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Life in Boko Haram Enclave

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Residents of Gwange, who know the members of Boko Haram sect living in their community are in a dilemma to give the information to security officials because doing so could cost them their lives.

By Ishaya Ibrahim  |  Nov. 19, 2012 @ 01:00 GMT

MOST residents of Gwange, a suburb in Maiduguri, Borno State, are in a dilemma about turning-in members of Boko Haram to security officials. Their dilemma stems from the fact that the sect members could kill them should they inform the security about their hideouts. On the other hand, security men could also descend on them (the locals), should there be an attack from Boko Haram against operatives of the Joint Military Task Force, JTF. The situation in Gwange is very dicey because it is regarded as the hotbed of Boko Haram operations.

A resident, who pleaded anonymity, painted a vivid picture of their precarious situation. “It is the knife that scares me; any tip to the military is often accompanied with beheading of the suspected informant”, he said. According to him, before they kill their victim, the jihadists would first tie the hand and legs of their victim, sharpen the knife in his presence, make lengthy Arabic recitation, then slit his throat. On many occasions, he said, they have been awoken by wailing of women as another beheaded corpse is found in their neigbourhood. For this reason, most residents would rather keep mum even though they know the members of the group in their community. 

But keeping quiet also comes with a price. The Joint Military Task Force, JTF, charged with the responsibility of maintaining law and order in Borno State, has suffered its worst attacks in Gwange. The JTF, not known for taking the death of its personnel lightly, would often not hesitate to overrun any area where it suffers attack. In most cases, even teenagers are not spared. There is an alleged case of a military action that claimed more than 35 lives of civilians in Gwange alone. On September 14, the Boko Haram sect was said to have provoked JTF operatives into committing arson when the force lost two of its men at Layin Tanki, (Tanki Street) in Gwange.  Within minutes, the JTF cordoned the area and allegedly shot at anybody within the vicinity.

[caption id="attachment_561" align="alignright" width="385"]Women, trying to make ends meet in Maiduguri Women, trying to make ends meet in Maiduguri[/caption]

As a fall-out of September 14, incident, government officials in the state, who pleaded anonymity, said that residents of the area would be given quit notice to leave the area. As at press time, there has been partial eviction of the people in the area including Layin Tanki, Sabon Layi and other streets considered as Boko Haram strongholds. There have been reported cases of attacks targeted at JTF operatives by the Jihadists. The angst of the military against residents of the area, according to a source, is their refusal to help it with useful information.

Lt. Col. Sagir Musa, JTF spokesperson in Borno State, has often denied any use of extreme force by the military, adding that soldiers do not just act without authorisation and have rules of engagement, which guide their operations in crisis areas. According to him, the allegation that soldiers often shoot at innocent civilians remains a lie that cannot be proven.

But less than three weeks, another incident, similar to that of Gwange, occurred on October 8. This time, it was?on Lagos road where Boko Haram suspects, operating as highway cleaners, dropped a bomb device in a trash can and hid themselves somewhere with a remote trigger. They waited until they spotted a military patrol van getting close to the trash can before detonating the bomb. A lieutenant and three other soldiers were killed in the blast. As usual, the military reinforced in the area, cordoned off the scene of the blast and took out persons they suspected to have masterminded the attack against its men. At the end of the operation, not less than 25 bodies were recovered from the scene.

JTF commanders are angry with local folks in Borno State because scores of its operatives have been killed in avoidable circumstances because locals do not pass intelligence to it.?RealNews learnt that in most cases, ten minutes before Boko Haram launches any attack, it would announce at the scene that: “You should leave this place because we are about to carryout God’s work.” But the locals would not make any effort to apprehend the informant or report to the military.? This has accounted for most of the jungle justice meted to the locals.

The October 8, incident, like that of Gwange, created uproar in the state and drew a lot of flaks against the military. Ahmed Zanna, a senator from Borno State, fumed at the military for what he termed extra judicial killing of the people of the state. ?The Senator told BBC Hausa penultimate week, that from the record available to him not less than 3000 persons had been felled by JTF bullets alone.

But about a week after, the senator got into trouble when JTF said it arrested Shuaibu Bama, a top Boko Haram commander in his house. The senator has vehemently denied the allegation, saying it was a set up because of his constant criticism of the activities of the military in the state.

Hussein Munguno, a retired colonel and security consultant, has also condemned the military, saying that it had overstayed its welcome and should return to the barracks and allow spy police do more of the security operations. According to him, solving the Boko Haram problem would depend more on intelligence gathering than physical operation.

[caption id="attachment_562" align="alignright" width="385"]Petty trading going on along kano road in Maiduguri Petty trading going on along kano road in Maiduguri[/caption]

Even though Boko Haram insurgence in Borno State has continued unabated, not all part of Maiduguri is affected. For instance, most of the highbrow areas have little records of insurgency compared to poor neigbourhoods where bomb explosions and?killings occur almost daily. ?They affected areas include Gwange, Gomboru Custom, Hausari, London Ciki, Bayan Kwatas, Andakolo, Bulaburin and Kaleri. Even before the emergence of Boko Haram, these areas have similar features. They are the ghettos that habour bad boys, notorious for abusing pharmaceutical drugs like Benyline with Codine, alabukun and other hyper active substances. With Boko Haram now providing new spiritual insights and monetary inducement to such folks, they now believe they are carrying out God’s assignment.

An official of the Nigerian police says it has been difficult to?rid these areas of Boko Haram despite tightened security measures, because the areas have clustered and unplanned settlements with numerous entry and exit points which criminals can exploit but they make military patrol difficult.?But areas where rich folks live like government reserved areas, GRA, and Railway enjoy some semblance of peace because they are easier to police.

There is also the coercion factor in recruiting members into the group. One could be killed for rejecting an offer of enlistment since such rejection could compromise their identity. Naturally, the recruits also enlist their family members and friends. The recruits are then brainwashed and asked to consider the state, and its agents as evil, anti-Islam and anti-God.

The notorious group is said to keep tab on gullible and naďve minds, who could easily be influenced to embrace its Jihadists sermons. Recruits are given stipends of between N5,000 and N10,000 anytime they kill a perceived enemy. Its ranks, RealNews gathered, has now increased with ex-okada riders joining it since July last year when commercial motorcyclists were banned in some areas in the state.

Another set of recruits, are persons who have grouses with the military for extra judicially killing of their relatives on suspicion of being Boko Haram. Those who have lost such loved ones as a result of JTF operations, become easy recruits when approached with a chance of avenging the death of their loved ones. There is also foreign element. Informed sources say people from Niger and Chad have found their way into the group. With the promise of money, some of them embrace the offer of coming to fight as mercenaries.

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