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
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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.


Mali sacks senior army officers, dissolves militia after massacre

Colonel Gabriel Soubrier (L) from the Barkhane mission in Africa's Sahel region, speaks with Anderamboukane prefect Moussa Diallo (C) and Menaka region governor Daouda Maiga (R) at the military base of Malian Army forces (Fama) in Anderamboukane, Menaka region, on March 22, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 42 min 10 sec ago
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Mali sacks senior army officers, dissolves militia after massacre

  • At least 136 men, women and children were killed in the attack, according to a “provisional toll,” public television ORTM said late Sunday

BAMAKO: Mali’s government on Sunday announced the sacking of senior military officers and the dissolution of an ethnic militia, a day after the massacre of more than 130 Fulani villagers, including women and children.
Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga said new military chiefs would be named, and that the Dan Nan Ambassagou association, composed of Dogon hunters, had been dissolved.
The dissolution of the militia was to send a clear message, Maiga told journalists: “The protection of the population will remain the monopoly of the state.”
Survivors of Saturday’s attack said ethnic Dogon hunters carried out the deadly raid in Ogossagou, a village in central Mali inhabited by the Fulani community.
While local attacks are fueled by accusations of Fulani herders grazing cattle on Dogon land and disputes over access to land and water, the area is also troubled by jihadist influence.
Maiga did not name the senior officers sacked, but defense ministry sources told AFP they were the Armed Forces Chief of General Staff M’Bemba Moussa Keita, and chiefs of the army and the air force.
The prime minister’s announcement came hours after an emergency meeting called by President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in response to Saturday’s massacre.
At least 136 men, women and children were killed in the attack, according to a “provisional toll,” public television ORTM said late Sunday.
The television showed images of burned huts and livestock and shell casings in the village.
The victims were shot or hacked to death with machetes, a security source told AFP.
A government delegation led by Justice Minister Tiena Coulibaly went to the site of the massacre Sunday.
They were sent by the president to “tell the people of Ogossagou that what happened here is unacceptable and that it will not go unpunished,” Coulibaly said.

The UN Children’s Fund said “Malian children are paying a heavy price for the intensification of violence.”
“Growing insecurity since 2017 has led to an increase in murders, mutilations and the recruitment of children,” UNICEF said.
For its part, the European Union called for “immediate steps (including) the disarmament and dismantling of all militias” in Mali.
Researcher Baba Dakono of the Bamako-based Institute for Security Studies told AFP the attack was “unprecedented” but “predictable” because of a weak state presence in the region.
It was the deadliest attack since the end of the 2013 French-led military intervention that drove back jihadist groups who had taken control of northern Mali.

The massacre took place as a delegation from the UN Security Council visited the Sahel region to assess the jihadist threat.
“The secretary general is shocked and outraged” by the bloodshed, Antonio Guterres’s spokesman said in a statement late Saturday.
The UN chief called on the Malian authorities “to swiftly investigate it and bring the perpetrators to justice,” the statement added.
Guterres’s spokesman said the UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA, provided air support to deter further attacks and assisted with the evacuation of the injured.
The attack was launched at dawn on Saturday in the village near the border with Burkina Faso, in a district that has seen frequent inter-communal violence.
Jihadist fighters have also emerged as a threat in central Mali in the past four years. A group led by radical Islamist preacher Amadou Koufa has recruited mainly from the Fulani community.
Since then, there have been repeated clashes between the Fulani and Dogon and last year the violence claimed some 500 civilian lives, according to UN figures.
In January, Dogon hunters were blamed for the killing of 37 people in another Fulani village, Koulogon, in the same region.
The Fulani have repeatedly called for more protection from the authorities. The government in Bamako has denied their accusations that it turns a blind eye to — or even encourages — Dogon attacks on the Fulani.
Once considered a beacon of democracy and stability in Africa, Mali in recent years has been dogged by a coup, civil war and Islamist terrorism.
Extremists linked to Al-Qaeda took control of the desert north in early 2012, but were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.
In June 2015, Mali’s government signed a peace agreement with some armed groups, but the jihadists remain active, and large tracts of the country remain lawless,
The violence persists despite the presence of UN peacekeepers, a strong French military contingent and the creation of a five-nation military force in the region.