Armed ViolenceExtremism

Terrorists Taking Advantage Of Starvation To Recruit IDPs In Borno

Both ISWAP and the embattled Boko Haram offer money to vulnerable displaced persons to help buy foodstuff and other consumables. They had the weapons, and they had the numbers. They also told one of their victims that other men were doing the same to survive.

It was true that Falmata’s husband had strayed too far into the forest in his search for firewood to bring back to the village to sell. Still, it was also true that his family was starving, and the only thing he could do to remedy that situation was to find firewood to sell. And so, even as he stood there facing the terrorists after he had unknowingly strayed into their territory around Alo dam, Borno state, northeastern Nigeria, he knew that given another chance, he still would have preferred to stray that far, rather than go back home empty-handed. 

And so that afternoon, six days ago, Falmata’s husband stood somewhere in the deep forests and the riverine area dotted with many trees, where he had gone in search of firewood, and found himself face to face with members of the terror group, Boko Haram. 

The first thing they asked was whether he was new in the town. He was. Before then, he was a fisherman in Baga, then hardship and security concerns drove him to move away with his family to someplace safer. His wife’s mother had also taken ill, so it gave them more reason to move closer to her. 

In his new town, firewood sales were the only source of income, as there was an acute shortage of it in the main town. Still, anyone familiar with the area or had lived there for a long time knew that that area he had strayed into was a no-go one. He was neither familiar with the place nor had he lived there for a long time. 

The terrorists were offering him money to help buy them foodstuff and fabrics. They had the weapons, and they had the numbers. They also told him that it was what other men were doing to survive, his wife says. In the end, he took their money. 

When he got home that day, he told his wife what had happened, and together they agonised and panicked over what to do. 

“He couldn’t keep the money because they will find him and kill him,” his wife, Falmata, told HumAngle, her young voice thickened by tears and distress. 

“And if he agreed and bought them the things they asked for, he would be linked to them and perhaps even arrested by ‘yan gora.” By ‘yan gora, she refers to the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) who were in the habit of patrolling around the locations and had, according to the women in the area, been indiscriminately arresting their men. 

“In the end, we concluded that he should do as they said. And so he bought everything and the next day, he took it back to them in the forests. He bought them fabrics or various colours; white, green, black.”

On his way there, as he approached the famous Alo dam and attempted to cross, however, he was accosted by members of the CJTF and searched thoroughly. When they saw the foodstuff and fabrics he was in possession of, they knew.

New to the operation yet knowing his slim chance of surviving, he admitted that he was indeed transporting foodstuff and fabrics to terrorists. It was a terrible crime. 

He was immediately bound and tied down with ropes, then beaten up. 

“I was not there, but the people who saw it told me,” Falmata admits. “They said the officers who first saw him, and whom he explained things to, were not very tough on him, but when they called their boss, the situation worsened.”

It’s been six days and she hasn’t seen him since. He is still in detention.

People, impoverished, are increasingly driven by their lack to become spies and allies for terrorists camping in the fringes of the state, according to locales. 

The IDPs venture towards the Alo dam, even though it is close to the terror group’s territory because trees are abundant around the riverine area. Firewood remains the only thriving business in the area. 

HumAngle spoke to some IDP women in the Dalori camp, who insisted that they continue to venture into the area, as the only alternative is to beg. 

“There are no firewoods inside the town. We usually walk for about 10km to reach the place. During the early days when we were running into the terrorists, they took a young girl from our horde and to this day, no one has ever seen her. We are all afraid. In the early days, they used to be merciful. They would say they knew we were coming there because we didn’t have food,” Karu Bulama, a woman in the camp, told HumAngle. 

With time, they started to lure them into being their source of resources inside the town. 

“They would offer to send us on errands to buy them food. Then one day, they lined us up and gave us the beating of our lives. They gave us a 2 p.m. curfew. They said if they see us there after 4 p. m., whatever they do to us, we deserve it.”

They complain about the ban by the Borno state government on non-governmental organisations from sharing relief materials to displaced people as part of its efforts into ‘building back their resilience’. 

“The Governor has stopped giving us relief materials, and he has asked people to stop giving us too. So we are just there. And they say they will resettle us, but they have not. And even if we are resettled, how will we survive on our own with no access to help… We are not asking or looking for wealth. We are just looking for what to eat for the day,” she said. 

This report is produced in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), West Africa.

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Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu

Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu is the Managing Editor at HumAngle. She researches and investigates terrorism & insurgency and its human cost and aftermath, particularly how they affect transitional justice issues, displacement, migration, and women. She is a 2023 Pulitzer Centre grantee, a 2023 International Women Media Fund awardee, and a 2022 Storify Africa fellow, among several others.

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