20 January 2013

Nigeria: Cry, Beloved Maiduguri!


Maiduguri, hitherto famously known as the home of peace, has now turned into the home of pieces, immoral values, molestation, corruption with its inhabitants' rights being trampled upon. I remembered when we used to have a long conversation in my grandparent's compound and my granddad would ask us to go to bed because it was late in the night (midnight). But now people go to bed as early as 8:00 pm.

My journey to Borno this year was a tedious one as there were many check points along the road. Among us was a retired army officer who made the journey less stressful by talking to the soldiers in their own 'unique dialect'.

When we reached Damagun, there was a gridlock measuring about three kilometres. The retired army officer had to come down from our vehicle to talk to the soldiers. Fortunately, they gave us a green light so we followed another lane. As we were moving forward, a man stood on the way making a call, the driver horned but the man adamantly ignored as if he was deaf.

Our driver went to speak to him but he ignored him till he finished his call. He insulted our driver. We pleaded and they paved way for us. We arrived Maiduguri 7:35pm after giving lots of bribes to the soldiers at all check points. My younger ones took me home.

Maiduguri to me looked like a ghost town; not the once heavily populated place I knew. Most residents had left the town for safer places. Places like Ngomari Costin, Bulabulin, Maiduguri, Gwange, Lowcost areas are now danger zones. One has to confirm about the safety of a place through phone calls before going anywhere in Borno due to the sudden explosions and gunshots by gunmen.

Unemployment and immoral acts are some of the factors contributing to the volatile nature of the state. I learnt from a reliable source that once a youngman, about twenty years old, approached a woman at the Post Office area of Maiduguri with a bag filled with guns. He was alleged to have said "Hajiya, is there any person, who is your enemy, that you want me to deal with? Give me N5,000 and your mission would be accomplished."

The woman was shocked. She pleaded and gave him N5,000, saying she had no enemy she knew of. The lives of the inhabitants of Borno are just like those of ants. How can one kill a fellow human being for N5,000?

Moreover, the Joint Task Force (JTF) and police brought in to calm the situation are worsening the situation by hunting down innocent people. Once, there is report of a murder on a particular street or area, people living in that area are in trouble because, the JTF would start their so called "search" at between 12:00 midnight or 1:00am, barging into people's houses, stealing their things and raping young and married women. All in the name of searching for hidden "weapons and guns".

Sadly, peoples' rights are being infringed upon as most of them are tongue-tight because of fear. There was a scene of an accident where a youth hit a car in front of him. Obviously, to the passers-by the youth was not at fault because the car in front of him didn't indicate it was taking a left turn while the youth, too, wanted to take the same left turn. That was how he hit the other car. It was as if JTF operatives were waiting for something like that to happen. They rushed to the scene. Without any investigation, they told the young man that he was at fault. They seized his car and told him to give them "something" otherwise they would not release it. The young man obediently gave them N3,000.00. That was how he got released.

Residents of Maiduguri are in dilemma; what can be termed double jeopardy. On the one side, they face the brutality of the JTF, who accuse the people of withholding information and identities of insurgents among them, hence they engage in mass arrests and torture.

On the other hand the insurgents, who are always suspicious of people around them of revealing their identities to authorities, are persecuting residents. They may have no means of confirming if truly such person had spied or "betrayed" them. They go ahead to kill the suspected informants.

Another dimension is how businessmen are being threatened by insurgents to give huge sums of money to support their cause or risk death. The insurgents threaten businesses and extended family members of owners. There is no shortage of instances in which whole families were slaughtered by insurgents from the "crime" of one member across the JTF curve.

There is a new meaning to the acronym ATM (Automated Teller Machine) that is the code name of helpless parents whose children (especially male youths) are arrested for the sake of making cool money for some of the corrupt elements within the JTF-fold. Parents usually paid between N50,000 and N400,000 to bail their children who may have been arrested while playing football in a neighbourhood playground. So, ATM, to JTF operatives means "Maiduguri parents who do whatever it is in their powers to provide money for bail in save the their wards."

Governor Kashim Shettima burst into tears as he presented the 2013 budget. That singular scenario, for the critical thinking mind, speaks volumes beyond what this write-up can express in words.

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