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.