News / Africa

Nigeria's Civilians Bear Brunt of Islamist Conflict

Residents survey vehicles damaged after a bomb blast at a primary school in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's Borno state, February 29, 2012.
Residents survey vehicles damaged after a bomb blast at a primary school in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's Borno state, February 29, 2012.
 In this relic of a medieval African empire, streets that were once lively markets for silk and perfumes now trade gunfire between Islamist insurgents and the Nigerian military.

Army checkpoints at intervals of 300 meters choke the roads through parts of Maiduguri, capital of northeast Nigeria's Borno state and epicenter of Boko Haram's fight for Islamic rule.

Residents of Borno, for centuries the seat of one of West Africa's oldest Islamic empires, then called Bornu, feel trapped in the middle, targets for both sides in a more than three-year-old conflict they fear only a negotiated settlement can end.

Along the bullet-pocked slums of Gwange and Kofa Biyu, on Maiduguri's outskirts, bearded members of Boko Haram hide amongst civilians in rubble-strewn streets that are largely deserted, save a few young children playing on sandy pavements.

Grandfather Muazu Kalari said most of the adult males in his family - the ones most at risk of being killed by one side or the other - had fled since the Islamists moved in.

"My three sons abandoned their children and wives, and so I'm left to fend for my grandchildren," he said, arranging tomatoes on a table for sale on an otherwise empty street.
The unrest has its origins in 2009, when a cleric called Mohammed Yusuf led an uprising against the government, triggering a security crackdown in which 800 people died, including Yusuf, who was in police custody.
Far from crushing Boko Haram, it triggered an angry backlash, transforming a clerical movement opposed to Western education into a violent jihadist sect that has since forged ties with al Qaeda-linked groups in the Sahara.
Thousands have died in a conflict that has destabilized Africa's top energy producing nation. The Islamists, who frequently target the security forces, Christian worshippers or politicians, have shown no sign of giving up and no interest in an amnesty offer floated by President Goodluck Jonathan last month.
In Maiduguri, people say a political settlement may be the only hope.
"No one believes that the military with all their big guns can stop Boko Haram attacks,'' said Islamic cleric Maha Lawali. "They need to arrange a peace deal with these people.''

An army raid two weeks ago killed dozens of people in the market town of Baga, on Lake Chad too the north, prompting calls for an investigation.
Western powers, fearing that Nigerian jihadists are tilting more towards targeting their interests, have urged Nigeria to discipline its troops and address the underlying causes of the insurgency, which stem from the north's economic decline.

Old Islamic States

Last year Boko Haram said it wanted to revive a old Islamic caliphate, tapping into yearning for the days when Muslim sultanates thrived on trade crossing the Sahara to the Mediterranean.

Bornu was the oldest such empire in Nigeria, founded in the 9th century along the swamps around Lake Chad, and Islamicized two centuries later by Arabic-speaking gold and ivory traders plying caravan routes to Tripoli and the Nile Valley.

When Britain established a military outpost in Maiduguri in 1907, the Sultan of Bornu moved his palace there. In 1960, at independence, Borno's markets for textiles and fish from the lake prospered, but as southern oilfields began to dominate Nigeria's economy from the 1960s the north went into decline.
Now, even in the safer parts of Maiduguri where shops bustle and taxi horns hoot, everything dies after curfew at 6 p.m.
Chinese companies rebuilding roads have paused or pulled out, after Chinese construction workers were killed by gunmen earlier this year. Most flights to the city have come off schedule.

"These days, all I do is sweat in a shop for nothing," said Tukur Modu, sitting in a store selling cloth with no customers.

A climate of fear is palpable.

"You pray in the mosque and for all you know there might be a Boko Haram member praying right next to you,'' said Danladi Gana, whose small shop sells locally made leather goods.

"You don't know what you might say and they will mark your face, come back later and kill you - alone if you're lucky or with the whole of your family if you're not.''

Fear of security forces is just as strong. Late last year
Sabiyu Mohammed saw a roadside bomb hit a patrol. The soldiers started shooting randomly at people in the area, killing many, he said.

Borno state military spokesman Sagir Musa said there was no evidence that Nigerian forces targeted civilians, but he admitted that some are killed in crossfire. That doesn't reassure residents.

"The innocent people are the ones suffering from this face off between Boko Haram and the military,'' Lawali said, stepping up from his prayer mat. "We're caught in the middle.''

You May Like

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Americans Think About Strange Stuff at Thanksgiving

Tattoos, hookah bars and doughnuts? Google Maps lays out what people really have on their minds during the holiday

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs