Thousands of fishermen who had recently returned to the shores of Lake Chad to resume business have begun to flee the area over an alleged forced recruitment campaign by terrorists linked to the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
Sources familiar with the situation exclusively informed HumAngle that following the recent military onslaught against ISWAP, the terror group lost an unprecedented number of their fighters. This forced the insurgents to go into overdrive in recruiting young people to fill their ranks.
Unlike in the past, when the terror groups would invade communities and enforce allegiance at gunpoint, the leadership of ISWAP are now using economic strategies in conscripting new fighters, though hardly with options not to join, according to close watchers.
Umar Kirenoa, an IDP whose three sons, all fishermen, had just fled the islands to Maiduguri, said his family had incurred financial losses due to the recent recruitment and tax collection exercise in Lake Chad basin.
“The Boko Haram fighters are now giving stringent conditions for fishing around Baga and other Tumbus [Lake Chad islands], which involves payment of high taxes that many people cannot afford or joining their movement and enjoying tax-free fishing,” he said.
“They are tactically forcing many struggling young people to join their terror group by imposing higher tariffs and taxes before fishermen can gain access to the waters. Many who have suffered untold hardship in the past years had no choice but to yield to their demands. But many who understood the grave consequences were forced to leave the islands.”
According to his account, over 2,000 fishermen in the area who could not meet the group’s demands had left.
“I am a born fisherman, so are members of my family. When the state government and the military had okayed the resumption of fishing in Baga, we were so pleased. But we had to be very careful about rushing back,” Umar said.
“My children pressurised the need for us to return as they suggested that I stay back in the camp with their mothers and other younger siblings while they go and try their luck. We had to borrow a lot of money from our old business partners here in Maiduguri to buy all the tools needed for fishing.
“Sadly weeks after their departure, they had to return to Maiduguri, leaving most of their tools because Boko Haram terrorists asked them to leave for failing to pay the taxes. Now we are left in more profound misery and indebtedness.”
A young fisherman, who identified himself by his first name Shaibu, said he was asked to pay over ₦100,000 as a prerequisite to fishing.
“That is not all,” he continued. “You are also required to give out a large percentage of the catch to them as tax, or you would not be allowed to fish at all. If you complain about what they are demanding, they would tell you, ‘Join us, and no one would bother you to pay anything before going on fishing.’”
“Many of us had no option but to leave. Some were even ordered to leave without taking any of their fishing equipment,” Shaibu said.
The Nigeria military has said that troops of both Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) and the local Operation Hadin Kai have recently, during the ongoing Operation Desert Sanity, annihilated several Boko Haram and ISWAP fighters during raids of terrorist hideouts.
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