Boko Haram displaced feel forgotten amid Nigeria election fever

Boko Haram is resurging in Nigeria. Above, released Dapchi school girls, who were kidnapped by the militants in Feb. 2018., during a meeting with the president. (AFP/File)
Updated 20 February 2019

Boko Haram displaced feel forgotten amid Nigeria election fever

  • More than 27,000 people died and 1.8 million displaced since the start of Boko Haram conflict in 2009
  • Malkohi residents say they will support President Muhammadu Buhari because he helped curtail the extremists’ power

MALKOHI, Nigeria: Idriss Abdullahi was once a successful businessman and a husband to four wives, until the day he fled his home when Boko Haram insurgents advanced across northeastern Nigeria.
Five years on he lives beside dull farmland in a tented camp in Malkohi village, near the Adamawa state capital Yola, and tries to make a living selling firewood.
But the earnings are so meager he has had to divorce one of his wives.
“Even an animal lives better than me,” he told AFP in the camp he shares with 2,800 of his neighbors from the Borno state town of Gwoza, which the insurgents sacked in 2014.
More than 27,000 people have been killed since the Boko Haram conflict began in 2009 and some 1.8 million others are still displaced.
President Muhammadu Buhari came to power in 2015 on a pledge to end the insurgency, which at its peak saw the extremists control an area the size of Belgium.
In Abdullahi’s hometown, the wild-eyed leader of the extremists, Abubakar Shekau, declared an Islamic caliphate.
An offensive involving Nigerian troops and foreign mercenaries pushed them back. But in recent months there have been signs of resurgence.
Despite that, residents of Malkohi say they’re ready to support Buhari at Saturday’s rescheduled vote — even if they can’t return to Gwoza to do so.
“It’s not that we actually love him,” Abdullahi said of the president. “It’s that he saved our lives from Boko Haram.”
Shortly after taking office, Buhari declared Boko Haram “technically defeated,” apparently fulfilling the promise that was seen as a key to his victory.
But in February last year, the group seized 110 schoolgirls from Dapchi, in an echo of the 2014 abduction of more than 200 from Chibok that brought world attention to the conflict.
Malkohi itself hasn’t been spared; the group in 2015 bombed a government-organized camp across the road from the informal settlement where the former Gwoza residents stay.
An Islamic State-allied faction has in recent months overrun military bases, seizing equipment and weapons, and forcing tens of thousands of people to flee for their lives.
Nigeria’s election commission has been forced to set up special measures for them to vote: in Borno, some 400,000 displaced people will vote at 10 centers.
Several others have been created in Adamawa.
The main opposition candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has seized on the insecurity and claimed Buhari has failed in his core duty of keeping Nigerians safe.
But from their homes in Adamawa — Abubakar’s home state — Malkohi residents say they feel more forgotten than under attack.
“Up to now, hospitals have not been provided. Before, [aid groups] gave us drugs, but now we don’t receive any,” said Fanta Ali, a housewife at the camp.
The Malkohi camp today is made up of rows of shacks separated by dirt paths, on which barefoot children and turkeys strut.
The makeshift homes are constructed from tarpaulin donated by aid agencies who also built a water tower for the settlement.
Many Malkohi residents were prosperous in Gwoza but without money to start businesses they now rely on manual labor to get by.
“Seriously, I’m suffering,” said Abdulrahman Hassen, once a merchant and chair of a professional association who now farms for a living.
Returning to Gwoza, where Boko Haram remains strong, is still a distant prospect. Helping people go home will be on the next president’s to-do list.
The displaced say they’re made to feel like outsiders in Adamawa, and local residents call them thieves for farming the land around the camp.
Gwoza was badly damaged when it was retaken in 2015, and cellphone reception is so weak residents climb trees to get a signal, said Yunussa Takda, a youth leader in Malkohi.
Meanwhile, the town’s outlying villages are still unsafe.
“Under Buhari, we’ve seen that a lot of our villages that have been taken by Boko Haram haven’t been recovered,” he said. “Maybe if he’s given a second chance, we can go home.”
Umaru Ibrahim Bakare lost track of his pregnant wife and then three-year-old daughter in the chaos of Boko Haram’s initial attack on the town, and has been looking for them ever since.
He made an unsuccessful trip to the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, aiming to find his family.
He remains hopeful after the Red Cross connected a friend with three children he’d lost when fleeing Boko Haram.
“We must vote Muhammadu Buhari to finish what he’s started and defeat the insurgency,” he said.


Rights group, journalists condemn closure of Kashmir’s oldest newspaper

Updated 2 min 56 sec ago

Rights group, journalists condemn closure of Kashmir’s oldest newspaper

  • Local estates department sealed the office of Kashmir Times on Monday saying it no longer had the right to occupy the premises
  • Editor Anuradha Bhasin says authorities shut down the office without following due process or serving eviction notice

NEW DELHI: An international media rights group and journalists in Indian-administered Kashmir on Tuesday condemned the closure a day earlier of a bureau of Kashmir Times (KT), the oldest newspaper in the disputed valley.
On Monday, the local estates department sealed the office of Kashmir Times, located in the Press Enclave of Srinagar. The department has not commented officially on why the office was shut down but officials have told media the owner of the building had died and KT no longer had the right to occupy the premises.
“We condemn the ongoing targeting and harassment of @AnuradhaBhasin_ and the Kashmir Times,” the Committee To Protect Journalists tweeted on Tuesday, referring to the editor of The Kashmir Times, Anuradha Bhasin. "Authorities must stop trying to silence independent and critical voices and should respect press freedom.”
On August 5, 2019, the Indian government stripped Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state, of its autonomy, and imposed a crippling curfew and communications blackout and arrested dozens of local politicians.
Kashmir Times editor Bhasin, who had filed a petition in India’s Supreme Court challenging the cutting off of internet and telephone lines in the region, said authorities had sealed the paper’s office without giving prior notice.
“Without following any due process or serving any eviction notice, the estate department officials came and asked the people working inside to come out and locked the office," she told Arab News.
A few weeks ago, Bhasin said, she had been evicted in a similar fashion from her government-allotted residence in Hindu-majority Jammu.
“The administration not only evicted me without any notice but handed over my belongings to a new allottee,” she said.
“Why we are being targeted is because we continued to maintain the tradition of maintaining independence despite our sagging finances and constraints," Bhasin said. "We have continued to speak critically of the government’s policies and actions."
KT's closure follows a similar incident on Saturday when the local administration sealed the office of a leading news agency of the region, the Kashmir News Service.
Sehrish Asgar, chief of Kashmir’s department of information, did not reply to several calls and text messages from Arab News seeking comment. The estates department also declined comment on the record but one official, who requested anonymity, said:
“The building that we sealed was in the name of Ved Bhasin, and he expired four years ago. Since this building was allotted in someone else’s name, the government cancelled the allotment in the normal process … we served the notice in July itself and it is not an abrupt sealing.”
The Srinagar-based Kashmir Press Club (KPC) called the move a “vendetta” by the government against media in Kashmir.
“The actions are a clear vendetta against independent journalists and media houses. They don’t want media and independent voices to function freely,” Ishfaq Tantray, KPC general secretary, told Arab News.
KT was first established as a weekly in 1954 and became a daily newspaper in 1964, with two million subscriptions in the region currently.
Bhasin said the government had stopped posting advertisements in Kashmir Times since August last year in retaliation against the paper’s “challenge of the internet ban in the apex court.”
The paper thus had to shut down its print edition in both Jammu and Srinagar and had “paid the price" for being the "voice of the people,” she said.
Fahad Shah, editor of the Srinagar-based web magazine Kashmir Wala, said he had been questioned by authorities several times in recent months for his reportage in what were ongoing attempts to muzzle the press.
“This is just another way of intimidating the press,” he said on the closure of KT’s office.