In Nigeria’s northeast, some sympathy for Boko Haram’s violent Islamists
Wiping grease onto his t-shirt outside his bicycle repair shack, Baba Gana points to a bomb blast site across the street and explains why this northeastern Nigerian town of Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, has sympathy for radical Islamists who terrorise its inhabitants.
The remote region has been elevated from obscurity in the last two years by the increasingly deadly Boko Haram, whose name in the local Hausa language translates as “Western education is forbidden”. The sect has carried out dozens of assassinations, shootings and bomb attacks in Borno state this year, often targeting military and religious figures.
A military Joint Task Force (JTF) brought in to stem the violence has suffered dozens of casualties and has dealt out swift and firm retribution. Many local residents have said the JTF does more harm than good and Amnesty International accused soldiers of brutalisation, unlawful arrests and rights abuses.
Its commanders deny the allegations but admit some “excesses”. Borno residents are caught in the centre of the violence and believe the cause of the problem lies not in religious ideology but in resentment at the heavy-handed military and the region’s economic isolation.
“I was walking inside the market and there was a huge blast, everyone scattered and ran here and there. Many of my friends are dead,” Gana says, describing a deadly blast claimed by Boko Haram in July. “We have nothing. This has come from poverty. We have been forgotten by the government and now we are terrorised. When the soldiers come we all leave. They go berserk.”