Kano — Commercial activities in the northern trade hub of Kano are down by half since 2010 because of the campaign of violence waged by militant group Boko Haram and government efforts to curb it, says the Kano traders' union.
"The north is losing heavily due to the violence. When you destabilize Kano, which is the commercial nerve centre of the north, you are threatening the socioeconomic well-being of the north," Nigeria's Information Minister Labaran Maku told reporters in February 2012.
Danbature Abdulazeez, head of the National Harmonized Traders' Union, estimates trade in Kano is down by half due to closed borders with Niger, Cameroon and Chad; businesses shutting down or moving south for fear of violence; forced relocations; dusk-to-dawn curfews; and a ban on motorcycle-taxis, the principal means of transport in Kano.
Boko Haram has waged a campaign of violence in northern Nigeria, killing 3000 people since the beginning of 2009, according to Human Rights Watch. The violence has largely been concentrated in northeastern Nigeria with Maiduguri, Damaturu and Potiskum hardest hit, but on 20 January 2012 it spread to Kano when coordinated bombing and shooting attacks killed 185 people, making it Boko Haram's deadliest attack to date.
Since then, city residents have suffered regular violent shootings and bombings linked to Boko Haram, forcing people to hunker down in their homes or abandon the city. Over the past year hundreds of businesses have closed or relocated.
"Business has been slow in the last one year and it is increasingly difficult to make ends meet," said a textile trader at Kantin Kwari market, Yahuza Salisu. "Sometimes I spend the whole day in the market without making any sales because traders are no longer coming in due to the [Boko Haram] attacks. I use whatever little sales I make to feed my family."
Salisu plans to pull his children out of private school and put them in a state school as he cannot afford the fees.
"People I know have been killed in Boko Haram attacks and I don't want to be next"
Pius Uche, a furniture-maker in Kano, told IRIN: "I have moved my workshop to Abuja because I feel it is no longer safe to continue to stay and operate here. People I know have been killed in Boko Haram attacks and I don't want to be next."
Liti Kulkul, head of the Kwari Textile Traders' Association, told IRIN his annual turnover had dropped by 62 percent.
Shops, factories close
For Kano's few remaining factories - most of them processing food and beverages, animal hides or plastic goods - shifts have dropped from two per day to one because of recently introduced curfews following Boko Haram attacks, leaving production at about 30 percent of capacity, estimates Ali Madugu, vice-president of the Manufacturers' Association of Nigeria (MAN).
Businesses near police stations were forced to shut down in January 2012 because of terrorist fears.
Ahmad Musa owned a grocery in a row of two dozen shops attached to the headquarters of Nigeria's anti-riots police (Mobile Police) in Kano's Hotoro neighbourhood. "I lost all my capital because I and all the other shop owners were barred from opening our shops, not even to pack up our stock," he told IRIN.
Kano's high production costs and power cuts were already hurting the estimated 100 factories left in the city, said Badamasi Usman, an economics professor at Kano's Bayero University. Some US$15 billion used to flow through Kano's markets each year, and two million traders used to arrive daily from Nigeria and neighbouring countries (Niger, Chad, Cameroon and the Central African Republic), selling goods from factories in the south or imported from Asia.
Getting around Kano is also much more difficult due to military and police checkpoints around the city, a city-wide curfew, and a dusk-to-dawn ban on taxi mopeds ('achabas'), the most popular form of inner-city transport. Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe, Plateau, Lagos and Rivers states have imposed similar bans.
The ban has cost 'achaba' drivers US$9 million a day, according to Chairman of Kano's Amalgamated Commercial Owners and Riders Association (ACOMORAN) Muhammad Sani. Each of Kano's 1.5 million 'achaba' drivers used to earn on average $12 per day, according to ACOMORAN.
Local authorities in Kano imposed the ban following a 19 January 2013 attack on traditional and spiritual leader Ado Bayero, emir of Kano, by a group of gunmen on motorbikes. Five people were killed, including the emir's driver and two guards, but not the emir.
Growing unemployment among traders, taxi drivers and others will only fuel more violence, warns Usman. "These frustrated youth can turn to crime and add to the security nightmare we are facing."
On 28 January self-professed Boko Haram commander Mohammed Abudlazeez Ibn Idriss announced the group would cease attacks because of the difficult humanitarian situation the violence had caused.
He called on the Nigerian government to release all detained sect members to give room for dialogue and lasting peace. Some Kano residents welcomed the announcement, while others say they do not trust it.
The Nigerian military said it needed a one month's peace guarantee before it takes the ceasefire seriously.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. ]