Working, living and dying in Boko Haram’s Nigeria

Yahaya Kabir, 52, used to work as an engineer for a state-owned radio station in Kaduna State, northern Nigeria. In April, Kabir lost a friend in a bomb attack carried out by the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram on the Kaduna offices of the popular Nigerian newspaper ThisDay.

Six people were killed in the attack.

The father-of-nine said it left him grieving for months and feeling unsafe to go to work. As a result, Kabir quit his job, left Kaduna and is currently unemployed.

But this is no isolated case. Kabir says that a considerable number of his friends and former colleagues have also resigned from their jobs and fled Kaduna because of recurrent violence which have left more than 185 people dead in the state.

“Kaduna is no longer safe. We go to work every day hoping our offices will not be blown up by Boko Haram,” he said.

Boko Haram is a shadowy insurgency group which operates in northern Nigeria. In the Hausa language, Boko Haram means ‘Western education is a sin’ while the movement’s official name is ‘Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad’, Arabic for ‘People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad’.

Boko Haram’s mission is to fight for the establishment of Sharia law across Nigeria. In the three years since it began its violent insurgency, Human Rights Watch estimates that about 1500 people have been killed by Boko Haram, and that at least half of those deaths took place this year.

Boko Haram first emerged publicly around 2002 in north-east Nigeria. As it grew, it began to cause increasing concern to the authorities until major violence erupted in the summer of 2009, resulting in hundreds of deaths.

Since late 2010, the group has been responsible for a brutal campaign of attacks targeting public offices and institutions and increasingly ordinary men, women and children, wreaking havoc across northern Nigeria.

Initially, Boko Haram incited sectarian violence and attacked Christians with clubs and machetes but the recent increase in the frequency and sophistication of their attacks supports claims that Boko Haram militants are attending training camps run by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

In 2011, for example, a suicide bomber detonated a vehicle packed with explosives outside the United Nations headquarters in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, destroying several floors and killing at least 18 workers.

Failed by the state

Abdulwahed Omar, president of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) – the largest trade union in Africa – said that the federal government has to do more to combat the violence and insecurity caused by the group. He told Equal Times that so far Nigerian security agencies have failed to protect Nigerian workers and citizens as a whole.

“Workers are no more safe in their places of work. We have reports of some of our members in the north relocating to other less volatile states,’’ he says.

He opined that the government’s failure to combat Boko Haram has also led to socio-economic deficiencies such as increased unemployment, a collapse in the education system and industry, as well as the destruction of infrastructure.

According to the National Bureau of Statistic (NBS), since the Boko Haram insurgency began, the rate of unemployment has risen from 11.8 per cent in 2009 to 23.9 per cent in 2012.

The Bureau’s statistics also reveal the huge gulf in unemployment between the north and other parts of the country. According to NBS data, the 10 Nigerian states with the highest unemployment levels are all in northern Nigeria.

According to analysts, the surge of unemployment, poverty and lack of education in the north is the genesis of Boko Haram menace.

In most northern states, the sect’s serial killings and bombings have destroyed economic and commercial activities.

For example, Inuwa Bwala, the Commissioner of Information for Borno State (where Boko Haram originate from), told Equal Times that it will take the state 20 years to recover from the impact of the insurgency.

He gave the following example of the Monday market in the state capital of Maiduguri: “About half of the 10,000 shops and stalls in the market have been abandoned by traders who have fled the city.

“Banks and their customers are also operating under [a] difficult situation and have reduced their business hours to guard against being attacked by members of the sect.

“There is no doubt that the crisis has taken its toll on our resources, on our business and on our economy,” Bwala confirmed.

Impact on Nigeria’s second biggest city

Since January 2012 when the sect launched its onslaught on Kano, the second biggest city in Nigeria after Lagos, life has not been the same in the city. In May, about 20 people were brutally cut down by bombs and bullets from suspected members of Boko Haram in a church inside the Bayero University Kano. The sect has also targeted bombed churches, markets and telecommunication offices, among other places in the state.

Local businesswoman Hajiya Ladi Inuwa said that the security challenges have had a major impact on both the private and public sector: “Investors who have been doing business in the city for ages are relocating their businesses due to the unending security challenges occasioned by frequent killing and bombings in the city,’’ she said.

The violence has even impacted on tourism. “The Durbar Festival in Kano which used to attract local and international tourists was cancelled [this year], and the state government lost huge revenues from this singular decision,” said Inuwa.

A World Investment Report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimated that Nigeria’s domestic economy lost billions of naira in foreign direct investment, owing to the activities of the Boko Haram.

“FDI flow to Nigeria fell to N933.3 billion in 2010, a decline of about 29 per cent from the N1.33 trillion realised in 2009 fiscal year,” the report stated.

It is estimated that 70 per cent of Nigerians live on less than US$1.25 a day but poverty is more prevalent up north, fuelled by the high rate of unemployment there.

“Some 40 million 18-25-year-olds are unemployed resulting in disempowerment, resentment and anger,” stated a NBS report on unemployment in Nigeria.

"The great disparity between haves and have-nots, between North and South, appears to be one major draw into insurgency.”

Comrade Abiodun Aremu, an activist with the pro-labour civil society coalition Joint Action Front (JAF), described the emergence of Boko Haram as a direct result of the government’s economic agenda.

“The government’s agenda of privatisation and deregulation promotes an atmosphere of general insecurity in terms of the number of people that are unemployed. [It is the] idle which have become a burden on society.”

According to Aremu, if the government could do more to tackle unemployment and improve social welfare among the less privileged, then it would have a huge impact on reducing the number of young men who join Boko Haram.

However, Nnamzi Asomugha, Assistant Director of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) said the government is already making an effort to combat the root of insecurity in the country.

He said through the NDE’s skills acquisition programme, the government plans on reducing poverty by training and empowering citizens with marketable skills which will assist them to become employed or self-employed.

“This would help to reduce unemployment, street begging and the high rate of insecurity in the country,” he stated.