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Nigerians Freed From Boko Haram Terrorist Group in Borno State live in Fear and Deprivation

Boko Haram is blamed for about 20,000 deaths since beginning its insurgency in northern Nigeria in 2009

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Security officers are called to control some of the internally displaced people at the Bakkasi camp. The people were upset at camp authorities for what they say is poor distribution of food rations, in Borno, Nigeria, on August 29, 2016. VOA

Boko Haram militants have largely been routed by the Nigerian army, but they have not disappeared and still pose a threat in the northern part of Borno State.

Boko Haram controlled some of northeast Nigeria at the start of last year, but it has been pushed out of most of that territory by the Nigerian army, aided by troops from neighbouring Cameroon, Niger and Chad, Reuters reported in September.

Geneva-based officials representing the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) say security in northern Nigeria remains fragile and that people who have suffered for years at the hands of Boko Haram are living in fear of renewed attacks from the militant group.

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Over the past two weeks, U.N. aid workers have been interviewing community leaders and individuals in a number of newly accessible areas of Borno State to learn their needs and concerns.

Borno State and Sambisa Forest. VOA
Borno State and Sambisa Forest. VOA

UNHCR spokesman William Spindler says they have assessed the situation in towns like Monguno, Bama, Damboa and Shani.

“They have found similar patterns in these places of a high level of vulnerability among people displaced by Boko Haram,” he said, “with nearly every family affected by very worrying protection issues and that some of these people live in fear that the insurgency group could attack them again.”

Spindler says the displaced people are living in desperate conditions.

For example, he said more than 60,000 people who fled to Monguno largely from the Marte local government area, are living in dilapidated school buildings and makeshift shelters in nine sites.

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They are suffering food shortages, he said, yet they continue to arrive in Monguno to escape the Nigerian military’s ongoing operations to dislodge Boko Haram from the northern part of Borno State.

Spindler says women and children are particularly vulnerable. Many families are headed by women, he said, because their husbands were killed by Boko Haram, were forced to join the insurgents or disappeared.

He tells VOA these people have lived under the brutal rule of Boko Haram for a long time and are having difficulty recovering from the experience.

“They are traumatised,” he said. “They are in need of help. Some of the problems that we see are related to the fact that they do not have the necessary aid or livelihoods. So, that is why we see some of these negative coping mechanisms like survival sex and other practices.”

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Spindler says women are forced to send their children, some as young as 5, to sell small items or beg in the street so they can buy food and medicine. Others, he says, send children to collect firewood to sell. This puts the girls at risk of sexual attack.

Few of the refugees are likely to return to their home villages soon because of continuing insecurity and the presence of landmines in their villages and fields, Spindler said.

Boko Haram is blamed for about 20,000 deaths since beginning its insurgency in northern Nigeria in 2009. The Islamist extremist group says it wants to create a strict Islamic state in Muslim-majority northern Nigeria. (VOA)

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Over 100 ‘Chibok Girls’ Rescued From Boko Haram Militants Restart Education in Nigeria

The abductions had sparked worldwide outrage and a "Bring Back Our Girls" movement that gained supporters in the United States, including then-first lady Michelle Obama.

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Boko Haram
Chibok girls entertain guests during their send-forth dinner at A Class garden in Abuja, Nigeria. The girls will commence a special foundation program at American University of Nigeria Yola .VOA

Nigeria, September 21, 2017 : More than 100 ”Chibok girls” released by Boko Haram militants, have begun a new phase of their lives. They have started taking classes at the American University of Nigeria after months of rest and recovery under the care of the Nigerian government.

The girls had been expected to start at the university in the city of Yola early next month, and the government threw them a send-off party last week at their rehabilitation center in the capital, Abuja; but, the chairman of the Chibok parents’ association, Yakubu Nkeki, said the start date was moved up because the school year had already begun.

Boko Haram
Some of the 106 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in the Nigerian town of Chibok, are seen dancing joyfully during the send-forth dinner in Abuja, Nigeria, Sept. 13, 2017. (VOA)

“I went with them to the school until they were handed over to the school authority,” Nkeki told VOA’s Hausa service on Tuesday. “Since the school has already started, it was decided that it is best for them to go straight to school so they don’t miss too many classes. They were already starting late.”

At the send-off party, the minister for women’s affairs and social development, Hajia Jummai Alhassan, said the girls will start remedial classes at AUN to prepare them for undergraduate studies in any field of their choice, to be paid for by the federal government.

Boko Haram
Some of the gifts packaged to be given to the 106 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in the Nigerian town of Chibok, are seen during the send-forth dinner in Abuja (VOA)

AUN was already educating 24 girls who escaped Boko Haram shortly after the Islamist radical group, notorious for killing thousands of Nigerians, kidnapped more than 250 students from a secondary school in the Borno state town of Chibok in April 2014.

The abductions sparked worldwide outrage and a “Bring Back Our Girls” movement that gained supporters in the United States, including then-first lady Michelle Obama.

The girls who entered the university this week spent 30 to 37 months in Boko Haram captivity before the militants released them in two groups, in October 2016 and May 2017, following negotiations with the Nigerian government.

U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), an early supporter of Bring Back Our Girls, met the girls in Abuja shortly before they left the city and told VOA the former captives generally seemed to be in good shape; but, she said that according to the girls’ caretakers, this followed a long period of medical treatment and psychological therapy.

Boko Haram
In this file photo taken from video released by Nigeria’s Boko Haram terrorist network, May 12, 2014, shows missing girls abducted from the northeastern town of Chibok. (VOA)

“Can you imagine being held captive with terrorists, men who frighten you every single day for three years? When you are released, you are not normal, your psyche is not too good. They had to debrief them and help them,” Wilson told VOA.

Wilson said she was told that some girls are also recovering from bullet wounds, machete wounds and snake bites.

ALSO READ Boko Haram Refugees Raped by Nigerian Troops and Police, says Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Wilson said that contrary to some reports, the girls have seen their families since being released; but, she endorsed the government’s decision to keep the girls together in rehab instead of returning them to their homes.

“Because these girls had been together so long, to separate them would have traumatized them in my estimation. I think the decision to keep them together was the best thing they could have done,” she said.

More than 100 girls from Chibok remain in Boko Haram captivity, three-and-a-half years after they were taken.

At the send-off party, Women’s Affairs Minister Alhassan expressed optimism the rest of the girls will be freed.

“I assure you that by the grace of God, we will have our remaining girls released,” she said. (VOA)

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“Boko Haram Leaders Also Use Religion as A Prod to Violence”, Confesses Boko Haram Defector

Umar is now in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, after fleeing the Boko Haram camp

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Boko Haram members
Boko Haram defector Bana Umar is seen at an undisclosed location. Umar agreed to be photographed on condition that his face not be shown. VOA
  • Umar was a fighter for Boko Haram, the Islamist radical group
  • Umar believes that the group manipulates Islam to its own violent ends
  • Umar is now in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, after fleeing the Boko Haram camp

Maiduguri/Washington, August 27, 2017: The way Bana Umar tells it, VOA and other broadcasters helped convince him to leave Boko Haram.

Until the night of August 18, Umar was a fighter for the Islamist radical group, living at a camp in the vast Sambisa Forest, one of the group’s long-time strongholds in northeastern Nigeria.

The experience was certainly exciting. Umar says he served as a bodyguard for a commander, Abu Geidam, who he describes as very close to Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s best known leader.

And he saw action across Nigeria’s Borno State. “I have been to war about six times,” he says. “I fought in Wulari. I fought in Bita. I participated in the fighting around Chad. I was in the group that repelled Nigerian soldiers whenever they ventured into Sambisa.”

But his conscience was just as active as his gun. When asked if what Boko Haram does is good and right, he says it is not, because the group attacks people “mercilessly and unjustly,” and in his view, manipulates Islam to its own violent ends.

Boko Haram defectors confession
FILE – This image taken from video released by Boko Haram militants in Nigeria in May 2014 shows leader Abubakar Shekau, the group’s most prominent leader. VOA

Radio prompted him to make an escape plan. Umar says he heard promises from the Nigerian chief of army staff, General Tukur Buratai, that defectors from Boko Haram would be welcomed, not punished. And he heard how Boko Haram’s deadly ambushes and suicide bombings were received in the outside world.

“Many of us listened to radio stations like BBC and VOA,” he says. “I listened to these radio stations frequently to the extent that when I laid down to sleep I would be thinking of what I heard. I realized that all our activities were evil. We killed. We stole. We dispossessed people of their properties in the name of religion. But what we are doing is not religion. Finally I got fed up with the group.”

Umar is now in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, after fleeing the Boko Haram camp. He described his experiences this week in an interview with VOA Hausa Service reporter Haruna Dauda. His comments, translated from Hausa, provide insight into how the militants recruit and retain fighters and are managing to survive in the face of a multi-nation offensive.

Persuaded to join, scared to leave

Umar is 27 years old and hails from Banki, a town on Nigeria’s border with Cameroon. Until 2014, he made his living as a cell phone repairman and burning CDs.

Radical Islamist group, Boko Haram
Boko Haram militants (in camouflage) embrace and shake hands with Boko Haram prisoners, released in exchange for a group of 82 Chibok girls, who were held captive for three years by the Islamist militant group, near Kumshe, Nigeria, May 6, 2017. VOA

But that year, Boko Haram overran the town. Umar says his friend, Abu Mujaheed, lured him into becoming a member of the group. All Nigerians are infidels, and only the followers of Abubakar Shekau are true Muslims, Mujaheed said. Join and you can fight to kill all the infidels.

Umar joined, but says he quickly got scared and wanted to run. He didn’t, he says, because Abu Mujaheed told him he would be killed if he tried to escape.

Asked this week if that was true, Umar said there is no doubt about it. “Even mere rumor or allegation that someone is contemplating leaving the group would lead to the killing of the person,” he says.

He says Boko Haram also discouraged defectors by telling them General Buratai’s promise of amnesty for any escapee was a ruse.

There are more than 1,000 Boko Haram members who would like to leave the group, Umar says. “There are many people that were abducted from their home towns who don’t know the way back to their places of origin. They [Boko Haram leaders] preach to such people not to leave, as if it was divine for them to be there.”

He adds: “Even some original members of the sect now want to leave because soldiers have intensified the war against them unlike in the past.”

Boko Haram defectors
FILE – Family members wait to claim bodies of suicide attack victims at a hospital in Konduga, outside Maiduguri, Nigeria, Aug. 16, 2017. The attack was blamed on Boko Haram militants. VOA

All Boko Haram members must take new names when they join the group, and Bana Umar’s name was changed to Abu Mustapha. He says he became a fighter, not a commander. He said the militants were living in the Jimiya section of the Sambisa Forest, which, according to him, was the headquarters for Boko Haram.

At one time, he implies, living conditions were decent. In 2014, Boko Haram ruled large parts of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, and could operate almost at will.

Now, he says, “Life is difficult. It is not what it used to be in the past. Food is difficult for everyone.”

Some militants grow their own food, he says. “But even when you farm, your leader could take all your farm produce from you in the name of religion. You are always told that your leader has rights over all you have and yourself,” he says.

Boko Haram leaders also use religion as a prod to violence, he says.

“They use religion to tell us to kill with the promise of going to paradise. Leaders quote profusely from the Quran and the sayings of the prophet [Mohammed] to support their arguments. As they explain to make us understand their own point of view as the absolute truth, we must keep saying Allah is great, Allah is great. Then we would go out to kill,” he says.

Boko Haram kills number of people across Nigeria
FILE – A photo shows a general view of one of the biggest camps for people displaced by Boko Haram and likeminded Islamist extremists in Maiduguri, Nigeria, Aug. 28, 2016. VOA

A call to ‘repent’

Boko Haram has killed at least 20,000 people across Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger since it launched its insurgency against the Nigerian government in 2009. Attacks and bombings continue, even though the joint task force sponsored by those countries and Benin has stripped Boko Haram of nearly all the territory it once controlled, which leader Abubakar Shekau said would form the base of a “caliphate.”

Also readIslamic Terrorism Again? Boko Haram Islamic Terrorist gun down 14 in Maiduguri, Nigeria

With the weight of the group’s deeds bearing down on him, Bana Umar felt a growing need to flee. He didn’t act, however, until someone else encouraged him to believe what General Buratai promised.

He escaped on the night of August 18 with that person — the wife of his commander, Abu Geidam. On the 20th, they turned themselves in at a Nigerian army base in Maiduguri.

Asked what he would say to Boko Haram fighters still in the Sambisa Forest, Umar says: “I am calling them to repent, especially those who want to come out but are afraid… Let people know that soldiers would not do anything to whoever voluntarily repents. I came out and no one harms me. Not one single soldier lays his hand on me.”

Nigerian officials are currently debriefing Bana Umar, as they do with all Boko Haram members who leave the group voluntarily. When they finish, he will be reintegrated into Nigerian society, although not in his hometown of Banki. He will be taken to another location where he isn’t known, to make a fresh start. (VOA)

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

ALSO READ: Flashback to Terror: 1993 Mumbai Blasts Judgement to Hail on June 27 After 24 Years

Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)