Paying The Price For Boko Haram Terror
People are suffering under the curfew; my job is now on the line, my boss is always bitter because these days I close from work at about 3 pm to enable me get home before 6 pm.” This was how Banji Olusola, a staff of one of the commercial banks in Abuja metropolis, explained his plight since the declaration of the state of emergency in Niger State, where curfew was imposed by the federal government on December 31 following bombings by the outlawed Boko Haram sect. Olusola is planning to relocate to Lagos if the situation does not improve.
But the case of Chukwuemeka Onyeji, a trader at Dei-Dei timber market is more pathetic. Onyeji said he could no longer feed his family because he has been forced to close his shop by 3 p.m since January so as to beat the 6 p.m commencement of the curfew. Even if he relocates as friends have suggested, he has to dip hand into his capital and what he has will not be enough to start a new life elsewhere. He is therefore caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
The declaration of the state of emergency in 15 local government areas across four states of the country is taking its toll on the residents of the affected council. Two weeks ago, political and religious leaders from Borno State were at Aso Rock, Abuja, to plead with the Presidency to relax the curfew imposed on the five local government areas of the state. Farmers in the state also said there was likelihood of food shortage because the curfew was seriously affecting farming activities. One of the farmers, Zabarmari Ibrahim Audu said the curfew had made it difficult for farmers to operate optimally in the state. He said farmers could no longer work in the evenings because the curfew stipulated that no individual should be seen outside beyond 7 pm. As most farmers usually go to their farms either in the early mornings or late evenings, when the temperature was low, he said the curfew had greatly reduced the number of hours farmers spent on their farms. Another farmer, Nuhu Gwarmai said some farmers had been forced to abandon their farms because of the curfew. A rice farmer, Babagana Kolo, from Dusuma quarters, reminded members of the Joint Military Taskforce, JTF, who are enforcing the curfew that the rainy season was fast approaching; a period he said farmer would be very busy for the farmers as many of them would be working late. “With the curfew in place, we are going to face challenges working in the farm.” He said. More still, he noted that the agriculture sector had been badly affected and many vegetable farmers had been operating at a loss because of the curfew.
The speaker of Borno State House of Assembly, Hon Abdulkarim Lawan has also called for the review of the dawn to dusk curfew imposed on the state to 7am -10pm because there has been an improvement in the security situation in the state. Incidentally, the curfew in Borno, considered to be the headquarters of the Boko Haram sect is from 7 pm to 6 am but in Suleja, the period is between 6 pm to 6 am. The curfew in the town became more intense following a bomb attack near Christ Embassy Church on February 18.
Members of JTF operating in the council were also accused of human rights violations. There were reported cases of molestation and physical assaults on people. A young lady was said to have been stripped naked, leaving her with only underwear because she used derogatory words on members of the team. Some drivers have had their tyre punctured because they attempted to circumvent the road block mounted at the checkpoints.
Since the imposition of the curfew on December 31 last year, the allocations due for the 15 local government councils have not been released to them. Two weeks ago, this attracted the attention of the National Assembly. Senator Ahmed Lawan representing Yobe north senatorial zone in a motion on the floor of the Senate, told his colleagues that funds meant for the council were not disbursed since the state of emergency was not declared. Senator Lawan said the denial of the fund had affected negatively on the security of the council areas. Citing Section 2 of the Proclamation, which provides that notwithstanding the proclamation, a chairman of any of the local government areas shall continue to administer his council subject to the order, instruction or regulation as may, from time to time be issued by the president, the senator wondered why the councils could be administered without the release of fund.
The Senate later passed a resolution urging the president to direct the release of all the withheld statutory funds for the affected local government areas with effect from December 2011.
The security situation in Yobe State seemed to have improved, leading to the relaxation of the curfew imposed on the affected local government areas from 10 pm to 7 am. There were no reported cases of human rights abuses by men of the JTF. Instead, there is a synergy between the army and the people to ensure peace in the affected councils. As a result of non-disbursement of funds to the affected councils, the Yobe State government has been proving money for the payment of workers’ salaries. Governor Ibrahim Geidam had said the money in the local governments-state joint account amounted to N10 billion, and directed the local government caretaker committee chairmen of the 17 local government areas of the state to submit proposal between N200 to N300 million for development projects in their areas. The commissioner for local government and chieftaincy affairs, Bukar Dauda said the state government had enough money to pay the salaries of workers in the affected council.
The situation is, however, different in Jos. Activities in the four affected councils have been grounded. Payment of staff salaries and other activities in the councils have been halted. Workers of the councils now engage in other activities to eke out a living. Most of their children have been out of school since January. The commissioner for local government and chieftaincy affairs in the state, Dr. Paul Wai confirmed that the affected council areas had not received their allocations since January this year. A resident of Jos, Andrew Aajjah lamented that the state of emergency had created more pains for the state as affected LGAs staff were wallowing in hunger as a result of unpaid salaries. Ajjah expressed fear that the prevailing hunger in the areas might spark off violence.
But while residents in the other 14 local government areas contend with only nonpayment of salaries to their workers, the case of Suleja is worsening everyday. Mallam Sabo Maliki, a trader at IBB Modern Market in the town, said the curfew was seriously affecting economic activities in the local government. Maliki, who said he had been selling fresh pepper and tomatoes in the market for the past 15years, noted that the market which had hitherto remained open till 9 pm to allow workers coming back from Abuja city to make some purchases, had collapsed. “Since the curfew we buy in small quantity to avoid losses,” he explained.
The restriction of movement is also taking its toll on big businesses such as fast food operators. Investigations revealed that four major eateries in the town namely, Mr. Biggs, Chicken ‘N’ Sides, Fine Day Restaurants, Lace Restaurants and Occeanic Bakery, which most residents patronise for confectioneries, had been recording low profit margins since the curfew was imposed. Mostly affected is Oceanic Bakery, as a military check point is directly in front of it, thus prompting most customers to avoid the bakery. The soldiers stationed there have on some occasions embarrassed customers, accusing them of wrong parking or venturing too close to checkpoint. Abuse of people’s human rights is common here. A commercial bus driver told this magazine that an old man of about 60 years old was asked to frog jump at the military checkpoint near Abattoir for allegedly being unruly while driving. Workers returning home from work after 6pm are often intercepted, discharged from their vehicles and asked to sit on the ground sometimes for hours or made to sleep in their vehicles till the following morning before they are released. Some residents of the town are considering relocating to ‘safer’ areas to avoid the harassment from the soldiers. Col. Abdul Usman, chief of staff, Directorate of Army Public Relations said he was not aware of the abuses by soldiers in Suleja but promised to get in touch with the head of the military deployed to the town for his response.
There were also reported cases of human rights abuse in Jos especially on Sundays, when soldiers are on. Despite the state of emergency in the state, bomb explosions have not stopped.
The curfew, however, has it good side. Some housewives said their husbands no longer keep late hours as was the case before the curfew was imposed. Mrs Zainab Ali, a resident of 505 Housing Estate, Dikwa-Ngala Road, Borno State, said her family hasd benefitted from the curfew because her husband now comes home by 5 pm and stays till 8 am the following morning. “Although the curfew has its negative side, my family is better off, because the children now have the opportunity of staying with their father regularly,” she was quoted to have told an online media.
Another resident, Mrs. Larai Ezekiel also said there had been increased family bond since the curfew began. “But now, he comes home early, prays with us before going to bed. He even monitors the movements of the children closely,” she added.
President Goodluck Jonathan had on December 31 last year, invoked Section 305(1) of the constitution to declare a state of emergency in the 15 local government areas across four states in the country. The affected local government areas are Maiduguri Metropolitan Council, Gamboru Ngala, Banki Bama, Biu and Jere in Borno State; Damaturu, Geidam, Potiskum, Buniyadi-Gujba and Gasua in Yobe State; Jos North, Jos South, Barkin-Ladi and Riyom in Plateau State as well as Suleja in Niger State.