By Ahmad Salkida
Just a few years ago, cross border trading used to account for a dominant part of the economy in Borno, and partly, in Yobe and Adamawa states in the north-east. The states’ defining outline landmarks are a significant part of Nigeria’s border with Cameroun, Niger and Chad Republics respectively.
Intense large scale haulage of goods is a daily routine that oils an elaborate economic livelihood in these areas. The defining everyday life of the Banki, Gamboru Ngala, Mubi and Machina border routes in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states comprises unbridled trade and services. Official revenue figures accruing from immigration and custom collections were quite handsome.
Today, the same roads and borders are deserted, no thanks to the engaging volleys of violence unleashed across the state and region by the Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad otherwise known as Boko Haram.
According to the Nigerian Ambassador to Chad, Alhaji Abdullahi Omaki, “the volume of trade, largely unrecorded between the two countries is about 80 per cent in favor of Nigeria. Most of the goods and services coming into Chad, 80 per cent come from Nigeria with less than 20 per cent coming from Cameroun. If the borders were not closed and you go through the Banki and the Gamboru Ngala roads you will see the number of trailers that are plying those routes on a daily basis.”
Many traders, artisans, farmers and drivers in the North East of Nigeria are directly or indirectly dependent on trans-border trade to eke out a living on daily basis. But all that have dramatically changed with the continuing escalation of violence enveloping every legitimate designs and enterprise by the law abiding residents. Since the outbreak of sectarian violence in 2009, the north east, Borno and Yobe states in particular, has ceased to know civil normalcy. Intermittent suicide and car bombings have become the part of their daily lives. Hate-filled adherents of the extremist sect, called Boko Haram and other criminals assuming their identity wielding semi-automatic riffles speed through streets at intervals to shoot down, randomly at their ever widening targets.
As evidence that the violent harbingers mean to cripple all manners of civil conduct in Nigeria, they took very bold steps to spread their bloodletting enterprise. One of their very audacious steps in this direction was early on Christmas Day 2011, in a sprawling neighborhood, Madalla on the outskirts of Abuja, the Federal Capital City. Here, a Toyota Camry Sedan drove furiously into a huge Christian congregation, detonating a monstrous ensemble of explosives.
Similar bombings were successfully directed at the Nigeria Police headquarters in Abuja as well as at the United Nations office in Abuja. Since then the bombings have been going on,crippling growth in the most affluent states of Kano, Kaduna, Adamawa, Gombe, Bauchi and Borno.
The desperate efforts by the Federal Government to contain incessant violence in the northern region have not been without criticisms within and outside the country.Often the Joint Task Force on terror, the platform of government’s field confrontation with the insurgents has not been without stories of misplaced aggression and often unjustifiable crudity.
An instance is two- year old Shuaibu Mahmud is battling to survive from injuries in Maiduguri sustained from bullet wounds. Caught between the heartless reign of terror unleashed by the extremist sect and the over reaching desperation of JTF, residents are hardly in the frame to choose between both means of dying.
The lives of many law abiding and productive youths have been caught short by the bullets that ought to have protected them. According to four security agents interviewed here, no where in the world can anyone kill a soldier or Police and don’t expect a reprisal, and “since we don’t know them by face, any body that fits the profile of a Boko Haram becomes a suspect.”
The profile of a Boko Haram, according to one soldier (names withheld) is “a Muslim, mostly between the ages of 15 to 40, living mostly in areas considered as flashpoints”. Such persons have to choose between two evils, the official backed terrorism and the illegal terrorism.
According to a recent Human Rights Watch report and Amnesty International on the crisis in northern Nigeria, Nigeria’s security agencies and Boko Haram militants have committed war crimes. HRW said both the Nigeria Police Force and the military have a long record of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings.
The official line states that since July 2009 insurgents have killed at least 1500 people in the northern and central part of Nigeria but the number killed by the security agents remained a mystery. Several residents interviewed insisted the number of those killed by security agents outweighs that of the insurgents. The Nigerian constitution provides that every individual is entitled to “respect for the dignity of his person,” including the right not to be subjected to torture. However the rule of law is the biggest casualty in this on-going conflict in the north.
Women and children have watched helplessly as their breadwinners were beaten, tied and slaughtered like animals before their very eyes. The only reason the insurgents give for this inexcusable action is that, during raids by the JTF very little caution is taken by the operatives to save from harm their own women and children.
Many school age children in some parts of the northeast have joined those already out of school to stay back at home for fear of attack. The psychological impact on these children are unparalleled. Commercial motorcycle business, popularly called Okada or Achaba, the most readily available employment for many youths and the dominant means of transportation in the region is banned, when few motorcycle-riding men began to launch attacks and flee. An 16 year old girl, Zahra Musa in Damaturu said she left her husband’s house barely a month after the ban on motor cycles and four months into her marriage because he could no longer cater for her needs.
It is of course a truism that the insurgency in the north has had a devastating effect on families and livelihood of many economic groups. The massive destruction of infrastructure, the destruction of telecommunication facilities, frequent attacks on markets and businesses, short business hours, have made many to relocate to other safer parts of the country, bringing down incomes and increasing poverty levels.
“It is very difficult to travel or do business in the north. Trips that usually take few hours have turned to long, frustrating hours because of check points on highways and in streets in many parts of the region. You can hardly make calls, the networks are terrible and banks only operate for four hours or thereabout in many states” said Mr. Johnson Nwankwo, who recently relocated from Kano to Lagos.
Sadly, politicians in the adversely affected states have abandoned their constituencies and moved to Abuja for fear of attacks. Corruption that has led to the current levels of insecurity in the region is at its peak with insecurity being used by many politicians to loot under the guise of security votes.