Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
The streets of Maiduguri, capital of the north-eastern state of Borno, were deserted. It was 5pm on this day in late July 2014. The torrential downpour of the previous week appeared to have ceased, causing humid weather and unusual heat in the rainy season for days. The sky was bright but most residents had withdrawn into their homes. The people had been without electricity for nearly five months.
Most residents would dare not go out for whatever reason as from evening to the early hours of another day. Random gunshots or, in some cases, bomb blasts, were heard in parts of the city. That was the norm and residents would often express surprise when such sounds were not heard, especially at night.
“Another groundnut,” residents would often exclaim, a sarcastic response to the sound of gunshots, an expression that indicated another person had been killed. These were the high points of terrorism, bloodletting and killing by Boko Haram, the terror group that has held the North East states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe by the jugular since July 2009. Maiduguri, the birthplace of the violent group, expectedly, became the epicentre of terror activities, until 2013.
It is now 11 years after. The boom of guns, especially in the cities, has subsided, though echoes of Boko Haram are still heard in the hinterland. Markets are now open. Social and economic activities have returned in full swing in the hitherto restive Maiduguri, Biu, Beneshiek, in Borno, Damaturu, Potiskum, Nguru, Gashua, Buni Yadi, in Yobe, and Yola, Jimetta, Hong, Mubi, Numan, Michika, Guyuk and Gombi, in Adamawa, as well as towns in Bauchi and Gombe states, thanks to Nigerian troops that liberated these towns and restored peace.
“The situation was very precarious in 2014 and 2015. We lived in fear and most of our people fled to Kano or Abuja, even though those places were not so safe then,” Adamu Maina, a Potiskum resident, told Daily Sun on telephone. He said he could not visit his aged mother in neighbouring Adamawa State for a year due to the incessant attacks by Boko Haram.
“Boko Haram always attacked Potiskum. There was a day they struck in the town from about 12 midnight till about 6am. They were throwing bombs and shooting. People were killed. Shops and markets were closed for about three days and we became very hungry,” he said.
He recalled that the incident forced some of his friends to relocate their families and businesses to other northern towns and cities.
Abubakar Saleh was forced to abandon his undergraduate programme at the University of Maiduguri in 2015 following repeated Boko Haram attacks on the Damaturu-Maiduguri highway.
“My secondary school mate was killed on the road by Boko Haram, then and I stop travelling from Damaturu to Maiduguri every week for my programme,” he explained.
The 130-kilometre Maiduguri-Damaturu highway was the only road opened to Borno from other northern cities as at that time. But now, other roads like Maiduguri-Damboa-Biu, Maiduguri-Bama Road and Maiduguri-Gamboru/Ngala Road have been reopened, though with more security measures by military troops, a development that has also eased movement of foodstuff and essential commodities for the locals, unlike the situation between 2014 and 2018.
“Residents now enjoy some social life even in the night,” Chuks Alozie, a businessman, told Daily Sun. Most of the leisure spots in Maiduguri, Damaturu and other towns have reopened for revellers.
“Life is back here, though there may be pockets of attacks outside the city,” Chuks said.
Some residents also observed that neither Maiduguri nor Damaturu, Yola, Gombe has experienced bomb explosions this year.
“Allahamudullah, we haven’t been witnessing bomb blasts, unlike before. We pray it continues this way,” Malam Habibu Aji said.
In 2018, investigations by the reporter showed there were about 50 Boko Haram attacks, including suicide bombings in the three North-East states, almost double such incidents that occurred in 2019 and 2020. At least 1,200 people were killed and nearly 200,000 civilians were displaced in the North East in 2018 alone, according to a 2019 World Report by the Human Rights Watch.
In June 2018, 84 people were killed in twin bomb explosions by Boko Haram in a mosque in Mubi, a commercial town in Adamawa State. Boko Haram’s territorial control has shrunk to smaller villages and communities around the Lake Chad region, where the terror group, which now in alliance with ISWAP, periodically carries out ambushes and attacks on vulnerable locals.
Borno State governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, at a recent luncheon organised for wounded troops of Operation Lafiya Dole in Maiduguri, lauded the military’s efforts in returning peace to the area,
“At a point, Maiduguri was constantly under attack by Boko Haram. Most of our communities could not be accessed. Social and commercial activities were paralyzed, but the situation today has significantly changed for better,” Zulum said.
The governor commended the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, who is leading the fight against Boko Haram in the North East. He recalled the repeated attempts by the insurgents to launch attacks on Maiduguri a year ago and how the military has worked tirelessly to ward off such attacks.
Zulum urged the people to support the military’s operation to end Boko Haram.
Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Major General Farouk Yahaya, said operations to clear Boko Haram fighters from their enclaves was given a boost with the army chief’s relocation to the theatre in April through June. He said troops have also demonstrated more zeal to keep up the fighting spirit, even as he called for support and information from the civil populace.