What was it actually like to live in Maiduguri, one of Nigeria’s larger cities, and ground zero during the Boko Haram assault? Official restrictions on the media and all but non-existent security meant no stream of reporting akin to that of, say, Edward R. Murrow and many other journalists during the London blitz of World War II. There are no photographs of Maiduguri of the genre of St. Paul’s dome floating above the smoke of a burning London.
Now, The Daily Trust, with probably the largest circulation in northern Nigeria, is publishing a series titled ‘My Boko Haram Experience’ that provides an idea of what life has been like during this conflict. One such article is by Hassan A Karofi, a journalist in charge of Daily Trust operations assigned to Maiduguri in 2013. His narrative is gripping. It makes concrete much of what we knew or suspected with respect to official chaos, security services brutality, and the apparent interpenetration of Boko Haram into daily life.
Karofi was terrified of both the security services and Boko Haram. He tells a terrifying story of nearly being killed by the security services during a confusing episode at a checkpoint. Saved by a senior officer, “He warned that they would have killed us and claimed we were Boko Haram terrorists who attempted to attack them, and nothing would have happened.” He also recounts the fear of Boko Haram informers, who seemed to be ubiquitous. A close friend of a journalist on his staff was a clandestine Boko Haram terrorist, unbeknownst to him. When the terrorist was captured, the security services found on him a list of those marked for death—including his “friend.” Karofi also provides small details: it was best to go about in western dress to avoid security service harassment, rather than the traditional dress of the northeast, which is much better suited for the harsh climate.
By publishing this series, The Daily Trust is doing a real service toward building an understanding of Nigeria’s nightmare.