Maiduguri: life inside the Nigerian city gripped by fear

by - 11th June 2014

WHEN a drive-by shooting left five dead in Samuel’s neighbourhood in 2013 he decided it was time to go. He knew, as a pastor, that he was the intended target and on any other day he would have been sitting talking with those five friends in clear view of the killer.

Samuel fled with his family from their home in Maiduguri to the city of Jos.

He will not say any more because of fear of reprisal from Boko Haram:  ‘It will create more problems for other pastors in the Boko Haram areas’ were his final words to Lapido Media.

His daughter, Damaris, had been more traumatised than anyone else in Samuel’s family. She told Lapido about their life before escaping to Jos.

‘Boko Haram kidnapped pastors, they abducted many women and men and we were afraid to go to school in Maiduguri,’ she said. ‘They killed one of our neighbours in the market. We couldn’t freely live in such a situation.

Birthplace of Boko Haram

‘We felt vulnerable because the government allowed churches to be built only in a particular area of town which made them easy targets for attack. Most churches are in Kirkasama, not too far away from West End, by the Railway station, which is the birthplace of Boko Haram.’

Official figures on migration away from north-east Nigeria because of the conflict vary. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has stated that 520,000 have moved away from the area to other parts of Nigeria or the neighbouring countries of Niger, Cameroon and Chad. But Amnesty International, in its latest report on the conflict, points out that the Director-General of the Nigerian National Emergency Management Agency said that the number of people displaced was 'more than 250,000'.

The number of those killed is also disputed, with Amnesty reporting ‘more than 1,500’ dead. The Christian Association of Nigeria sees this figure as a ‘gross underestimation’. Elizabeth Salami, media and information director at the Church of Christ in Nations church, which is analysing the impact of the insurgency on the church, claims that in 2014 ‘over 3,000 people had been killed’.

When the Boko Haram insurgency started in 2009 its leader, Abubakar Shekau, claimed they wanted to ‘reintroduce the worship of pure Islam’, but by January 2012, Shekau was giving a three-day ultimatum for all Christians and southerners to leave north-east Nigeria.

‘At first’, says Dorcas Joshua, 26, who also moved to Jos to avoid the conflict, ‘they told us that they were fighting the government and Christians had nothing to worry about, but a few months later they started attacking our churches.

‘In our area it started on a Friday, in January 2013, when they came and started shooting at people. They went from house to house looking for specific targets, particularly Christians, and were killing them. The next morning they bombed the house next to mine and there were cracks on our walls. We were terrified. I thought we were all going to be killed. Throughout this time Boko Haram members would go to any house demanding food or water but then kill for no reason.’

This was the beginning of almost two years of traumatic experience for Dorcas, who, like many Christians, feels she cannot freely go to Church anymore. The Church she attended, Church of Christ in Nations, in Kirkasama, used to run two services in Hausa and in English. The Church used to be filled with worshippers but now the two services are collapsed into one. 'It is now left with just fifty worshippers,’ she said.