from Africa in Transition

Thousands Flee Military and Boko Haram in Northeast Nigeria

August 15, 2012

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Sub-Saharan Africa


Terrorism and Counterterrorism

Damaturu, the capital of Yobe state, has been a major focus of attacks by Boko Haram, the radical Islamist group that, in effect, has declared war on the Nigerian economy. On August 6, a suicide bomber killed six soldiers. Since then, according to the press, the state security forces have responded with mass arrests of young men. One resident is quoted as saying, “the soldiers move about with a sack of handcuffs; they break into people’s houses and arrest youths, and nobody knows where they are taking them to.”

Press reports indicate that the fleeing population fears the security forces as much as it does Boko Haram. The Nigerian press quotes another resident as saying, “As a law abiding citizen I have nothing to do other than to pack my family and leave the town so that the army and the Boko Haram fighters would have empty space to use as a battle field; so I would not allow myself to be killed by the JTF (the army’s Joint Task Force) or Boko Haram fighters.” Flight is also encouraged by the fear that Boko Haram will launch an attack in the town during the current end-of-Ramadan holiday, Eid el-Fitr.

According to the Nigerian press, some 60 percent of Damaturu’s population has fled, mostly from the poor parts of the city. (According to the 2006 census, the city’s population was 44,268.) The press reports that the state government is largely closed: “All the policy makers in the state have left for lesser hajj, not even the governor is around; the commissioners are not around; state assembly members are also not around…heads of service and local government chairmen have all left with their families.”

Eid and the lesser hajj may be the reason so many state officials have left; they are also likely afraid of Boko Haram, which targets officials.