Just Another Bloody Day In Northern Nigeria, As Thousands Flee Their Homes, ‘Human Flesh’ Liter The Streets

By Amako Nneji May 29, 2018 11:04

Just Another Bloody Day In Northern Nigeria, As Thousands Flee Their Homes, ‘Human Flesh’ Liter The Streets

We read the headlines everyday. Bomb blast kills so, so. We cringe, flip the page, click on to some other story. We have become so used to that four-letter word, we do not give it a second thought.

Maiduguri simply forces you to give it a second, third and fourth thought.

It has been at the heart of the battle against Boko Haram terrorists. The group flourished there, migrated to another part of Borno State, took root in Sambisa, threatened neighbouring Adamawa and Yobe States as human flesh litred the streets.

Its bombings and attacks were more frequent in Borno—more than half of them. They are so common, Maiduguri residents have coined a phrase for the blast. They call them a ringtone. “Ringtone ya tashi” is Maiduguri’s slang Hausa for “A bomb has gone off”.

Now Maiduguri is returning to normalcy and safety. Military checkpoints abound; army green jeeps are visible on streets; civilian joint task force man checkpoints.

Maiduguri is also a city of alphabets. Up to 50 nongovernment organisations have a presence in the city, providing a humanitarian response, extending their reach to Adamawa and Yobe. At least one in five cars or SUVs you see has the logo of some NGO.
So it was with a sense of some safety I visited Haleri, a community of internally displaced people near Maiduguri’s abandoned railway station.

The station featured prominently in the starting days of the Yusufiyya movement, which would later morph into today Boko Haram.

Baga market in Maiduguri has been bombed several times but remains bustling On my way back, I passed Baga market. The target of several bombings, the market has bounced back and bustling.

Traffic into town was unusually heavy. That’s when we heard the bang. Ringtone ya tashi.
I called my colleague based in the city for something entirely different. Omirin Olatunji confirmed my fears.

“There’s been a bomb blast,” he said. The Journalist in him was at work. He was putting out calls to confirm the exact location. Stay safe, he warned.

It was 5.25pm and Boko Haram was on the offensive. The attackers rode in large utility vehicles and on motorbikes; they stormed through Molai axis, shooting unhindered. It was an incursion. Instant reports called it an invasion.

Residents began to flee from Polo area of the city, soldiers on the street included.
They fled toward Old GRA, Damboa Road and Madinagari area. Women, children and the elderly running, trekking, crying, panicked.

The attack was so close to home. After three threats to Daily Trust, some of its staff had relocated to parts of the GRA where Boko Haram had never attacked. But this attack drove residents out of there.

My colleague called to find out if I was safe, then delivered his own bombshell. “I can’t find my family,” he said.

His wife and kids had joined residents fleeing from the neighbourhood. In a matter of seconds, the fleeing figures disappeared, the streets cleared, the gridlock melted away. I found myself near a military checkpoint. And the military had begun to respond to Boko Haram’s gunfire.

It had taken up to a half hour for the response, but when it came it was deafening. The military post where I have let off some warning shots as if to say we are here. More warning shots sounded far away.

However, the main action was the sound of war, the battle between Boko Haram and soldiers.

The gunfire came from two directions, suggesting fire and response. One side lets off a volley of shots, the other side responded. With darkness falling, I saw glowing projectiles streaming in arches across the sky, bullets glowing red, travelling at high velocity.

Hostile environment training mentions something about a roof and a wall when dealing with flying bullets. I was standing in open air. I found both a roof and a wall. Other people had joined me to wait it out.

One couple, just married under a month, were settling down for the evening when the shootings began. They came in the shorts and t-shirts they still had on, straight to a guest house where their office accommodates international staff on a mission in Maiduguri.

“GRA has never been attacked. It is surrounded by barracks. But when you see people fleeing, do you stay?” he told me, a fellow in panic.

“I would have stayed, just shut my gate and door and take my tea. But my wife couldn’t. So I had to take her away.”

An entire family joined—father, mother and five-year-old daughter. The woman had told her daughter they were going out; the child took to talking about cartoons, then watching Jungle Book.

The streets had emptied. No humans, no vehicles. No way of getting back to my hotel in Wulari. There was nothing I could do. I joined the shelter-seekers and holed up with them. My phone battery was 85 percent low on juice. But it was enough for me to file some lines. You gotta do what you gotta do.

With plenty of time to kill, we began to bond, getting on like a city on fire.

“But the military keeps saying we’ve broken Boko Haram,” I prodded.

“This is child’s play. If they really mean it, they would enter the city unstopped,” my new friend said in awe of the group.

It is shocking living through a bomb explosion and sustained gunfire fight from two sides. Every loud bang seems like another blast. Every pop sounds like a bullet.

The intensity of gunfire exchange lulled. The silence was replaced with the roar of military aircraft shrieking in the sky.

Military jets roared toward the approximate site of the shooting, and then followed the thunder of detonating payload. Artillery, mortar. Sustained aerial bombardment.

Meanwhile, the information superhighway lit up with streaming kilobytes of data.
The military release I would later see mentioned the attack was on the outskirts of the city.
One army release said not to panic and to “discountenance rumours of Boko Haram presence.” It enjoined us to “please remain at home and be vigilant.”
“The security situation in Maiduguri is under control,” Colonel Kingsley Samuel, deputy director Army public relations, said in the state statement.

CJTF man checkpoints that have split the city into sectors Another statement from Operation Lafiya Dole celebrated successfully repelling Boko Haram incursion into Jidari Polo of Maiduguri.

It took the air force, police, civil defenders, civilian JTF mobilising to go after the terrorists, dominate the area and begin patrolling Jidari, theatre commander of Lafiya Dole Maj-Gen Rogers Nicholas said.

He said a resident who has fled the area were free to return and encouraged to report to security agents patrolling the area any person they thought suspect.

One resident would later recall how he saw soldiers running from the insurgents’ direction.

“In fact, I boarded the same Keke Napep with one of the soldiers because there was pandemonium everywhere,” he said.

Calm returned but the city remained quiet. My colleague called again, and this time he had good news. He had seen his wife and two children, reunited. He was having dinner, he said.

I slept after midnight, woke up at 2 am and waited till 8 am. The city had roared back to life.

It was a humbling experience. But Maiduguri had already shaken it off.

The ubiquitous Keke napep’s tooted through the streets. I caught one and find my way back to my hotel. The “mai shago” had opened his shop selling tuck and cooking noodles; women fried “masa” by the roadside; children raced on bikes. Like nothing had happened. Just another day.

Written By Judd-Leonard Okafor, @judd_leonard.

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