10 years into extremist rebellion, no reprieve for Nigeria’s displaced

Boko Haram’s decade-long conflict has killed 27,000 people and displaced about two million from their homes in northeast Nigeria. (AFP/Fati Abubakar)
Updated 27 July 2019

10 years into extremist rebellion, no reprieve for Nigeria’s displaced

  • In late July 2009, tensions between the hard-line Islamist sect and authorities in northeast Nigeria boiled over
  • The mosque and the homes that once stood there are now just a pile of debris — an unmarked monument to the suffering of the past 10 years

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria: Maiduguri resident Ahmed Muhammed wanders through the rubble left behind as he recalls the outbreak of fighting in his city a decade ago that launched the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria.
“We heard shooting — badadadadadada — here, there, everywhere around us,” the 44-year-old railway worker told AFP.
“We thought the end of the universe had come.”
In late July 2009, tensions between the hard-line Islamist sect and authorities in northeast Nigeria boiled over as the group launched a wave of attacks and security forces fought back ruthlessly.
The epicenter of the violence was the compound of the group’s founder Muhammad Yusuf.
After several days of fighting, Yusuf and hundreds of Boko Haram members were dead and a conflict had been unleashed that would devastate the region.
The mosque and the homes that once stood there are now just a pile of debris — an unmarked monument to the suffering of the past 10 years.
In the decade since the uprising began, some two million people have been uprooted from their homes and 27,000 killed as the bloodshed has spilt into neighboring countries.
Boko Haram has turned vast swathes of territory into a no man’s land and forced its way into international headlines by abducting hundreds of schoolgirls.
While the Nigerian army has pushed the fighters from major towns, the jihadists have splintered into factions and spawned an offshoot aligned to the Daesh group that has unleashed its own campaign of violence.
Waves of the conflict crashed over Hadiza Bukar’s village near Baga close to the shores of Lake Chad in 2015 when Boko Haram fighters stormed through the area.
Bukar fled with her newborn twin sons, leaving behind her husband and two other children.
She has not heard from them since.
What remains of the family is now among the roughly quarter-of-a-million people displaced and struggling to survive in and around Maiduguri, capital of Borno State.
Studded across the city are government-approved camps and informal settlements of corrugated iron, sticks and shreds of tarpaulin.
The only place Bukar found to live is at the ground zero of the insurgency that tore her life apart. Her makeshift home stands on the edge of the ruins of Yusuf’s former compound.
When the downpours come in the rainy season the place turns into a quagmire.
“Many people told us stories about what happened here. They warned us there was a history,” she said, of the bloodshed in 2009. “But we had no option. We have nowhere to go. We decided to stay.”
Across town in another district Idrissa Isah, 45, scrapes by as best he can.
Isah used to send cows to Nigeria’s economic hub Lagos, but now all he has is a small patch of earth near his shack that a local landowner lets him till.
The little he grows helps supplement sporadic handouts from international aid groups and feed his family. He says he has had no government support.
Isah is desperate to return to his village of Makulbe about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from Maiduguri, but the risk is too high.
“If I could go back I would — I would have a big, big farm,” he said.
“There is no way I can.”
Finding a way home for the displaced is seen as key to solving the humanitarian crisis in northeast Nigeria.
After forcing the extremists back to remote hideouts, the government insists the security situation is stabilising.
But attacks persist outside heavily fortified towns.
Over just a few days in July, five soldiers were killed and six aid workers kidnapped.
On Thursday, a Boko Haram raid killed at least two people in a displaced camp near Maiduguri.
So far this year, 130,000 people have been displaced in northeast Nigeria, the International Organization for Migration says.
Ibrahim Bukar, 48, is comparatively lucky.
The local government accountant still receives his official salary of about $80 (75 euros) a month even though he has not worked in his hometown Bama, 65 km from Maiduguri, since it was devastated by fighting more than four years ago.
But the wage does not cover rent and he squats with his wife and four children in the one-room servants’ quarters of an acquaintance’s house.
Last October, after more than four years away, he decided to go home.
“There was nothing,” he said.
“No food, no potable water, no health services, no teachers — don’t even talk of electricity.”
Beyond the town, he said, you cannot travel safely for more than a kilometer. After three months, Bukar gave up and headed back to Maiduguri.
The displaced camps are still filling up.
A sprawling site around the city’s main stadium opened in March and has already reached its capacity with over 12,000 people.
Fatima Mohammed, 38, moved into a tarpaulin shelter three weeks ago with her husband and two children.
She arrived from an overcrowded camp not far away, having been displaced several times since being forced from her village five years ago.
She has no idea if, or when, she will see home again.
“All depends on god — if there is peace I will go back immediately,” she said.
“But if there is no peace then there is no way I can return.”


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

Updated 13 min 42 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.