police

“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.

“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.

“After[Boko Haram] do their own operation and go, the police will come for innocent people”

TAP spoke with Karu, a business woman and NGO worker in Damaturu, Yobe State, about her experiences over the past few years living under the state of emergency due to the ongoing violence by armed militias in the area. In this extensive conversation, she talks about the impact of the violence on the livelihood of ordinary Nigerians in the area, and her family’s experience with the armed group known as Boko Haram. She talks about the level of distrust between Nigerians in the area and the security forces charged with protecting them, and the lack of government assistance in the wake of the mass violence and loss of property.

This interview was conducted in English language. If you are interested in volunteering with TAP, do send the team an email at testimonialarchiveproject@gmail.com 

Thank you for agreeing to speak with us. What is life like in your area?

We have experienced a lot now, my dear. We are not comfortable, food to eat is not as regular. Sometimes it can be two meals a day, sometimes one.

How has the situation in your community affected you personally?

For myself, there’s nothing to say, it is very hard to put it. The normal business is not there, now there is nothing happening. Everything has stopped. Coming to Yobe is not easy, and business is not going as usual. Where you are supposed to sit down and sell, army has occupied that area. Where mechanic are sitting have been exchanged, everything has changed totally.

Has there been any assistance from government?

No assistance, my dear. Only these interviews and interviews, no form of assistance. One day we heard they had brought things that they were given rice, oil, and mattresses but we didn’t get anything.

How is the security in your neighborhood now?

Security? Even if you go to report the thing [security officers] will tell you is that they cannot fight death face to face and they will all run away.

Do you ever report incidences to the security forces?

Yes, sometimes we do, because like the one they did on 24th May between Borno and Yobe, they give warning that they were coming.

When they give you warning, what do you do?

We run to bushes because the place we are going if they see you in groups they will start their own so you have to join them.

Has state of emergency made life better?

Life? It is a little bit Ok, only Yadi Boni that we don’t know how they are.

Do people trust the security forces, JTF?

If I am the one to judge I will say no. If you come to them they will still challenge you, that Boko Haram is after their lives too, so why should you come to report. After they do their own operation (Boko Haram) and go, the police will come for innocent people in that area and they will start packing them, and putting them into the cell. Last week in Yadi Boni, Boko Haram they did their operations, and it was yesterday that [the police] came to pack innocent people and putting them into cells.

Why do you think these armed militias, Boko Haram, are attacking these communities?

I don’t know, in fact. You know some of this things you cannot know.

You know, some people are still joining Boko Haram. Why do you think that is?

It is usually under force. Like two of my brothers — same father. They were on their way for condolence visit on 6th January. They and my uncle were on their way to the burial of one of my relations and[Boko Haram] caught them. My father started crying and saying ‘Kill them and give me the bodies for burial’ they said ‘No!’ they cannot, and they took them away. Lucky enough the other one was found, but up to 5 months now we cannot know where he is since that day. Is he alive? Is he dead? We don’t know.

We have been hearing recently, three weeks ago that one man took his wife with three children. He said that he is running away, so they wouldn’t come and attack them in the town, but now no news about them. No news. They haven’t reached their destination. They are not at where they left and about the car, no news of the car, no owner. What can one say if one is to give information?

What do these militiamen do when you see them?

They can do everything they want. If they meet you, sometimes even food items they cannot leave. They will kill the person and pick their food. Sometimes they do not touch you, they will pick the food and leave if you are lucky. Sometimes if you are not lucky and you have men in the house, they will take them. That is why you can see now they are becoming more.

And this whole time government has done nothing? The situation is getting no better?

My dear, there is nothing the government will do. Is it today? is it yesterday? Now, I myself that I am telling you this if you come here, if you meet this people, they will see me better than the government, because now they can tell me their feelings.

Anybody who comes and says intervention, you’ll think they can go to that person, but in short while, they will say they are tired of this person, because and if the person is going to help, how many times is he going to help? So nothing has been done by the government. People have started feeling somehow about saying their problems or complaining about their problems, and everywhere this type of interview, these interventions are going nowhere.

“It’s not what they take, it’s what they do to you that is the problem”

According to Halima, a businesswoman who has lived in her neighborhood in Yola for the past 35 years, robberies and armed violence during curfew hours are becoming more and more widespread. She believes that the displacement and armed violence is causing insecurity and societal distrust throughout the region, even in areas that are not seeing the worst of the violence.

You have young guys that have not been able to go to school, or they have been to school but they don’t have jobs. And because of that they use that opportunity to rob, disturbing people, crime… the problem is that everybody, all of us here, we don’t sleep with two eyes closed. We sleep with an eye open. And also, everyone in the community is concerned about this.

Just recently, some young boys came into my house in the middle of the night around three o’clock. They robbed us. True, they had not touched anybody, but they came in numbers, about 10 of them, and then after coming into the house they broke into the house, after they broke into the house they woke up everybody – in fact, smashing doors, smashing windows, and then they entered, they didn’t touch anybody. And if this kind of things when they happen, even the neighbors, when something happens like that they don’t feel comfortable because you share somebody house being smashed or crashed or people, in the middle of the night, they can’t be free. Nobody will come out and help you, no matter what you do. If you scream, it is useless. If you even call police they would not come. By the time they come, these people have gone. Also, even if I were the one, if something happened to my neighbor I won’t go out. I would be even afraid of calling police, because first of all, we don’t know if they are the ones who are robbing you.

In Adamawa, my state, we have curfew, but imagine if the curfew people are going around breaking into houses. With guns and machetes. Wherever they go, they have these strong torchlights that they use, you’ll think it’s NEPA. They don’t like to see their faces. And if you have on security lights, they will break the lights. Things like that. Everywhere, everywhere I can say in my state everyone is not sleeping peacefully. I have stayed in my neighborhood for 35 years, nothing happened like that. Except now. Now that I don’t even have a husband, I and my children and my partner are all living like this. And the irony of it is that there are rich, rich people with big, big mansions, they don’t go into those kinds of houses, because they know that maybe they have security. They go into poor people’s houses. It’s not what they take, it’s what they do to you that is the problem.

These kinds of things happen in all the three states that they say are emergency states. And sometimes you would see them in something like uniform. They put something on top of it that you don’t get. When you hear People say “don’t tell the police, is it the police that are coming up to come and rob people.” So you see, it’s not easy for somebody to even talk about this. But I’m talking not because I don’t want people to hear, but what I don’t want they have already done to me, so why can’t I come and talk?

And it’s not only Adamawa state; it’s in every one of these local governments and states. So there is a lot of problems that people are facing. Sometimes they think these people that break into your houses, are people that run away from other states. And when they are in your place they will just do that, because they don’t have anything else to do. If you say you’ll call you the police, they would say “don’t call the police because they’re the one’s doing this”. If you say let’s call the soldiers, people they would say, “don’t do this because they are conniving with them to do all this rubbish”.

“What happens to a person, happens to God”

The following transcript is of an interview with Hussaina, a community service worker who has lived in Maiduguri for decades. She  spoke to TAP about the violence she has seen in her neighborhood in Maiduguri, and the losses her community faced during a spate of violence on February 18th. She personally has not lost any of her family in the fighting as at the time of this recording. 

Initially, Borno State is a state where Muslims and Christians have been leaving together very cordially and in peace. And during this insurgency, a few years ago, and now on Feb 18th, the violence has affected even the development of the state. People are displaced.

There was a woman that lost 6 of her children on February 19th. Burn her house, burn her children to ashes, no recognition. And up to today as I’m speaking to you, I have never heard whether government has assisted her or rebuild her house or given her any compensation.

Another one too in Umurari, a driver with seven children. His house was demolished. He found a place and just made a small shed with his children, believe that during his retirement he would go back to his village in Dambua local government. In the last two months, his house in the village was burnt, two people were killed in that house. No compensation.

Government has not come to their aid to see what is happening or even to take their statistics. The only assistance that government is doing, to me I have observed there is bias. Some local government, government has visited. Others government has not visited. To me I believe that what happens to a person happens to God. It shouldn’t have this segregation. As long as government intends to help.

We have widows that have been crying seriously for help. Especially now that school has opened. School fees is a problem. And nobody is willing to take responsibility of another person because of the situation we are in the states. And security men, too, have lost their lives. If something is happening, if you ask them to go, they will not go., they will kill them, they will drive their families from the house. They would not have any benefits to support the family.

So this thing is becoming so problematic in the state. Nobody can go out and say “this is what is happening. And this thing has really affected the society. You cannot move freely in the town. People will come to us and say “people have written us letters that they will be coming”.

People are even saying “maybe government is involved”. If not, why is this thing continuing for the past 6 years and no solution to it?” People are walking helter-skelter, OK. “Who are the shadows? Who are the people sponsoring it?” Up ’til today, we have never found out. You will find out that they have paraded this person as Boko Haram, and the person arrested will say I was sent by this person”. And up till today, nobody has ever brought out that person publicly as introducing these people. Up til today, these soldiers wo’nt tell us “these are the sponsors.” We have never seen anyone say “these are the people sponsoring this violence”. No stop to it.

It’s very alarming.