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.
    Reuters
     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 For Many US Veterans, the Vietnam War Continues

    More than 40 years after it ended, war in Vietnam and America’s role in it continue to provoke bitter debate, especially among those who fought in it

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    100 immigrants graduated Friday as US citizens in New York, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in cities across country

    Family's Fight Pays Off With Arlington Cemetery Burial Rights for WASPs

    Policy that allowed the Women Airforce Service Pilots veterans to receive burial rites at Arlington had been revoked in 2015

    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.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora