Borno

“We have a president that would go to a social event the day or the next day [after an attack] and be dancing”

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.

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“I heard them say ‘kill them! shoot them!'”

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?

Yes. 

[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.

“Losing over 200 girls is like losing an entire generation”

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.

Yes.

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.

Amen.

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.

Honestly.

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.

“How can you depend on [the military] to protect you?”

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?

The relationship between the military and the people at first was very bad, because the military first came with the mindset that everybody in Maiduguri was a Boko Haram member. They came with a mindset of complete destruction, killing, looting and violence. So at that time people had no confidence in them because they were attacking people. There was nothing like interrogating; they would just kill and loot, and even sometimes they would set houses on fire. So at that time there was no good relationship between civilians and the security agents at that time. But now, with the coming of the civilian JTF, [most military] know that not everybody is a Boko Haram man. What they have been doing for up to two years and could not curtail[the violence], they were able to do with coming of the civilian JTF. So people have confidence now in the civilian JTF more than the military men. As a result now, the military men have now become friends with the civilian JTF which are part of the civilian population. This is what is on ground now.
So basically the civilian JTF has acted almost as an intermediary between the military and the general population, mediating that relationship between both parties.
Yes. We were looking at the civilian JTF as our response because we have tried our best to throw out the Boko Haram members from Maidugiri to the outskirts of Maiduguri. We are thankful to them.
We’ve been hearing a lot in the news about some areas where Boko Haram is now in control. What impact does this have really on the day to day lives of the people in these communities? We have a vague sense of it being a very bad thing and perhaps an increase in violence and a sense of threat to Nigeria’s territorial integrity. But what does it mean to the people who live in these communities?

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.

So in your community now, how are people relating to each other? Are they going to visit relatives, are markets or supermarkets still open? What’s it like now in Maiduguri where you are?
In Maiduguri, life is very normal. If a stranger comes here, he may not know that he is in Maiduguri because it is so normal. People are moving about without any fear or anything because here we believe that what they are doing outside they will never come to Maiduguri. It is not possible even. People are doing their business. Supermarkets, shops, markets, everything is open, except that our curfew starts from 7 in the evening to 6 in the morning, this is the only thing. Otherwise everything is normal. But one problem is that you cannot go outside Maiduguri, especially if you are going towards the East or towards the Southern parts, because we are in a kind of a cage. we have only one entrance. You cannot go towards Bama or Gwoza.
If people are living their day-to-day lives in the city, is it because they trust the police and army to protect the city?
No. We are with the military men, but we know not to trust them to defend us. We have had two scenarios in Gwoza and in Bama where the military abandoned their security posts and ran away. So how can you depend on them to protect you? In Bama, I was an eyewitness. I saw them stay with civilians to run away from Bama to Maiduguri. So how can you imagine that these people would protect you? Only our CJTF and the determination of the people, knowing that whatever happens in Maiduguri, we are going out en masse to face it together.
Are there still people joining these militants?
No, they are forcing people. They would take away young men and they conscript people into their ranks. When they take over a town, they take [the young men] away.
My final question: Have you heard of any militants forming a sort of government in these places?
Especially in a place like Gwoza where we are hearing is under [Boko Haram], we have not gotten any concrete way in which they are administering the place. We are trying other sources to know exactly what kind of government they are running, but up until now we have not concrete way that they are ruling the place, because no one is going there to bring out the information.
That’s all the questions I have. Is there anything else you want to say that I haven’t asked you?
Our military lacks the power, determination or morale to face these small insurgents. Or let’s look at it this way: does the government have the political will to end this insurgency? These are our concerns, because if our government is serious about this, if our military can go outside [the country] and do peacekeeping well, why can’t we do it in Nigeria? Also, where are these insurgents getting all their arms and ammunition? For example, a helicopter isn’t something that one can put in a house. It has to be in an airport or an airstrip. And the airspace is controlled by the government. So how can a helicopter fly from somewhere to go to the enclave of the insurgents and drop money, weapons, or medicine, and fly back? From where is this helicopter coming from, and who is controlling it? So how we are looking at it is that the government has no will to end the insurgency. Maybe because some people are benefiting from it, we don’t know.

“The first people came when their homes were struck [by militants], now people are coming on their own”

Mr. Abubakar Gombe of Red Cross in Gombe State helps to manage an IDP camp for people fleeing insurgency violence in Borno State. The camp is located in the Gombe-Biu by-pass area of Gombe in Gombe State. In this interview, he talks to TAP about his work with the IDPs. He describes IDPs’ typical behavior when they first come into camp, what kind of assistance the Red Cross and other international agencies are rendering, and the importance of the local community in Gombe State welcome of the IDPs. From this interview, we learn that there is still no institutionalized government program to help the IDPs fleeing insurgency violence and that post-traumatic counseling support is still needed for displaced populations in the region.

To assist with donations to this IDP camp in Gombe, do call Mr. Abubakar Gombe on his phone number 08032639263. Due to technical difficulty, we sincerely regret that we are unable to provide a Soundcloud recording of this interview.

How do you receive IDPs? Do they make their way to you or are they put together and driven down in government vehicles?

The IDPs come to us. Before the establishment of camps, they were just staying at motor parks when they run away from their homes [in Borno], because they don’t know anywhere in town. It was when so many of them were at the motor parks that it was reported to Red Cross. Red Cross then reported to Gombe State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), who decided to give them a place which is now the camp.

When you meet people, what kind of state do you meet them in? Do they have a lot of belongings?

One finds them in a state of despair. The first thing you see is their desperation, most especially the children, because they don’t know where they are. They can’t even stay still and look at you. The women as well are often in shock.

So they don’t make eye contact?

No, only the men. When the women are talking to you, they’re heads are down and you can tell they’re distracted.

The children?

You would see that they’re tired. Very tired and hungry, when we met them in the week after coming in from the motor park. Now that we have established the camp. Those first people that came, it was when their homes were struck [by militants]. Now, people are coming on their own [before their homes are struck]. Now that the camp is here, these new people don’t have as many psychological issues.

Demographics-wise, do you have more men than women?

Mostly women, then children. Then the men. We’ve recorded like 2000 people. Some have left [the camp], so we now have 1,570.

Why do they leave?

Some are government workers who’ve used their salaries to get a place to rent in town.

What other international agencies are with you, and what kind of assistance do you render?

It is only the Red Cross in terms of NGOs around in the camps. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) supplies some materials for the children and adults, like food aid. Then bulk of food comes from National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Then another food items from philanthropist. An-Noor Mosque in Abuja brings in food for us as well. We also get used clothes. NEMA and Gombe State Government are the ones coordinating the whole thing.

The Borno and Gombe State governments, what role do they play?

Gombe is hosting the IDPs, giving them shelter, medical care taken care of by the state government through SEMA. Then Borno State government the deputy governor and governor came and gave them a lot of money in cash which they shared among the families, then promised them that soon they would go back.

So mostly ad-hoc, then? Is there any institutionalized program from Borno State for the IDPs from their state?

Not to my knowledge, no.

What is the situation like, health-wise? We’ve had an interview with the Health Commissioner and she talked about cholera outbreak in a camp in Maiduguri. Are you having similar difficulty?

We have not had that. We’d heard of the cholera outbreak, though, and we’re working on the sanitation issue. NEMA has added more latrines for us. They are divided for use by men, women, and even children. There is also hygiene education and promotion through Red Cross. So no, no cholera outbreak, bu some women are giving birth.

How many?

7 in the past two months. One of them to twins.

How long has this camp been open?

The camp has been open for 3 months.

A lot of care is given to physical health. What about psychosocial health? Following the abduction of the girls from Chibok especially, there has been a lot of focus on sexual violence during this insurgency. We’ve heard of young women reporting on experiences of sexual violence. And it’s even said that some girls have even given birth as a result of the rapes. What effort is ongoing to address women and girls’ specific need and even trauma-related issues?

We in the Red Cross give psychosocial support, but there is no center opened, and no one assigned to that specific role. We are mingling with them socially to find out their welfare. We are mingling with the men as well to find out if there is any problem. We encourage them to not hide anything so we can provide any support needed.

So there is no set program as yet, but it is being done informally.

No program, but I can tell you that if there are we can provide such assistance. People have been confiding in us, even those taking ARV drugs tell us. So we know if they are we can find out.

In addition to the question specific to women, as a general matter, is trauma also addressed informally?

Yes.

These people have also lost their sources of livelihood. What is being done in terms of re-training, trying to get them back on their feet? Or is it too early to think about this?

It’s not too early, because it would help to get things like this done on time. It would help so much. Other international NGOs are trying their best in that regards, but not in the camp.

Which ones?

We collaborate with Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and also Gombe State Ministry of Agriculture. Some local governments have given the IDPs seedlings. Even Gombe SEMA has rented some housing for the IDPs in town.

And community members welcoming? Is their movement restricted?

Yes, very welcoming, that’s why many of them even decided to move into town. Especially the religious bodies, churches and mosques. Child Protection Services too have even come recently with relief items for the children. Some of these people also have relatives in town as well.

State and Federal Government are they working hand-in-hand? Is there any duplication of effort?

Yes, I think so. They have many meetings on strategy and have demonstrated working relations. Especially so with NEMA and SEMA.

That’s all I have. Anything else you want to make note of that I haven’t asked you?

Only that the government has been promising them that they would go back in two weeks. They raised their hopes, but it’s not feasible. Some tried to go back home, but they couldn’t even enter their towns. It’s best not to raise anyone’s hopes.

“For the 57 girls that escaped, they have all been rehabilitated and we have provided them psychological support”

This post is part of a series of interviews with subject matter experts on the northeast of Nigeria and the ongoing militant violence. TAP hopes these interviews will contribute to an issue-driven conversation on what relevant actors in the region can do to help stop the violence and improve well-being of Nigerians living in violence-prone areas.

Among the challenges in information sharing on the situation ongoing in northeast Nigeria is getting a sense of what the state government is doing to alleviate suffering of the population under its aegis, and what support is needed on the well-being of Nigerians living in the area. The Borno Commissioner of Health Min. Salma Anas-Kolo talked to TAP 10 days ago about her work in service delivery in Borno State, sharing insight into the challenges of internal displacement, the state of public health, and the ways in which state and federal governments are working together in healthcare. She talks about the overcrowding at the displacement camps and the cholera outbreak in the camps as a result. She also addresses the state’s provision of mental health services to 57 girls from Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State who managed to escape their abductors, and the challenges the state is facing in terms of human resources and support.

Can you give us some idea of what is going on and how exactly the ongoing insurgency in Borno State is affecting service delivery?

In Borno, [the health ministry] operates services at the three levels of healthcare. The basic one which is the primary healthcare. with the coming of this administration that is the one we focus on because it is the one closest to the people. We strengthened the health system in order to provide quality service to the people across the local governments and that has been effective. Twenty-two general hospitals in the twenty-two local government areas, and then three tertiary hospitals including the University Teaching Hospital established by the Federal Government. All are working effectively especially the primary health facility. But unfortunately, especially in the last two months and because of the severe insurgency attacks, a lot of population has shifted especially in the northern Borno and some parts of Southern Borno. This has also affected health workers. They have also relocated due to the insurgency while some have lost their lives. Of course this has its negative effect of the health service delivery in the state.

Does this mean that there is a lot of displacement going on?

Yes, our major challenge now is the internally displaced persons. In three local governments in southern Borno, we are experiencing internally displaced persons with 80% as children and women. This [challenge] is not only limited to Borno; Gombe State too has internally displaced persons. Within Maiduguri township itself there are a lot of internally displaced persons coming from the other local governments. We have over three thousand persons. Currently we are experiencing cholera outbreak. We were able to contain it last week but unfortunately it resurfaced again two days ago, so we are mobilizing our teams because we recorded over one thousand cases of cholera within one week.

With all of this going on, how are your linkages with NEMA? Is that going on? What kind of support are you getting from other State agencies?

We have been receiving support from the Federal Ministry of Health and National Primary Health Development Agency. So these are the two government and health agencies that have been providing support. And also some of our development partners, particularly the UN agencies. But we are still waiting for the desired support from NEMA. I am glad to mention that in Gombe state the state emergency agency has been supportive, especially with the internally displaced persons that have relocated to Gombe. But we looking forward for support from NEMA at the moment.

These IDP who are still in the northeast part of Nigeria, how safe are they?

Well, one cannot talk about safety because there are gaps in the security, but efforts are ongoing to ensure safety of the IDPs. They are located in the NYSC camp. They are provided with some level of security. Those who are in Biu that I visited recently also have some level of security. The local government provided a civilian security outfit.

Has there been in any attack of the camps?

There has not been any attack.

Any attempt of radicalization in the camp?

No, because we are really making a lot of effort, tried to resettle them. We have tried to provide enough relief materials: food, clothing and even some level of education, like for the ones in Maiduguri.

Considering the large size of Borno and the villages scattered far and wide, how do you respond to emergencies? Is there a structure in place?

What we did in Borno was to set up emergency response teams. We even set up a full department in the Ministry of health. So when there are emergencies, we send the team nearest to the area, send a lot of medicine and other materials to enable the nearest hospitals to cope, also ambulances. Within the Maiduguri township, whenever there is emergency, we have that emergency response that has been very effective. We have strengthen the general hospital in Biu and the one in Bama to be able to cope with the emergency response.

But one of the major challenges like I have said is the human resources. We do not have enough medical staff, especially medical doctors. Two years ago we had 35 but with the coming of this administration we are able to do massive recruitment for medical doctors. The same thing for the nurses. We recruited about three hundred nurses and a lot of them deployed to the rural communities. With [the abduction of the girls] in Chibok, if you would recall, we started providing rehabilitation services and we started training a lot of health workers for psychological support and counseling. We have trained almost forty health workers. Because of the insurgency a lot of them were displaced and we are now left with only four counselors. So this is the implication. We have been suffering a lot of setbacks.

I want to get a little clarification. Can you tell us where the responsibility of the state begins, where it ends and where that of the federal government begins. A lot of people do not understand this, particularly from the health angle.

From the health angle, you cannot be putting blame on one another. It is a collective responsibility. In the health sector we have been working harmoniously, jointly between the local government, the state and the federal government. So it has been a joint responsibility.

If I can give you example: despite the insecurity, we have been able to control polio transmission. This year alone we have not had a single case of polio. And that is the indication of the strength of the services, the effectiveness of collaboration between the State, the local government and the federal government. So in the health sector, we cannot say we cannot blame anyone.

Of course the federal government has a bigger role to play in terms of the leadership and also the effective coordination of whatever support is coming. If that is weak we wouldn’t be able to harness the support that is coming from the federal government and the local government. For us in the health sector I would say we do appreciate the support of the federal ministry of health, especially through the minister of health and also the support of national primary healthcare development agency.

Sexual violence has really come to the fore especially with the kidnapping of the girls, I wonder what your view is in terms of the state to deal with sexual violence both psychological and physical means.

Sexual violence has always existed in the northern part of the country, especially in Borno, and has led to the abduction of the girls. Even before the massive abduction of the girls, it has been ongoing in the population of Borno State, especially in Northern Borno. We have been making efforts and we have been mobilizing support through our partners especially UNFPA to support us. We have been implementing activities in the area of awareness creation in order to discourage sexual and gender based violence. We have a programme through the Ministry of Women of Affairs that have been implementing activities. But you know. it has to take a long time because it has to do with the attitude and then the educational level. You may recall that the illiteracy level in the north especially among women is not impressive. These are some of the contributory factors. But we are still not relenting. The state government at the moment is committed to ensure gender equality and also to promote the education of the girl child.

Are there any specific programs that you are implementing for victims of sexual violence? In Nigeria, we are not always good about mental health, and I’m sure there issues of trauma for people who have experienced violence on an almost daily basis. Who are you partnering with on this?

We are committed to ensuring that we address the issue. We set up a rehabilitation committee, and I chair that committee. It is supposed to rehabilitate and provide psychosocial support and post-traumatic treatment. So far, we have been doing that. For the 57 girls that have escaped, they have all been rehabilitated and we have provided them psychological support and trauma management. And that’s to all of them, including their parents. We have identified experts and trained people, especially health workers and other volunteers. We have also collaborated with the psychiatric hospital when there is need for further treatment. But part of the gaps that we have is the dearth of mental health services, and this is where we’re seeking support from our partners to support the state, not only at the highest level, but primary health, too. We have UNFPA to support us, too, on GBV. And we’re getting some support there. This is quite new to us as well.

Does this question of human resources apply in this case as well?

Yes, because we are training health workers and volunteers, but the major challenge like I have said earlier is that we are losing a lot of human resources because of the insurgency violence. So as we train people, a lot of them are also leaving. Our hope is to keep it going, and that we are able to retain the health workers and the skills to provide the required services.

What support to do you need? Is there any support that you need on ground that you are not currently getting, aside from the human resource issue?

Management of the IDP camps, for example. There are better ways of managing the camps. To date, we don’t have that expertise on ground, also on how to better resettle families. We don’t have to wait until the end [of the insurgency]. Of course, human resources are inadequate to cope and provide emergency response services. We have been mobilizing the International Red Cross Society to support us, but more support is needed.

You know when there is overcrowding, there is likely to be outbreak of diseases. As I said earlier we now have a cholera outbreak. We are doing our best at the state level, but we need additional support for drugs and medical supplies.

Women are the most affected. If you visit the camps, you’ll see that it’s mostly women, a few young men and mostly elderly men. So there is need for support with reproductive health kits and dignity kits for women. I saw 3 pregnant women. So there are enormous gaps.

Also as you said, there is need for more psychosocial support and counseling. And it is not a one-time event, it needs to continue. For all populations affected, we need to scale up massively to bring more to the people.

The health system needs strengthening. We are doing our best but we need to do more to strengthen all the health systems, including health system services, to be able to cope with the increasing demand.

Girls that do get pregnant, the children that they’re pregnant with, are they taken to half-way houses, their homes, what happens to them?

What happens is that we give them psychosocial support and we screen them. These screenings are across board: HIV, malaria, hepatitis, pregnancy, etc. When they are pregnant, we inform them and their parents, and we inform them enough to make their own decisions on what needs to be done. We have trained a lot of health workers on abortion care as part of comprehensive reproductive healthcare services, so based on their decisions we are able to assist them.

Can you give us a statistic on the number of girls that have been pregnant as a result of sexual violence lately? Do you have those numbers?

The only one we have recently is the one that we met and found her to be pregnant. That is the only one that I can say of the 57 that we worked with that escaped.

The IDP camps, I’m sure, need support, and people would want to know how to best support. If you live outside of the north or Abuja, who would you direct your relief materials?

Each IDP camps have a committee and chair, and they all have emergency response teams for health-related issues. In Maiduguri, they have a committee set up by the Governor and headed by the Commissioner of Women’s Affairs. So we can share with you contacts of these people when you want to provide support for the camps. The state governor also provides – and here is another area we need support – a food program. Borno State is agrarian, and with the insurgency there has been no farming activity taking place. We have also been providing relief in terms of clothing, mobilized a lot of second-handed clothes, and this is an ongoing activity also. We have done such relief drives to Biu and Maiduguri.

“This is, to me, what has laid the foundation for the upsurge of Boko Haram”

This post is part of a series of interviews with subject matter experts on the northeast of Nigeria and the ongoing militant violence. TAP hopes these interviews will contribute to an issue-driven conversation on what relevant actors in the region can do to help stop the violence and improve well-being of Nigerians living in violence-prone areas.

TAP interviewed Dr. Muhammad Kabir Isa is a professor and Head of Department at the Department of Local Government and Development Studies at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Zaria, Nigeria on the origins and evolution of the much-feared Islamist militant organization Jamā’at ahl as-sunnah li-d-da’wa wa-l-jihād, better known as Boko Haram. Dr. Isa is one of the first people to write about the Islamist group, and has been researching and writing on Islamic fundamentalism for years. In this interview, Dr. Isa sheds light on the history of Borno State, the psychology of Boko Haram, the key factors that have fed into the growth and expansion of the Islamist group, and the role that the protracted dearth of development and good governance has played in readying the ground for situation today.

Professor (Dr) Isa, thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me. I’m just going to start with the first of five questions. This won’t take too long. I want to start on the rise of Boko Haram. Some people say it is poverty, some say it is the breakdown of governance in the North, some say it is religion; what would you say are the real contributing factors to increased fundamentalism in the region?

It’s a combination of several factors, but first, I would like to start with the historical factor. You know Islam in the region had started in the Borno empire, in the Borno Kingdom from Songhai to Kanem-Borno. So there is this draw to proselytization and Islamic knowledge in the kingdom, and Borno is known for its excellent scholarship with regard to Islamic knowledge. People are drawn to Borno from all parts of the world to learn a lot about Islamic history, philosophy, legal systems, and what have you. And these are drawn informally around the city, where scholars have evolved in this tradition of passing this knowledge from one generation to the other. There are no official sanctuaries or sectors where this knowledge is drawn. That’s one.

Two – and this is very fundamental to me in recent times – is the issue of climate change and desertification. Borno State has over five million people, thereabouts, however a quarter or a third of that population is resident in Maiduguri. There was a gradual movement of people from the Northernmost parts of the state to the center, where Maiduguri is, because of desertification, erosion in the Northern parts. Most of the population is largely towards the Northern part of the state, but these parts have been taken over by desertification.

Another factor is the Lake Chad. There are communities that prospered along the Lake Chad for hundreds of years. Now the Lake Chad has shrunk in size; it is no longer within Nigeria, but entirely in Chad. So people have been compelled to move to the center in search of new livelihoods. So desertification, the shrinking of the Lake Chad, forced the population of Maiduguri to increase because it is the most cosmopolitan urban center in Borno, and people have been attracted to it because of its urban infrastructure and what have you. However, the bubble burst. Many realised that there are no jobs, no industries, nothing. The only thing that is available is proselytization – for people to preach and call [others] to Islam. And you have to understand that Boko Haram, which is not what they describe themselves as – they describe themselves as “Jamā’at ahl as-sunnah li-d-da’wa wa-l-jihād”, people propagating the Sunna, the teachings of the Prophet. Apart from the Koran, there are the teachings and practices of the Prophet. So these are the people propagating just the Koran and the teachings of the Prophet. Anything outside these two is seen as an addition, as influenced by what is outside what has been preached by the Prophet.

Now you have to also understand that what is referred to as Boko Haram today were once referred to as the Taliban and they felt that we are in an era when Islam is no longer feasible in terms of practice, people can no longer effectively practice Islam because of some corrupt influences such as Western influences, not just the issue of education. They do not condemn education or technological advances alone; they are not against it. Rather, for example, you know, there is this Darwinian theory which says we evolved from water-based organisms, to monkeys and so on. This runs contrary to even the Bible – human beings evolved from Adam and Eve. So as far as they are concerned, this is contrary to the teachings of Islam. There are also these theories that when rain wants to fall, it forms into clouds, and so on and so forth. No. In Islam, it is God that gives rain. They are not concerned about the facts: God gives rain, but how? So there is this myopia against, if you like, contextualising religious teachings. And so to them, it is not that western education per se is haram, but there are teachings, there are theories from Western education that are contrary or seek to contradict the tenets of Islam, and those should not be taught as far as they are concerned in schools. This is the way they feel.

And of course these teachings moved into other levels because over the years, politicians and Western-educated elites of Northern extraction who have been part of government have acquired enormous wealth illegally and they have not done anything to their community, this wealth has not trickled out; they’ve used this wealth to send their children abroad and have left their own people in perpetual abject poverty. So poverty of course you know from the National Bureau of Statistics is preponderant in the northeast and North-West of Nigeria, and the index of poverty is even higher in the North-East. Most of these people live in abject poverty; there is a high rate of unemployment with no possibility of employment, no possibility of wealth creation. So people are left fallow, despondently, in anger, in frustration and what have you. This is, to me, what has laid the foundation for the upsurge of Boko Haram. And these are also independent of course of previous types of insurgencies in the North.

Now that we have some sense of what contributed to the rise of Boko Haram, how has the rise of Boko Haram compared to the rise of other Islamist groups like Hezbollah, Al Shabab and ISIS in Iraq now? How is the rise of Boko Haram different? What are the core differences and similarities?

You know, Hezbollah is Shi’ite, and ideologically they are not the same. Boko Haram is Sunni. So ideologically they are different, and with regard to modus operandi they are different. Hezbollah behaves like a state within the Lebanese state, Al Shabab is contesting the space of the state.

It will surprise you to note that in 2009 and 2010, Boko Haram never claimed to want to Islamize Nigeria. It only took a different turn by 2010. In 2009 they were only seeking revenge, if you like; they were only attacking police, armed forces, security officials and agents of the security apparatus within the state. It was only late 2010/11, when their families were arrested by the state, that BH started attacking state institutions. They attacked the police headquarters in 2011, they attacked the UN Headquarters in Abuja also in 2011. Then they started attacking churches, then schools. So you can see there is a dynamic shift in modus operandi. This shift also dovetailed into a full-on terror campaign. They now started saying they want to introduce sharia in Nigeria. In fact, not just in Northern Nigeria, but in the entirety of Nigeria. So they started challenging the state.

And it has a lot to do with the way the state has responded to the crisis. Let me also make this clear; it is one thing to bring for example an army of Igbo extraction into a Northern area where there are differences of culture, religion, perceptions of ways of life – in the north, a stranger does not enter into the compound or family house without permission, culturally. So if you bring people from the east or west to fight in an armed conflict in the north] whose culture is different, it will exacerbate the conflict and not solve the problem.

You made a point that Hezbollah acts as a state within a state, and even Al Shabab if I recall had a way of establishing a soft power that almost endeared the people to them. The only time people started fighting Al Shabab in Somalia was when they started charging taxes, banning people from watching football, even banning cigarettes. So did Boko Haram ever attempt soft power? It seems like a major difference here is that Boko Haram has never tried to actually win people over, because for all the talk about the Western-educated elite not doing much for the region, [Boko Haram] have never attempted to even show [real concern for the people], even from the interviews we have done at TAP, some people have been saying that they didn’t know that they were that bad. So what was it in the beginning that made people think Boko Haram wasn’t so dangerous in the first place?

There was a microcredit scheme with interest-free loans through each Boko Haram cell, and each commander in the cell had a special clinic where any member of the cell can use. The movement takes care of their members. They paid bills. They give motorcycles. They ran motorcycling schemes, petty trading schemes, and each member benefited from this scheme through their cell commander. As soon as you got your interest-free loan, your duty was to bring another person. Boko Haram even gave marriages. So Boko Haram was not only about charismatic leadership, it was about economic leadership, which was manifesting in political leadership because he was now challenging the state, and criticizing democratic apparatus of the state and condemning it. That way, everyone gets a soft landing.

Coupled with the proselytization and the microcredit system, membership grew. Remember now, one quarter of the population of Borno state was living in Maiduguri town. Slum areas without roads, hospitals, no primary schools, not even police stations. There were only such facilities in planned areas. Most of these urban slums that grew in the past 20 or 30 years were not planned areas, particularly those who had left Lake Chad because of the desertification with the Sahara Desert spreading at almost 1.2km annually and the increasing deforestation. These people lost their farmland. Of course, there was also unemployment.

So the poverty itself must be seen within the context of bad governance. Bad governance must be seen within the context of climate change and desertification. Along the same lines is the shrinking of the Lake Chad, which was providing a livelihood. About 10 communities or more were surviving on the existence of the Lake. With the shrinking of the Lake Chad, these people lost their livelihood. These people had to move. So Boko Haram had a microcredit scheme that worked for them.

Everything must be taken into context.

“We want the world to know that our girls have been abducted and we do not know where they are”

In this video, a father speaks on his daughter’s abduction from the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State during a #BringBackOurGirls sit-in in Abuja 40 days after abduction took place. Abuja is the center of the #BringBackOurGirls activism. The daily sit-ins organized by former Min. Oby Ezekwesili and many notable figures in Nigerian civil society including Women’s Rights and Protection Alternative Haj. Saudatu Mahdi and Center for Democratic Development’s Mr. Jibrin Ibrahim are meant to keep the pressure on the government to act for the safe return of abducted girls. The father speaks in Hausa, and his words are translated by a participant at the sit-in. For more on the #BringBackOurGirls activism geared towards the return of the abducted girls, visit the website

 

“Terrorism has no religion”

Sen. Ali Ndume, a representative from Borno State, address the gathering at the #BringBackOurGirls sit-in at Unity Fountain in Abuja

Sen. Ali Ndume, a representative from the local government in Borno State where 276 girls have been abducted, addresses the gathering at the #BringBackOurGirls sit-in at Unity Fountain in Abuja

Sen. Ali Ndume, a senator from Borno State representing Chibok Local Government where the abduction of 276 girls took place some three weeks ago, addressed a #BringBackOurGirls sit-in at Unity Fountain in Abuja. This  sit-in follows protests against Nigerian government’s seeming inaction following a mass abduction of schoolgirls from a boarding school while they were taking a science exam, and government’s eventual response casting doubt over the number of girl’s abducted.

Sen. Ndume has been accused in the past of funding the militant groups that have wrought havoc in the northeastern part of the country for years. In his address, he cleared the air on the number of girls missing, and gave some background on the community in which the abductions took place. He also addressed the accusations directed at him, and the issue of religion and ethnicity that have politicized the conflict.

This address was recording in writing while the Senator was speaking, and is therefore an edited version of his address. TAP apologizes for the lack of audio of the speech; there was no audio facility available at the time of the address.

I’m very impressed by the conduct of this gathering, as led by Oby Ezekwesili. I think I’ll just call her Oby. Thank you so much for having me.

Let us first start with the numbers, because that has been a focus of recent discussion.  179 girls was used initially because that is the number of girls that were taking the science exam. But you know how girls are, they like to stay together in groups with their friends, so other girls joined the initial number so they can read using the electricity. After the abduction happened, we did a search, but we were not many. Not enough people joined in, and it is a very wide area, so we could not find them.

I visited Chibok on the 21st April to talk to the parents. When we went and addressed parents, 2 people spoke on behalf of all the affected families. That’s when they heard 234 as of 21st April based on their register. I returned [to Abuja] and spoke to Sen Pres. David Mark, who said he’ll start on a motion [in the National Assembly]. But does the number matter? Even if it were just 1 or 5, would it be less of a tragedy? What is being done to get the children back? The 53 we have got are the number who escaped. So let me reiterate, the actual number of girls that have returned is 53. 

They now have confirmed to us the figure 276 as the number of girls abducted in total. Those who returned, 53. So that means 223 missing. Chibok is a small community that communicates within itself very well, so we called all the District Heads [of the local government]. We can confirm from the District Heads that 183 families across the various districts in the local government have missing girls. Government Girls Secondary School (GGSS) is the only school with boarding, and its mixed. For this exam, because of security situation in Gwoza, [the authorities] have joined the schools. Chibok is one of those local governments that is big on education. Again, why would the number be an issue? As I said, distinguished ladies and gentlemen: There’s some things you can do as a group that I can’t do, regardless of my office. The more we tribalize it, the more it gets closer to you and me.

I’m a number one victim of Boko Haram. I’ve been accused of being a sponsor of Boko Haram. Martina and David are both my family. David is in a hospital in Keffi, as he unfortunately had an accident on his way here. 4 in my family are Christians. I was a Christian, too, when I was younger; my name was Samuel. My dad was a Muslim, and my mom who was employed by missionaries, was a Christian. David and Martina and Naomi, my sisters,  are Christians. My mom died a regional Christian leader. My second wife is a Christian; her brother who is a Muslim was killed in his sleep. So you see, this thing is not a religious thing. And I’m not even a Kanuri, just so you know. We need to know this. LRA did same, who were trying to impose Xtianity, employing these tactics: murder, rape, kidnapping. This is not about religion or tribe or any of these things.

Terrorism has no religion, no tribe. We should all collectively fight it.

“What we will say is that may God bring an end to this all”

A volunteer for TAP in Maiduguri interviewed a young civil servant named Yahya on the security situation in his community. Like Hamid in the previous interview, he attests that the security situation in Maiduguri has calmed. but very unstable in the more rural communities outside the main city.

If you are interested in contributing to TAP by sending in interviews of affected Nigerians in the northeastern part of the country, do send us an email at testimonialarchiveproject@gmail.com 

What changes have you noticed as a result of Boko Haram activities in your area?

We have faced so many troubles since when this problems started. We have gone through so many changes in our lives, so much pain and suffering. What we will say is that may God bring an end to this all. Those who we have lost, may God forgive them, and those of us still alive, may God protect us along the way.

Through what has been happening, what are the challenges the government workers and all have been facing?

Of course, government workers have been experiencing so many challenges especially when everything was at its peak, a lot of them were killed. Police officers, Teachers and any individual involved with the government. But we thank God it is now calm, especially for us living in the town of Maiduguri, we are mostly safe except when we have work that takes us out of town.

So within the town, what kinds of problem are other people(non-government officials) in the city centre and other neigbouring towns facing?

In the town all the earlier challenges have subsided, the only thing is that people are scared as a result of the attacks around the town.  And those in the villages are in critical condition.