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Damaturu reels from Boko Haram attacks

Boko Haram blamed for a year of shootings and bombings that have shattered what little confidence there was once here.
Last modified: 23 Nov 2012 11:41

Untill recently the city of Damaturu in the Yobe State was one of the most vibrant in North East Nigeria. 

Bombings and killings by Boko Haram have brought this former regional hub to almost a virtual standstill.

At the point where people enter Damaturu, security forces use sniffer dogs to search every vehicle entering the city.

Members of Boko Haram are being blamed for a year of shootings and bombings that have shattered what little confidence there once was here.

Long queues have formed on either side of the checkpoint.

Many of the motorists are in a hurry to beat the dusk to dawn curfew imposed on not only Yobe but also neighbouring Borno state where Boko Haram have targeted for most of their attacks. Many of the motorists we spoke to are angry at the slow pace of the searches.

But government authorities insist that the many checkpoints and huge military presence in Damaturu have improved security.

I met the Governor of Yobe, Ibrahim Geidam, in his office.

And after chatting a bit about his long career as a civil servant before joining politics, we turn our attention to the insecurity gripping his state.

Classes of Boko Haram 

The governor says he believes the violence in his state is not the work of just Boko Haram. 

“We have three classes of Boko Haram. There is the original Boko Haram, the political Boko Haram and the criminal Boko Haram. Politicians have been funding young men to carry out attacks in order to achieve their selfish interests. Criminals are also taking advantage of the situation. I really doubt that the original Boko Haram is to blame for even 30 per cent of the attacks,” He said

They are attacks that have hit Damaturu really hard. The once bustling city is now largely deserted as thousands of its residents fled once the attacks intensified.

Security forces have blocked some of the town’s main streets and shops remain closed.

A dusk to dawn curfew and other emergency measures are making life unbearable for those who have chosen to stay.

Gun-toting soldiers have set up countless checkpoints and taken up positions outside churches, police stations and other locations that have previously been Boko Haram's targets.

The soldiers say they are here to protect the residents of Damaturu- but people seem united in their condemnation of the curfew and the militarisation of the streets.

Most of those who fled the violence in Damaturu and other parts of Yobe whom I met in neighbouring Bauchi state say they also fled torture and extra-judicial killings being committed by the soldiers.

It is a charge the government outrightly denies. 

Shifting tactics 

Loosely translated, Boko Haram means Western Education is a sin. The group has destroyed hundreds of schools in north east Nigeria. We found construction workers building new classrooms in a school in Damaturu that Boko Haram had burned down. Many see the government efforts to rebuild schools as futile as the group they say, will most probably burn them again. The governor disagrees. 

“They have done their worst and they have left. We have now gotten relative peace. We must ensure that our children must go to school. We can't sit down and watch our children staying at home wasting time without attending school” he said. 

Boko Haram have also attacked mobile phone masts across the north of the country - accusing mobile phone companies of helping security agencies to monitor its members.

Boko Haram’s tactics also seem to be changing.

Recently suspected members of the group set on fire a compound in Damaturu for Muslim pilgrims in the city.

A mosque, Islamic library and several other buildings were destroyed. It’s one of the first attacks of its kind against an Islamic place of worship – and it’s raising questions over whether the fighters, in addition to wanting to get rid of western education in Northern Nigeria, still want to establish strict Islamic law.