In a February 9 statement, acting Director of Army Public Relations Sani Usman said that the military will be shutting markets in Yobe and Borno states where traders “have clandestinely been aiding the terrorists (Boko Haram) with logistics and other supplies through smuggling and other forms of illicit trading, thus sustaining them while the merchants of death make money out of it.” Hence, “from now on, some markets identified to be engaging in this illegal trade with the adversary in Borno and Yobe states will be closed.” He also said that the traders were “sabotaging the successes… against the Boko Haram insurgency.”
The remainder of Sani Usman’s statement chronicled recent military successes against Boko Haram, which included the arrest of two soldiers in possession of “unauthorized military equipment,” perhaps intended for Boko Haram.
Markets are at the center of daily life in northeast Nigeria, and they have been the venue for Boko Haram attacks. Some are a thousand years old, others emerging spontaneously and informally. In a country where few pay taxes of any kind, market fees can be an important source of revenue for local authorities. Closing even some markets is a significant step.
Northeastern Nigeria has been a center of smuggling since pre-colonial times. The region is adjacent to Chad, Niger, and Cameroon and athwart the major east-west trading routes from Khartoum to Dakar. In a region that even absent strife is very poor, such fortunes that have been made are often based on trading and smuggling. National boundaries were drawn by the British, French, and Germans in the late nineteenth century and do not correspond to ethnic or logistical boundaries. Border control is minimal, and the line between trade and smuggling can be very thin.
The military move to shut-down trading venues from which Boko Haram benefits is a sign of how deeply the latter is embedded in at least some parts of northeast Nigeria, and why Boko Haram operations continue despite the litany of military successes against it.