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Image: picture alliance/AP Photo

Northern Nigeria: in fear of Boko Haram

Hilke Fischer / so
September 8, 2014

The Nigerian army has done little to counter the advancing Islamist militia as they head towards the northern city of Maiduguri. With soldiers deserting, residents have fled towns and villages.


At night he lies awake and hears gun shots from a distance. "Nobody can sleep anymore," explained a DW listener from Maiduguri, who wanted to remain anonymous. Over one million people live in the city of the northern Nigerian state of Borno and Boko Haram fighters are moving ever closer.

Gwoza, Bama, Gulak, Michika, Duhu, Shuwa, Kirshinga – the Islamists have been capturing new cities on an almost daily basis. They arrive in hijacked army vehicles, fight off the Nigerian troops and terrorize the residents. "Boko Haram are committing all kinds of atrocities killing and raping. At the same time they are taking young girls in batches and the city is littered with dead bodies," says Ahmed Zanna, a member of the Nigerian Senate for the town of Bama says. Bama is just 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) from Maiduguri and fell to the Islamists four days ago. Zanna recounts how the soldiers who were supposed to defend Bama, refused to advance any further. "They were ill equipped and they just stayed in Kondudga."

Aiming for Maiduguri

Maiduguri would be a major win for Boko Haram in their hope of creating an Islamist-ruled state. "Even a brief capture of Borno's capital will be a significant symbolic victory for Boko Haram," said Ryan Cummings, a South African security expert, who is also a member of the Nigerian Security Networks. Capturing Maiduguri would give Boko Haram a very strong boost, believes the Nigerian expert Nnamdi Obasi of the International Crisis Group. With Maiduguri, the Islamists would not only control a major city but also an international airport.

The morale of the government troops is very low and the terrorists are better equipped. Military officers told DW correspondent Sheriff Alhassan: "We cannot do anything against Boko Haram, because most of the Boko Haram are using modern automatic weapons and the military is using AK47s."

Markt in Mubi, Nigeria
In Mubi everyday life continues, but residents fear the advancing Islamists.Image: picture-alliance/dpa

He is one of the few reporters who still dares to venture into the fighting areas. He is currently in the town of Mubi in Adamawa State, which could also fall prey to Boko Haram. "We all live in fear," explained a resident. "Because soldiers come into our houses, take off their uniforms and put on civilian clothes. So if the military is already fleeing the fight, we don't stand a chance."

Over 10,000 flee the fighting

Thousands of people have fled the fighting. In Yola, the provincial capital of Adamawa State, residents have taken in those who had to leave their homes. Ten people now live in one room and a woman who goes by the name of Aisha explains their fate: "There is nobody left in our town. Everyone has left, because the terrorists came into our town and they killed the people. We are desperate for help."

In Maiduguri, residents are now also preparing to leave. "The people are scared. Many have already left the city," says a woman who chose to remain anonymous. "We who remain here, hope that God will help us."

Straßenszene in Maiduguri
Local vigilantes hope to protect Maiduguri's residentsImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

The residents have armed themselves with sticks. They no longer believe that the army will defend them. Thousands of young men have now gathered in Maiduguri and are demanding that the government recognize them as local defense groups, so that they can officially support the soldiers.

"There are soldiers in the city, but they are not well-armed," explains a DW listener, who has trouble sleeping. Even Senator Ahmed Zanna is unsure whether the army can defend Maiduguri: "If Bama with an army of 1,000 can fall within three to five hours, then there is every likelihood that these people will advance towards Maiduguri."

In the meantime, official sources say that Bama is once again under government control and that Maiduguri is safe for now. Nevertheless, residents remain skeptical.

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