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.


Belgian court to give verdict in Iran diplomat case on January 22

Updated 04 December 2020

Belgian court to give verdict in Iran diplomat case on January 22

  • Assadollah Assadi, a 48-year-old diplomat formerly based in Vienna, faces 20 years in prison if convicted
  • Assadi denies any involvement in the plot, which was foiled by security services

BRUSSELS: A Belgian court will deliver its verdict on Jan. 22 in the trial of an Iranian diplomat accused of plotting to bomb an exiled opposition group’s rally, his lawyer told AFP.
Assadollah Assadi, a 48-year-old diplomat formerly based in Vienna, faces 20 years in prison if convicted of plotting to target the rally in Villepinte, outside Paris, on June 30, 2018.
The rally included the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (MEK), which Tehran considers a “terrorist group” and has banned since 1981.
Assadi denies any involvement in the plot, which was foiled by security services, and has refused to appear at Antwerp Criminal Court, where he is on trial with three alleged accomplices.
On Thursday, the second and last day of the hearing, the three maintained their innocence.
Lawyers for Nasimeh Naami and Amir Saadouni — a Belgian-Iranian couple arrested in possession of a bomb in their car on their way to France — claimed the explosive was not powerful enough to kill.
The lawyer for the third alleged accomplice, Mehrdad Arefani, described by the prosecution as a relative of Assadi, has refuted his involvement and also pleaded for his acquittal.
Prosecutors are seeking an 18-year jail term for the couple and 15 for Arefani.
The target of the alleged bomb plot was a meeting of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled opposition movement, outside Paris which was attended by several allies of US President Donald Trump, including former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Naami and Saadouni were arrested in Brussels the same day while, separately, German police on July 1 arrested Assadi, who allegedly handed the couple the explosives at a June meeting in Luxembourg.
Through his lawyer Dimitri de Beco, Assadi again protested that he should not have been deprived of his diplomatic immunity.
The verdict will be delivered at 1:00 p.m. (1200 GMT) on January 22.
The case has caused tensions between Iran and several European countries and shone an uncomfortable light on Tehran’s international activities.
In October 2018, France accused Iran’s ministry of intelligence of being behind the alleged attack.
Tehran has strongly denied the charges.