, even Gwoza now is the Boko Haram that are there.
What about Damboa?
Normalcy has started there. The governor has given directive, so that they can go and assess the damage and rebuild Damboa. But as for the light, NEPA is stationed in Damboa and it was destroyed, so that is why for the past four months now we don’t have light. And you know that the power holding company is under the federal government, and the federal government did nothing, but the state governor Kashim Shetima went to power holding company in Abuja and liaised with them, set up a committee and agreed to pay whatever amount personally so that they will restore light in Borno.
So is there light now?
No, there is no light, but they have started working on it. There was a time in the past three weeks that we had light, and the light disappeared then again. So I think it is in the pipeline now. They are trying to restore it, maybe it’s not completed.
How easy is it to go to some of these smaller towns outside of Maiduguri?
Outside Maiduguri now is very difficult for anybody to go, especially Bama, Gwoza, even Biu. You’ll have to divert your way. A place that you can go in one or two hours, you’ll have to divert the way to another town. If you want to go to Biu, you’ll have to go to Potiskum, go to Gombe before turning back to Biu, you cannot follow Damboa road to go to Biu, the Boko Haram will attack you. You cannot go to Bama, you cannot go to Gwoza, they [Boko Haram] are the ones stationed there and even the local government chairman is stationed in Maiduguri because he cannot go to Gwoza. Even the Sheikh of Dikwa is living now in Maiduguri, the Sheikh of Bama is now living in Maiduguri. They cannot go back because their palaces are occupied by Boko Haram. They [Boko Haram] put their own Emirs there. The Boko Haram put the Emirs that they support. They are stationed in the palace.
Are there a lot of journalist still working and living in Maiduguri right now?
Yes, there are a lot of journalist here, we have NTA, Peace FM, federal radio. AIT closed not long ago. We have state-owned television and radio stations. We have journalists working there and we are doing our normal jobs. Before, we used to close at 12:00 midnight and go back to our homes, but now if you are working there and you are going to cast the news, you must sleep at the station because you cannot go back home because there is no access at that time.
And these journalists work for state local papers as well as national newspapers as well like Daily Trust, Guardian…
Yes, all those newspapers are here and they have their correspondents in the state within Maiduguri, nobody stays at the local governments.
Have you been personally impacted by the violence that has been going on in the past few years?
Of course, when violence ensues, there are a lot of things behind that, trauma one way or the other it has affected people. If it did not affect you, it affects someone that you know, or your colleague or your brother or anybody. The trauma behind it is something. We have people that are being affected by this violence all over the state, people are afraid. Even though we are still going about our normal businesses, things are very difficult, food is very expensive because nobody will go to the villages and farm now because they are afraid they will be killed. Boko Haram will kill them. Food prices are on the rise. There is no access. Even for the food to come from the other state is difficult. This really affects people.
Have journalists been targeted at all by Boko Haram? Whether in the early stage of the violence, whether it is a few years ago or now, and how has violence against journalist specifically changed over the past few years?
Well, actually there is no journalist that is affected. It is only the trauma that is behind it. It was only once that they attacked our journalists. The house of the leader of Boko Haram Mohammed Yusuf was there. A team of journalist from either BBC came and they were escorted by state owned journalists to that house to see everything for themselves, then the Boko Haram from nowhere came out and attacked them, collected the NUJ vehicle, the vehicle was given to NUJ not more than a month to that time, they seized the camera, though they didn’t hurt the journalists but they collected their valuables, cameras, vehicle and everything.
That’s very interesting. So Boko Haram has not made any move to attack any media house in Borno?
No, they did not.
So you haven’t lost any colleagues at all over the past few years?
Even in your neighbourhood, your community there hasn’t been any major tragic incidences?
That was before, few years back youths in Borno became wild, they were fed up with what Boko Haram is doing, so they took law into their hands, what the military couldn’t do before, they started following Boko Haram what many couldn’t do before, the youths started doing it, they followed the Boko Haram, killed them. Because of these youths, normalcy returned to the state capital and the military decided to connive with those youths and gave them names- civilian JTF. The civilian JTF are doing fine within the community. They ganged up together and formed a group to fight Boko Haram and actually, they have succeeded a lot. They liaise with the military.
Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between the media in Maiduguri and the military as well as the government? Are they willing to give information likewise the government, are they willing to share information with you about what they are doing to stop the fighting, updates on the measures that they are taking o improve the situation?
From time to time they call meetings with the journalists and discussed things so that they can in most cases they’ve been telling the journalist not to carry any information without them seeing. So the journalists are not free as such. So now a cordial relationship is starting to exist between them.
Are the state and federal government authorities in Borno sharing information with you as well?
No, we do not hear anything from the federal government. It is only the state government. The state government is really trying. There are displaced people all over in Borno. People from the local governments have to trek from their local government down to Maiduguri. The NYSC (Nigerian Youth Service Corps) camp is housing some of the IDPs (internally displaced people). Everywhere in Borno now has IDP’s, all over. They’ve put the displaced people in secondary schools, in boarding schools,in the NYSC camps and other homes. The government is providing them with everything, logistics, he set up a committee and even the ministry of health used to go there incase of any diseases that may arise like cholera etc. They are taking care of them and providing all the necessary things.
Have you been to the camps yourself, the IDP camps?
Are the facilities good, are there enough toilets?
Well before, there were no enough toilets. Now he has divided the ladies from the men. The government directed them to build more toilets now. The facilities are actually okay now.
How many camps are there?
They are many, they are too many.
There’s a news recently of a cease-fire, and that the Chibok girls are returning back to their families. How has the news been taken in Borno?
Today we went out to hear the views of the public and what people are saying, they don’t even believe it. They are even saying that the Federal government is giving room to the Boko Haram to regroup again. But now that they are killing them before the military will see the Boko Haram and will not do anything, they will say that they didn’t give them directives and now they’ve started because of people talking, the international community are all talking and they’ve started killing the Boko Haram through air strikes and everything. At the dying minute, they are saying they want to ceasefire. People started talking, people are really wondering about the ceasefire because these people will regroup again. And if they regroup, it is another problem to the state. So the people are really not happy about that.
Thank you so much for speaking with me, I don’t have any more questions, do you have anything else that you want to say?
What I’ll say is just an advice to the federal government, even now that they are saying they want to bring back the Chibok girls, they’ve been saying since day one and it’s been more than three months now, are they alive? We do not even know.
Today marks the 180th day since the abduction of the over 200 girls from Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State. It is this abduction that sparked the #BringBackOurGirls movement to bring attention to the issue of the missing girls and press the government on a rescue operation for their return. TAP talked to Allen, a local farmer in Chibok LGA, about what it has been like living in Chibok since the abduction, how locals regard the #BringBackOurGirls movement that followed, and the local population’s relationship with the military since the abduction.
Thank you agreeing to this interview. Can you tell me your name?
My name is Allen.
And you’re from Chibok LGA.
This is now 180 days after the abduction that was heard around the world and everyone knows about and feels strongly about. What would you say is the major impact the event had on your community?
Losing over 200 girls is like losing your whole generation. The worst of it, we don’t even know their fate. The pain and the trauma this incident has caused, only the families and relations and the few Nigerians that know the value of a Nigeria with empathy and sympathy that understand the intensity of the trauma. It’s better to have a dead child than a lost child. Many of people have lost confidence in this country, and these girls would never have hope in this country again. This country has failed them. They were exposed to inhuman danger and abandoned them for close to 180 days today. It is too long, and if its not too long to Nigeria, I’m sure its too long to have people abandoned. Even if they are kept in Transcorp Hilton by now they’re ot be with their families by now. Even after the country and Defense headquarters have acknowledged their whereabouts, what is causing the delay? We don’t know. Is it a crime to be poor? Is it a crime to go to school? Even if you’re poorly trained in your village school, you still insist that you want your education. Many parents have since died as I’m taslking to you now, due to post trauma. A woman even attempted suicide a few weeks aho. Other parents were even killed by insurgents after their daughters have been abducted. What a tragedy of a people, for no fault of theirs. It is so sad. And our people are losing faith in this nation. I have not seen any sign of commitment in the cause of rescuing these girls. This is where the pain is really taking its toll of our people.
The BBOG campaign, has it had any impact? People all over the world have demanded. Practically in your community what has it meant to you personally? And can you speak of what your community thinks of the worldwide attention? Would it be the same thing if the campaign never happen?
No, it won’t have been the same thing. If not for this advocacy group that continued steadfastly at Unity Fountain (in Abuja), [the abductions] would not have remained on the front burner. The journalists would have forgotten about any issue concerning the Chibok girls. What gives me small faith in this country is that I still see people that are not even from Chibok, not even northerners, some have never traveled to Borno, but have dedicated their lives to calling on the military to live up to its responsibility, calling on the government, and making the world aware that we can’t keep going because over 200 girls are still in captivity. And I think they deserve commendation. Such a show of empathy, I have never seen anywhere. I’m just seeing it for the first time with these (#BringBackOurGirls) people. I receive calls from people in Chibok that I should send my regards to these people.
In Chibok, you can’t watch TV, we don’t have signal. You can’t get even radio to listen to, nothing like FM. You’re in the hinterland, completely abandoned community. You can’t even find a newspaper vendor to even read the news, unless someone is coming from somewhere with a newspaper in his hand. So that’s to tell you the level of poverty these people are suffering. They’re disconnected completely from this country. And here are people talking on their behalf everyday calling on the government to rescue their girls and provide security. I think it’s an unprecedented show of empathy. Even if these girls do not return, we will remain grateful to these people.
Some of the girls managed to escape from Boko Haram, can you talk about what has happened to these girls? How are they mentally? Has there been any counseling, making sure they get back to school? What has government and community’s response to help bring them back to normal life?
Those who were able to escape did so within the first 48 hours. No one else escaped after that time. They were not subjected to as much trauma as those still in captivity. Once their identities were established, the Borno government brought them together. They were counseled in Maiduguri by Inter-Faith Alliance, an organization from Kaduna State. Then another organization came, International Organization for Migration (IOM). They were in Maiduguri and they had a session with these girls. They also called on the parents of the girls who escaped and had counseling with parents in Bauchi. They also went ahead and trained some medical/health workers on basic care for trauma disorders and other psychosocial support. Those who they trained were indigenous people working in Chibok who provide firsthand psychological support for those who may need it. This much I know was donen courtesy of Borno State Government. Also Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Borno State chapter, they had some form of counseling of the girls.
Also recently, the state government, in association with development partners, is working on getting a school for them. I think they have gotten school, and some of them are with the state government as I’m speaking to you. They had been given encouragement to go back to school and write their exams, especially girls who had not been able to do their exams.
Have you been personally affected by the violence? Have you lost anyone?
Very many. I lost so many people. Among these girls that were abducted, I have people about 23 that were directly family members. Some are my nieces, some are my cousins, both on my maternal side and my paternal side. I know lots of them among those who have been abducted.
I’ve also lost my business because I am a farmer. I have a farm in Chibok, I have a shop in Chibok that I supply drugs, vaccines, poultry feed. I lost a very close classmate of mine that used to transport these goods for me from Maiduguri to Chibok. They killed him and took away the goods. I still have an in-law – a brother in-law, a pastor – that was kidnapped two weeks to the wedding of his son and as I am speaking to you today, we have no news about him, we don’t even know whether he’s alive or not. The person that drove my wife to me on the night of my wedding, a close associate of my father, was also assassinated right in his house and I have a lot of family friends and members that were killed. The first woman that died after the abduction is my aunty, my uncle’s wife. She lost her twin girls in this abduction and till date, no news about them! When the abduction took place, she was actually not feeling fine; she was having a BP-related issue, but on hearing the news that two of her daughters were part of those abducted, she died. So these are direct effects, direct happenings to me as a person and I know there are a lot of us that have personal testimonies like this as far as the North-East is concerned.
May they rest in peace.
Do you feel safe living in Chibok? I know you’re currently not in Chibok…
I am not in Chibok. I left Chibok close to three weeks [ago] now. I don’t think anybody will feel safe staying anywhere around that axis. People go out to sleep in the bush because it is easier to sleep in a quiet and bushy area or on top of a hill because these insurgents don’t know the escape routes in the villages so people think it’s safer to leave your house, go and sleep outside, then come back in the morning. Even with that process, so many people were abducted on their way home in the morning, so there is nothing like ‘feeling of safety’.
Recently, to tell you the truth, there is relative peace in Chibok because so many youths volunteered and they were empowered by both the local and state governments to keep vigil over these communities. So on every entry route of most of these communities in Chibok you will find a handful of youths sleeping day and night under trees, you know, keeping vigil over those communities. They may not defend the communities against the upsurge of Boko Haram but they can alert the communities and the few security agents in that community that there are so-and-so [suspicious] people or suspected movements in so-and-so direction, just to keep that alertness. It has been helpful just over these times, with the last attack on some of these communities. But apart from that I don’t think there is a complete feeling of safety in that area; it is not possible.
People are really living in fear. Primary schools house displaced people, so you know people can’t even go to school. Some people lock their houses, they can’t go to where they have been all this while because they have moved from their farming communities back to the local government headquarters to stay with relations, you know, and family, and you know to just move, to just migrate in the rainy season without having a proper place to sleep, without making arrangements for how to feed, all this is really a problem for the people and I don’t think security is really guaranteed now, no.
My final question: what’s the relationship like with the military? Are they offering any help, have they been a presence in Chibok?
Yes, after the abduction there was a little bit of increase in the number of military personnel in Chibok, because if you remember on the night of April 14th only fifteen or sixteen military personnel were in Chibok but after the abduction we requested – we visited a lot of military high commands, we spoke with the state government, we wrote to Mr. President, we wrote to the military structure, and they deployed additional number of military personnel to Chibok. I cannot tell you absolutely what number are in Chibok now because they don’t stay in one place and they move from one place to another.
Our relationship with the security agents has been cordial because as civilians all that is expected of us is to deliver our civic responsibility in providing information for them and then helping them to identify whenever something is going on that is not the right thing. That’s what we have been doing. That was even what made some of our people to stop talking to security agencies when we first informed them of the coming of insurgents before the abduction of these girls because of the lackadaisical attitude and the slow response on the side of the military that led to the abduction of these girls, and because there was not immediate pursuit of those girls, they were scattered and as of now we don’t know how and where they are. But because of those experiences we have a better way of communicating and some of them are really listening and interacting daily; in their patrols they move with our youth volunteers, you know, and the vigilantes and some of the hunters that volunteered to join the patrol team. So they do move around every now and then to patrol the area around Chibok but there is really a very cordial relationship and we commend them in that hinterland, coming from other parts of the country to go and stay in a very hostile environment that they don’t know the ins and outs of; it is not easy, but that is their duty post, and they are really doing good.
Thank you so much. I appreciate your time and I know that this is not easy at all, I’m sure it’s not easy for you.
I appreciate your sharing your story –
Our point of concern actually is this issue of blame game. You know, a war on insurgency is not [an] issue of party, religion or region; it is [an] issue of Nigerians coming together to confront it with all seriousness, with all intensity and with all military might so that we have our peace once and for all. But the issue of some people coming out to blame, bringing in all sorts of conspiracy theories – “oh this one does not like President Goodluck”, “oh this one is because the president is Christian and the people of the north are Muslims”, “they don’t like him, that’s why they are doing this” – to me, it is out of place, completely out of place, and we must address this issue. Especially you guys in the journalism sector, you guys will have to work and make it known that this is [an] issue of war, issue of insurgency, and everybody is being killed. Chibok is Christian-dominated and today we have lost over two hundred girls to these abductions. And we have not seen any action on the side of a Christian president that’s supposed to protect a Christian minority, you know, let me put it that way, that is different from how he has been protecting the Muslim majority in the north, so the issue of religion, of this and that, I think [it is] really uncalled for. We should face this issue of the insurgency with one mind, with one heart, and do it holistically so we can have our peace. That is just my take.
Absolutely. You’re right about that. It’s important to bring that up because people lose sight of that; they just think everybody in the North is a Muslim, and that’s not the case at all.
That is what they think.
That is not true at all. If you go to Bauchi, Taraba, Kaduna, there are plenty of Christians. Gombe has a big Christian community. It’s a big problem actually, with the representation of the North.
And this misconception, my sister, this misconception is not only for the average Nigerian; even for the top government functionaries – I have spoken with ministers, I have spoken with Governors, some of them are even accusing the Bring Back Our Girls group, looking at them as sponsored groups trying to disgrace the government of the day, which is not the truth! In that group, we see people that are political, people that are core PDP, people that are even aspiring to positions in PDP, but they are still bold to know we are calling for good governance. We are calling for fundamental human rights in Nigeria, and we are calling on the number one citizen of Nigeria to take up this responsibility. Let him deal with anybody that is causing commotion, causing catastrophe in the North-East, let them be exposed. Many people were arrested, top commanders of Boko Haram, and the SS, the DSS, the military people have been saying, “yeah, these people have been cooperating.” What have they been saying all this while? By now they must have exposed a lot of things that should be made known to Nigerians, to know that “oh, these are the people behind Boko Haram, these are the aims of Boko Haram and these are the people who are fighting Boko Haram”. By the time things are being exposed, people will know that, okay, this war is all about Nigeria, not about a particular region or religion. But the fact that people are keeping information, people don’t want to say the truth, every conspiracy theory has a fact inside. And this is what we are supposed to work on as Nigerians, stick with one way, and then have it done. We ensure that we get results. We demand for results from this government and we get them, not just keeping quiet and then following whatever is coming from the government as if it was the truth.
Had it been that we were to accept everything coming from the government as the truth, we would have accepted what Gen. Chris Olukolade [the spokesman of the Nigerian Army] said that they have received all the Chibok girls, remaining eight in detention. In a serious country, for that statement alone, he would have relinquished his seat, he would have been asked to vacate the army. We have not just that one; every now and then there is misinformation coming from the defense headquarters and that is the national information center that they set up to brief Nigerians on the happenings, but you go there and you get information different from what is happening on the ground!
On my way to Abuja, when I was coming I passed through Biu. That was the day they intercepted a truck with about forty eight Boko Haram members inside. Two of them, they passed a military checkpoint with N200. I’m sorry to say that; I’m not saying it to discredit the military, but I’m just saying how serious we are, as in our seriousness in this war against insurgents. But the civilian JTF intercepted them, on further check they found that forty eight people were hidden under trucks. When they offloaded them, they asked them, went to the refugee camp, got some people from Damboa to come and identify them and many Boko Haram members were identified among them. The next day I heard that forty eight Boko Haram members had surrendered with their arms in that region. These are the types of information we don’t want to hear, you know? And if they did, where are they? And those that surrendered, what have they said? What information have they provided the Nigerian military with?
By now we are expecting them to recapture Gwoza, Bama. But today it’s over a month since those places have been captured by insurgents. Gwoza is going into its third month as an Islamic caliphate, and we are here, relaxed, you know, we are just talking about 2015. No one is talking about, okay, see, people are on top of this mountain, they don’t have food, some of them are dying because they don’t have hospitals, and these are their fundamental human rights that are supposed to be guaranteed by a country that they call their own, Nigeria. But they are no getting it! These are the things that we have to talk about, and you guys that have voice have to, you know, really make it known to other people, especially some Nigerians that are so complacent, so inept, and are indifferent as far as this war not terror is concerned. Thank you very much.
Thank you so much for speaking with me.
Mallam Haruna Amman Kure, the Executive Secretary of Adamawa State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) spoke to TAP about his work managing the displacement camp where over 4,000 Nigerians fleeing militia violence from Michika, Mubi, and Madagali Local Governments in Adamawa State, among other areas. He talked about how the displacement camp came to be, shared with us from his statistics how many people were in the camp as of 27th of September, and how local organizations have been working to support the displaced population. He also talked about the mental health needs of the displaced and what SEMA’s work in meeting these needs, as well as voter disenfranchisement in the run-up to the upcoming Adamawa State Elections.
Thank you for agreeing to speak to Testimonial Archive Project. Can I just have your name, your position and what you do?
My name is Mallam Haruna Amman Kure, Executive Secretary, Adamawa State Emergency Management Agency.
Thank you so much, and you manage that camp that’s in Yola?
How did people get to this camp?
One is through hardship. After the insurgency attack, some of them in their villages stayed upwards of 5 to 9 days on a mountain-top, while others hid themselves in the ceilings of their various homes. Then they snuck away, and the nearest place they could get to is the [Adamawa] state capital of Yola. Initially good Samaritans just brought them [into town] and left them under trees, and by then we had not established the camp. We noticed the movement of people in town and questioned them. Press were very alert, and they started alerting us to an influx of people they believed were dislodged from their various villages. Government quickly directed me to put these people together, and that was how in conjunction of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), we got some of their vehicle and drivers to go round the town with SEMA tag. Whenever they meet people in small numbers, they ask whether they are IDPs ternally displaced persons). If one says yes, then they moved them to a place where we first of all started because we started with 34 people IDPs, and by that time, we used the temporary school, a primary school within the state capital. That was the first day. By the second day, it was terrible: people were just coming in on trucks, and the population [of IDPs] started growing. We liaised with the directorate of NYSC here and secured the premises, so we moved to the NYSC orientation camp. So this is how, and this was how the camp started on the 24th of august this year (2014).
Since that day, the number has been growing. The government also directed immediately we commence the usual routing camp activity. That is bringing together all humanitarian actors to join us in the camp. We invited them and they were prompt in their response, all the security outfits were there, the medical team were there. You know this is a situation where somebody has spent some days without proper feeding, so when they came to the camp a lot of them were very weak, emaciated. The medical team immediately stepped in and the usually spend first 3 days on medication, fatigue, malaria and some of these ailments. Luckily enough, thank God, from that time up to this day with the proper medication and the prompt attention we received from both the federal and state government that is NEMA (National emergency management agency) and the state government. We have enough drugs to take care of the people. We run 24-hour clinical services and we have doctors that come in from Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF came in with drugs, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) branch in Yola have also been performing very wonderfully.
How many people do you have registered as IDPs now?
Registration is ongoing, but by this morning, we had 4,478 IDPs. Out of this number, 2609 are male, 1305 are female, under 5 children are 559, pregnant women, 52, we have 6 successful deliveries [of babies]. We have never had any loss of life, and we have our brothers and sisters in the humanitarian services ranging from Refugee Commission, International Rescue Commission – name them. Apart from other security outfits, they are all here to work round the clock. NEMA setup this camp itself, and they supervise and make sure they are on the right footing.
It sounds like you have a lot of partners that have done a lot of work in other countries as well that are also helping you, but what about the local organizations? Are there any local CSOs in Adamawa and surrounding states that are helping you?
Most of these [organizations present] are local organizations, like the faith based organizations. All these faith based organizations in Adamawa state are there with us in the camp. We have about 8 committees and they are in all these eight committees. The American University of Nigeria (AUN) and Adamawa Peace Initiative have been supporting us in that also, because at present we are concentrating more on their educational side. As I told you, UNICEF supplied us with educational materials, and AUN, Adamawa Peace Initiative and other well meaning citizens of the state are supporting us in that aspect too because they’ve agreed to come and conduct classes. These children’s education has been disrupted and we don’t want it to continue much longer. We now have up to 6 classes and very soon we are going into waste-to-wealth education so that by the time they leave they must have gotten one trade or the other due. I want to believe that by next week after this Sallah, we will set off fully in that aspect.
And there are other social activities we do there. We have football pitches, and we play matches between the humanitarian workers there and the IPD teams.
(laughs) We played one match and we are playing this evening. Well, you see the thing is, these people are depressed. We need to have some psychosocial activities here to at least to make them start feeling at home. IDPs can be aggressive, and they get dejected. You cannot rule that out because the situation the IDP left. Some of them maid have terrible memories, like the women that are the widows, you find them, you have to go close to them, you have to counsel them. We call most of them by name because we want them to feel at home, and honestly that aspect is working well. The psychiatric doctors who come in with the NMA are treating patients there because they are discovering a lot of them that need counseling. So that is how we work.
You say the psychiatric hospitals are coming to the camp. Is there a program that is in place or is it you know, just go and do house call in the camp or is it like specific program you are doing in the camp?
It’s a program we are doing in the camp. We have one doctor that comes every Wednesday, another one comes on Saturday, so in between it we have to call them to come in. When they are leaving, since we’ve identify the patient and they tell us what they want us to do with this patient. They often want us to spend time with [the IDPs], and that is what led us to start playing football. We use to have one pitch but now we’ve expanded to a full field for them and later on we’ve identified and setup a volley ball pitch for them.
Initially the atmosphere in the camp was a little tense, but the fact that we stay with them, we play with them, we have naming ceremonies and we fund the naming ceremonies, we fund most of the activities, so we’ve now become almost a family with them. And we are just trying to do that to create a conducive environment. The aggressiveness they came with is now subsiding. With feeding, NEMA had to make sure we perfected it. Everybody has satisfied, including the IDPs themselves, because they are the ones predominantly partaking in the cooking rather. So with time, they know what they want to eat and the quality and we make it that the food we cook there we eat together with them.
You just mentioned aggressiveness. Were there fights in the camp at the beginning, were people aggressive any small thing they start fighting, is that how it was in the beginning before you start to put in those psychosocial activities to bring them closer at first? Were they antagonist to each other at first? What was it like?
No, there was no fighting, nothing physical. But you know if you talk to somebody you think what you are expecting him to do, he will do the opposite. You tell him that open defecation is not good and it may result to outbreak [of illness]. Before you realize, he will still do the same thing again. You tell them, ‘this is not the place to dispose your waste product’, that there are bins. Our sister NGOs provided waste disposal bins and introduced hand washing fittings all over to make sure they are everywhere, but their aggressiveness started interfering. And what we did was to add more of the pit toilet because some of them don’t feel comfortable using this conventional toilet. These additional pit toilets reduced open defecation drastically.
I was just going to ask you based on open defecation, were there any previous outbreak of cholera or anything? I know there are in Maiduguri.
No, our medical team from Ministry of Health came in aggressively so they were able to tackle that. Up until this time we had only two cases of measles on children, and they were immediately quarantined. About a week ago, they’d already been discharged. There is nothing again like that. And immediately we were able to contain this open defecation (OD) syndrome, all these things stopped.
How many toilets do you have in the camp?
It is an NYSC Orientation camp, so there is a lot, and they have many conventional baths. We were able to add about 15 additional toilets so you see that is what led them to imbibe this culture of using the toilet. And then we have sanitation on almost daily bases, and we make sure that we go with them. Our sister agencies the IRC and other outfits that are there, they took it upon themselves that this should be part of work done daily, including Sunday.
The civil defense, the Boys Brigade, the Girls Brigade, the JNI, peace Corp, so the other police and army are all here on a regular bases, they are just here to support us. In plain clothes and uniform, security are always there with us. That is how we are able to have this level, thank God the government visit us periodically to see what we are doing are there are areas where they need to also come in, they come in the state government. And the UNACA are always in support, they’ve been supporting us, so that is how we are moving.
I know that there are elections coming up in Adamawa. Have the elections in Adamawa been approached by INEC to register? Can you suggest anything to forestall voter enfranchisement among IDPs?
We need to see INEC and discuss. Let me just file my statistics of those who are likely to vote in my camp. When we have this information, it would help advise me on what to do next. We have not done that for now, because we want to let these people settle down but by next week, what you’ve said now, I’ll follow up on.
Mr. Mohammed is a Maiduguri resident who was in Bama when it fell to insurgents. He talks about the relationship between the military and civilians in Maiduguri and how the military’s attitude towards ordinary citizens in Borno has changed over time, and the fragile normalcy of daily life in the city. He also talks about the role that the youth volunteer group known as civilian JTF has played in securing Maiduguri, and trust in the Nigerian military to handle the ongoing crisis.
The violence has been going on for quite a while now in Borno State. How has the relationship between security forces and the populace changed over time?
For the two communities which you have mentioned, Gwoza and Bama, what [we are seeing] in Gwoza [is that] there are only old men and women. Any young woman or able-bodied man is not there. In essence, the town is completely under the control of the insurgents. Anything like business, buying or selling, there is nothing like that. Especially those people who left their houses [in these controlled areas] unprepared, psychologically they are now affected. They are living in separate, different locations, so you can imagine how they are feeling. And if you come to the second place, Bama which you mentioned, as of yesterday (I don’t know of today), it was still completely under the control of the insurgents too. So there are no people in Bama – the only people remaining there are only women and old people – and the women are now suffering from lack of food, there is nowhere they can go to buy anything, they cannot move freely because insurgents are patrolling the whole town. The few people there are just living in a way that is…they cannot even understand what to do. They have nowhere to go. This is the situation. So as a result of this, either in Bama or in Gwoza or anywhere in Borno in general, people are living in a really desperate situation.