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.


Pakistani prime minister says time for dialogue to resolve all issues with India

Updated 2 min 55 sec ago
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Pakistani prime minister says time for dialogue to resolve all issues with India

  • Khan welcomes Indian prime minister Modi’s message to the people of Pakistan on Pakistan Day
  • Says time to forge a new relationship based on peace and prosperity

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday welcomed a message from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the occasion of Pakistan Day and said it was time to begin a dialogue to resolve all issues.

Nuclear-armed neighbors Pakistan and India have fought three wars since gaining independence from British rule in 1947, two of them over Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region that both claim in full but govern in part.

Tensions between the arch-rivals rose sharply last month over a suicide attack in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir in which at least 40 paramilitary troopers were killed. As India launched airstrikes in Pakistan and Pakistan retaliated with strikes of its own, the possibility of all-out war seemed all too real.

“I welcome PM Modi's message to our people,” Khan said in a Twitter post. “As we celebrate Pakistan Day I believe it is time to begin a comprehensive dialogue with India to address & resolve all issues, esp the central issue of Kashmir, & forge a new relationship based on peace & prosperity for all our people.”

In a separate post, Khan said he had received the following message from Modi on the occasion of Pakistan Day, celebrated across the country to mark the anniversary of a 1940 resolution calling for a separate homeland for Muslims in India:

"I extend my greetings & best wishes to the people of Pakistan on the National Day of Pakistan. It is time that ppl of Sub-continent work together for a democratic, peaceful, progressive & prosperous region, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence.”

Last year, soon after being elected as prime minister, Khan proposed talks to resolve the long-standing dispute over Kashmir and said Pakistan was ready to respond positively to any effort at dialogue.

“If India comes and takes one step toward us, we will take two,” Khan said after the July general election.

But in September, New Delhi called off a meeting between the Pakistani and Indian foreign ministers on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, just a day after confirming it, citing “unclean intentions” on Pakistan’s side.

India has long accused Pakistan of backing militants fighting Indian rule in the Indian administered Kashmir. Pakistan denies this, saying it only provides diplomatic and moral support to people in Indian-held Kashmir fighting for self-determination.