Boko Haram's violent attacks have been spreading fear and uncertainty in the north of Nigeria. The Islamists have managed to bring much of the economy to its knees there as security concerns hamper trade.
Colorful fabrics wrapped in plastic sheets are piling up in front of of Nasiru Ata's small store. He doesn't know where to put them as his storeroom is already filled to capacity. There was a time, he recalls, when he was able to sell a whole container's worth within two to three days. But now that sometimes takes more than a month.
Terror sparked economic crisis
Things went smoothly before Boko Haram militants started attacking Kano, northern Nigeria's economic bastion. On January 20, 2012, the jihadists raided several police stations there, killing more than 190 people. The city hasn't found peace since then. Four months ago, some 120 people were killed and more than 200 injured during an attack on a downtown mosque.
The Islamic terror has taken its toll on Kano's economy. More and more vendors made a wide berth around the region as it became increasingly risky to transport goods on northern Nigeria's roads. The local chamber of commerce estimates business activities in Kano have dropped by 80 percent over the past three years. Ata has thought about giving up.
He says he once had good clients from Cameroon and the Central African Republic who could rely on him for high-quality fabrics. But now, he says, they all steer clear of the city out of fear of being attacked on the road or in Kano itself - and they want to avoid the roadblocks.
Roadblocks a source of income
Police and military checkpoints on the main roads in and around Kano are something that many here don't want to talk about. Ahmad Rabiu of the Kano Chamber of Commerce avoids the question, saying only that some public servants have been accused of misconduct. He adds that this has a lot to do with the larger problem of widespread mismanagement and poor wages.
In other words, security checks designed to ward off Boko Haram attacks are used by the police and the military primarily to extort bribes from passing traders.
Looking for alternative markets
The security forces' harassment is so common that Ladidi Garko, Kano state's information minister, doesn't even try to deny it. She admits that the checkpoints are a problem for businesspeople, but adding that Kano has at least done quite a bit to improve security on the ground. The minister says the network of street lights has been expanded and motorcycle cabs once used by Boko Haram to carry out attacks have been barred from the city.
But those are measures that the 60 employees sacked at Alhaji Maduga's factory over the past six months can only laugh about. Maduga inherited the facility from his father and specializes in packaging for food items such as sugar and tea. But the factory has surely seen better times, with Maduga saying that output has shrunk by two thirds.
He and Ata are having the same kind of problems. Customers and investors are shying away from the city and important markets are disappearing as whole regions in northeast Nigeria fall under the control of Boko Haram.
Nevertheless, Maduga thinks he knows how to conquer new markets. He's started producing convenience food for aid organizations, which distribute it to refugees who've had to flee their homes because of the Boko Haram terror. That's a very strong market in Nigeria, he adds with a good deal of bitterness in his voice.