soldiers

“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.

“Gender has always been a component of the way [Boko Haram] violence has happened, and it’s become more explicitly so”

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.

Elizabeth Pearson is a gender and extremism analyst who is studying towards a PhD at King’s College London on gender norms in Jihadi and counter-Jihadi radicalisation. and a member of the Nigerian Security Network. She co-wrote a report titled, “Women, Gender and the evolving tactics of Boko Haram,” Journal of Terrorism Research, Volume 5, Issue 1, February 2014. This report addresses an under-researched aspect of Boko Haram’s activities: gender-based violence (GBV) and its targeting of women. It argues that 2013 marked a significant evolution in Boko Haram’s tactics, with a series of kidnappings, in which one of the main features was the instrumental use of women. In this interview, Pearson puts the well-known abduction of over 200 girls in Chibok Local Government Area spurned the #BringBackOurGirls protests in Nigeria and elsewhere in context. She discusses the ways in which gender-based violence has featured in the ongoing insurgency on the part of both the military and the militants, the ways in which Muslim and Christian women have been treated durning the violence by the militant group, and the ways in which the government can help communities affected by the violence in the remote communities affected by the violence.

Thanks so much Liz for agreeing to speak with me. Now, following the really illuminating report that you did on gender based violence about these women and the ongoing insurgency in the north-eastern part of Nigeria, I have just a few questions, starting with this one.

Do you reckon that gender based violence is a mere by-product of Boko Haram’s larger strategy in the North East, or is it part and parcel of their strategy?

I would say it is part and parcel of its strategy. It’s really integral to what’s going on in terms of the ideology which is very strongly gendered partly because of the insistence and the desire for Sharia law, which has very codified and very distinct ideas about the roles that men and women should have. So, the ideology is part of why it is integral, but more recently, there has been a real directive from Shekau in terms of abductions of women. Since 2012, there’s been a specific directive about abducting women which has really sort of ratcheted this up. Gender has always been a component of the way violence has happened and it’s become more explicitly so since its leader Mohammed Shekau has ordered and threatened the abduction of women, which began in 2012, and has been happening for the past years more than now.

There is a lot that has been said about #BringBackOurGirls, but it is really just one instance of abduction and gender-based violence. That was something that really came through in your report and also even in response to the first question. I was just wondering if you could help put what happened in Chibok in context, how many girls have been previously kidnapped, what has been the fate of these girls that have experienced the violence, how have they fared?

Well, I think why [what happened in Chibok] has been so shocking and why it has made headlines and rightly so around the world is because of the numbers of girls taken. But yes, women living in the north-eastern part of Nigeria have known for some time that they are vulnerable to being kidnapped and abducted by Boko Haram. These abductions started in 2013. Now, up until Chibok, the numbers that were taken in any one case were much smaller, so anything from around a dozen to twenty women were taken at a time in attacks that really weren’t so widely reported but that people knew where happening. One of the hostage negotiators Steven Davis has been speaking about how many girls and women he thinks has been taken in total, and he guesses that perhaps as many again have been taken by Boko Haram. So that’s a lot of women and girls.

Women have been released in prisoner exchanges with the Nigerian government, so some of them have been unharmed and have spoken to the press. Not Chibok girls now, but other women that have been taken have been bartered successfully with the Nigerian government. This obviously makes taking girls a successful strategy for Boko Haram. There are other girls that have escaped. There are certain parts of northeast Nigeria, which has been more affected than the others. Gwoza is one region where quite a lot or perhaps dozens of young Christian women have been taken in raids to go with them, to look after them, to cook, to clean and forcing them to convert to Islam. If they are Christians, they are forcing them to marry, raping the women in some cases and beating them. There was quite a well reported case of a young girl who is nineteen years old; she is a Christian teenager who had escaped from one such group. She had been with them for a few months,and she described being beaten and forced to convert to Islam, so we know from women who have either been freed or who have escaped what kinds of circumstances that they are been held in.

Ok. Would you say that there has been a marked difference between the soldiers and the Boko Haram’s use of women in the ongoing conflict? Not to try to imply that you know soldiers and Boko Haram are the same, or try to put them in the same box. I was just wondering if how women are used in the conflict differs from both sides.

It’s difficult to equate what Boko Haram are doing with what the Nigerian government are doing. They are two; one is a violent really very brutal and insurgency, the other is trying to combat that insurgency but it’s unfortunate that women have been caught up in this conflict and treated in comparable ways by both sides and they have been used as a way of attacking the other side. So, Boko Haram have been abducting women and they haven’t stopped doing this even since Chibok. Ever since the world’s focus has been on Nigeria, they have kept going. Partly as way of saying even though the world’s eyes are upon us, we are going to keep going with this and unfortunately the Nigerian government know that the police have been arresting and detaining the wives and family members of Boko Haram including one of Shekau’s own wives and that began in November 2011. And this is something that Shekau appears to have taken very personally, because it is something that he repeatedly referred to in video messages throughout 2012 before kidnapping really started in 2013. So it seems that if it was a strategy to try and get Boko Haram to the negotiating table, to try to get them to admit defeat didn’t really work. None of those Boko Haram women have been charged with anything and some of them have been released and exchanged. So there’s a similarity there and that women are been used by both sides as a way like pawns in this conflict as a way of attacking, each attacking the other side.

Thanks for that. You go into some details as to how Boko Haram has targeted Christian women and girls and even in response to the previous question, you went into some details about how Christian women and girls have been affected in the report that you wrote. It talked about the police’s barracks assault in Bama in February 2013, and chronicling the violence against women up until now. Would you say that Muslim women are not targeted by Boko Haram? I mean, are they being spared you know just as curious as to how you see in your analysis, how you see if there’s been a difference between the way Muslim women have been affected and Christian women have been affected by the ongoing violence in the North East.

I think it’s fair to say that there has been for sometime, a marked gender based violence directed at Christian women because of their faith. So for some time, Christian women have been forced to convert, they have been targeted for not wearing Islamic clothing they have been abused and harassed because of their faith in a way that Muslim women have not experienced. But it’s not the case that Muslim women are not also targeted. Boko Haram is very definite that moderate Muslims who do not buy into their ideology are also fair targets. Now Boko Haram has been treating men and women differently in its raids. There have been a number of cases where they have, for example, attacked colleges and attacked colleges accommodation and they have killed the men with no mercy. They have been completely brutal. There was a case earlier this year at a college where men were locked into dormitories, the dormitories set on fire, and those men trying to escape through the windows had their throats slit and that was an instance in which women were abducted alongside. There have been cases of where Muslim women and Christian women have been separated out into two groups and where Christian women have been attacked and raped and Muslim women have been “spared”. So, there is a difference in a way the women are treated in the attacks, and Muslim women and Christian women are treated in attacks. Certainly that’s true, but I think anybody who disagrees with Boko Haram is not treated leniently. It would be wrong to characterize all of the violence happening as being carried out by Boko Haram insurgents has something to do with religion. There are also more complicated factors that come into this. There is evidence that ethnicity is the basis for attacks. There is also struggle over resources and some of the attacks are purely criminal it would seem, so not every Boko Haram insurgent is fighting for an ideology. So I think that important to flag up as well. Although Boko Haram have a religious ideology, have an Islamist ideology a lot of the violence is caused by other factors that are not to do with religion.

I thought it was really important to really bring those points out, and I am glad you answered the questions and so specifically as well because one of the more troubling things that happened, is the whispers about how a lot of these girls are Christians and the question of the religion you know coming out as a talking point. In your paper, you also made a point that gender-based violence encompasses violence aimed at boys as well. In what way would you say that Boko Haram has targeted boys?

Well, they don’t see women as combatants they are targeting them as they are using them as recruits coerced into violence sometimes, coerced into joining insurgency where perhaps they don’t want to, paid sometimes to carry out attacks and treated with a greater degree of ruthlessness. They are more likely to be killed during attacks where women are sometimes “spared”. It is not to say that Boko Haram does not kill women. It does but men specifically in raids are more likely to be killed. We have seen more instances of Boko Haram maltreating women in different ways, but letting them live.

Some of the fathers of the over 200 abducted girls from Chibok Local Government in Borno State have come to the #BringBackOurGirls sit-ins that have been arranged in solidarity with them. I have spoken to some of the family members, and I remember this one father talking about how a lot of the family of the girls left are no longer lucid. One would see a mother on the street asking strangers, “that have you seen my daughter?” We are still very much in the thick of it, but I wonder if it is too soon to think about what can be done to rehabilitate people who managed to escape Boko Haram’s captivity, and I don’t know if you can give some examples of working with other countries to bring about reintegration and counselling on this sort of scale.

Liz: I can’t begin to imagine what people in Chibok and so many other parts of Northern Nigeria are going through when they loose groups of young women to Boko Haram. It is unimaginable and they clearly need support and they need help and they need to get the girls back. People who are living with the threat of random attack in parts of Nigeria which are unable to be policed, so it seems the courage that it just takes to go about their everyday lives is phenomenal and it is fantastic you are talking to people and you are documenting peoples’ stories. Other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, other countries in the world have been dealing with conflict, they have been dealing with unfortunately similar cases of the adoption of the rape, of the salient excess slavery of young women of young men in Mozambique, in Sierra Leone, in Rwanda, in Uganda and in Somalia. These kinds of activities are all known, they are all experienced, and in those countries, there have been efforts to try and help people recover from the awful things that they are put through.

I know that UNICEF is doing well with NGO’s in Somalia, there has been a really fantastic program by World Vision Children of War Rehabilitation Centre in Uganda helping young children who are abducted by Joseph Konye into the LRA Lord’s resistance army. There have been doing that work for some years, there is hope, there is hope that peoples’ lives can be turned around, and there are plenty of people out there who have experienced this. So it can possibly be too soon for Nigeria to begin to learn from this. I know that there have been calls from American lawmakers in Nigeria to set up funds to try and help people. People have been incredibly proactive in Nigeria, protest moves against the adoption led by women in Nigeria has been huge, and has had a knock on effect all over the world there is the willingness that it’s just a question of getting the resources to try and help people in terms of counselling.

I think that the Nigerian government is aware of the problem there was the whole world after the ending sexual violence in conflict, summit in London recently, knows what the damages that can been done. Nigeria has a national action plan on safeguarding women in conflict [the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325] and that action plan in Nigeria was launched in summer 2013 and that action plan talked about, it was aware of the threat to women kidnapped in the some of the Northern region. So there is awareness, there is a need and there is a question of providing the resources, the facilities for people to get help and hopefully that’s something that would be, you know better than I, I’m sure, what help is going on for people hopefully that will be something that is really been invested in the future because there is obviously a need.

“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.

“He insisted that death is everywhere and if it was his time to die he will die”

As this insurgency rages on, there have been alleged cases of extra-judicial killing by soldiers. In this interview,  a survivor talks to a TAP volunteer about how he lost his beloved father.
If you are interested in volunteering for TAP by helping with translations and/or interviews, or even 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 
Salihu – Can you begin by telling us your name please
Mohammed – My name is Mohammed Sani
Salihu – From which state?
Mohammed – Yobe State
Salihu – Can you tell us how you have been  affected by the crises?
Mohammed – Yes, I can tell you. On Thursday around 4:30pm, I took some groceries to my parents house. But as I approached the area, I started hearing gun shots. As I tried hard to reach the house, a bullet nearly hit my motorcycle. Upon getting into the house, I gathered the women at home and we hid somewhere to wait for the shooting to end, but it went on for a while, up to around Maghrib prayer time (7pm).
So, early in the morning the next day, I told my dad that we should leave this area because many soldiers were being killed, but he refused, insisting that he won’t move, that death is everywhere and if it was  his time to die he will die. It wasn’t long after I left him (from what I was told) that soldiers came and brought them all out, interrogating them and asking them questions. My dad is poor and a motorcycle mechanic, and I also work in his garage, so I know everything he does. That is how they took them. The next day in the morning, my uncle and I went to where they were taken and we saw his body there, so we took him and buried him accordingly.
This is the brief story of what happened to us. He died and left many of us. We are 11 (his kids) and I’m the eldest. So that is why when I was approached about documenting our story I agreed to it. We need to say all that we know and answer all the questions we are asked concerning this, because only those that genuinely care about you would want to hear your story.
Salihu – just wanted to clarify one thing, are you certain its soldiers that killed your father or Boko Haram?
Victim – I’m quiet certain its soldiers and Mopol. Because there was a friend of mine who is about my age, he was also wounded with a bullet in his shoulder. He has since been treated and is recovering. Most of these things I heard from him — including my dad’s last words which he told them to pass to me. This is all I have to say regarding this.
Salihu – Thank you.

“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.

“I just hope that God would give us the strength to get our house back”

Ahmed, a young man who used to live in Maiduguri but has since left for Abuja, tells TAP how he lost two younger siblings, his family home and a cousin over the past year due to militia violence. He also talks about how communities used to harbor militants, thinking they were working for religious reasons, but how that has now appeared not to be so. He has asked that his voice be altered before posting his testimony.

There were two of my younger ones that we went home to pay for their school fees. At the end of the day, they went to register when those guys struck and killed the two of them and that’s one bitter experience. Some military men were pursuing one of the guys and was holding gun. We entered into one corner. The people of that area, they are the one who took the guy, brought one of the guys into their home and hid him, instead of releasing the guy to the military to arrest him and then maybe persecute. They said that the man is working for them. With the way things are happening in my place before, we thought these guys were out for something like maybe religion, but from what we are seeing its like it is beyond religion. We cannot know what exactly is happening in my area. Everyone is being attacked. There’s no discrimination against religion, sex, or any other thing. they just attack at random.

The second thing is that in May last year, they went and burnt our house down. So these guys burnt our house down, but we give God glory, no life was lost in my family, but the house was razed down completely. Up until now, nothing has been done about the house, and the state government… but I don’t want to speak much about that, because its like there’s a lot of politics about what is going on. I Don’t want to speak much about that. I just hope that God would give us the strength to get our house back.

The last experience the recent one, the attack of FGC (inaudible). That one is not my blood brother, my cousin lost his life among the people that were massacred.

Those are the experiences that I’ve had.

“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.