Residents Speak On Everyday Life, Business Pains
MANY a Nigerian might recall with nostalgia memories of Maiduguri or even Borno State in its entirety. These were days when residents went about their businesses in the hot semi-arid climate without fear. Today, the city basks under scorching apprehension, yet not without hope that someday the peaceful past would return, as the traumatic present melts to the past.
Hit by the Boko Haram insurgency, which has claimed thousands of lives, Maiduguri-ans have to sift every day with the mesh of utmost caution. Every activity has, first, to be calculated in a risk versus benefit analysis; the trepid total being what may quickly be achieved before the next bomb blast or burst of gunfire.
For security reason, the real names, location and other details of the respondents have been concealed, as they lift the curtain on what life is like in Maiduguri.
The family of Hassan Isa, an entrepreneur, has taken a hard knock from the insurgency. “As I speak to you,” he said, “I parted ways with my parents in April 2013. And up till date, I have not seen my father, younger brothers and sisters. I cannot even travel out of Maiduguri to see them, neither can they come and visit me, here.”
Isa is equally aware that besides effects on his immediate family, the society has also been taken back many years. He said: “Primary and secondary schools have been closed for over a year. This is a huge setback to the education of our children. The insurgency has brought us a lot of grief and underdevelopment in Borno and the entire North East of the country. But the people of Borno are the worst hit, with the killings of many of our children, parents, guardians, and traditional and religious leaders in the last five years. What Boko Haram has stolen from our lives can never be regained, except by the intervention of God.”
Speaking of the fallout on trade and movement of goods, Isa explained that in the past, “goods were being transported to markets in other towns like Baga, Gambouru, Mallam Fatori and Damasak. In the last three to five years, however, this has not been the case. Goods are no more being transported to those places, except to Maiduguri via the Maiduguri-Damaturu road.
“Business activities have come to a halt, as there are no roads leading to Bama, Gwoza and Biu. People from Mubi who used to buy and transport goods and other household items no longer do so. Traders in the markets have witnessed dwindling sales in the last five years. Some traders have even been forced to bring down prices in order to make ends meet and keep their families alive.”
It isn’t Isa alone that feels the pinch of the insurgency on economic activities. Chukwu Obi, an auto parts dealer, has lived in the city for more than two decades. “I have spent 27 years, here. I did my apprenticeship, here, after I finished my secondary school education and diploma,” he said.
Obi thinks government could have done better in assisting the business community. According to him, “Boko Haram has affected all of us here in a very negative way. Our businesses are no longer viable. They are dying because of the insurgency. Government is not even heeding the plight of the business community. We trade under distressful conditions. Life is not safe in the city. We are struggling to exist, because all of us cannot relocate at the same time.
“Maiduguri is in a war situation. Business is not moving. No one gives you a credit line; you have to buy things with cash. You cannot even access credit from commercial banks. So, you’re on your own. And the government doesn’t help anybody, indigene or non-indigene, in matters of commerce. As a result, business in Maiduguri is down generally. If you were making, for instance N1,000 per day when things were all right, now, you might not make even N100. So, the slump in sales is more than 90 per cent.”
Like Isa, Obi lamented inability of business people to access communities outside Maiduguri. “Some routes to the local governments were accessible before former President Jonathan left office,” he said. “But now, that is no longer the case. Only the Damaturu-Potiskum road links Maiduguri. As a result, goods cannot be moved to other towns. Selling off goods has become a problem. No city can survive, business-wise, without the local governments and villages.”
A Christian, Obi goes to church on Sundays. But he does not enjoy the liberty many in the southern parts of the country have. Even worship of his Maker must be with the proverbial ‘one eye open. “I go to church on Sundays,” he said, “but the churches are heavily guarded; that is the few operational ones. Some churches have lost their buildings but the military and the police heavily guard the few that still conduct services.”
While many years of profitable business helped Obi get a house, the few years of insurgency ensured he fled from it to a safer location. He revealed that staying away from the lion’s jaws in Maiduguri requires being wise about where one lives and how one moves around.
“Many of the people are forced to reach a decision on where to live and where not to. It goes without saying that you are the wiser not to live in certain places. I had to abandon my private house for this part of the city after I received some threats. The idea is: in Borno, you have to choose cautiously where you live and also conceal your movement. You don’t drive around in a particular car everyday. Also, you have to change your route from time to time. Sometimes, you might even decide to leave the car at home and ride out with a friend.”
Obi is of the view that while there are actual insurgents making life difficult for the residents, there are also opportunists who hide under the cloak of insecurity to foment trouble. The insurgency has eaten deeply into the society,” he said. “When problems like these come, they do so with a lot of social ills, and lazy people, miscreants, use it to their advantage. So, you have to be very careful. Not everybody is bad. Some people are good. Some people really don’t like what is going on. But when you look at things closely, you realize that more than 95 per cent of the issues have political undertones.”
Obi is particularly pained over what he says is the political dimension to the crisis. According to him, there are questions that must be asked before the country can move forward.
“One keeps asking: why is it that this insurgency can’t be contained? Every now and then, precious lives are lost. There is this presumption that you are not an indigene and that you have limits. And our politicians are not doing anything about it. The courts also are handicapped. These things are happening and the politicians are aware. There is always a particular set of people whose goods are always being burnt, being targeted. Anytime there is crisis anywhere in the North, some particular people’s goods are targeted, and their lives too. Why? And we say we are one Nigeria!”
Asked whether he has friends or business colleagues who have lost their lives to the insurgency, Obi answered: “You can’t count them. They are too many. They are too many to count. It’s a massacre. Forget it! We are living by the grace of God. It’s a massacre! There is nobody, here, who has not lost a friend, a relation or a family member. You see them butchered.”
As a precaution, Obi said: “I don’t have my family members here with me. I moved them away since. You can’t leave your family here. That’s is a dangerous decision. They can only visit me.”
A mother of five, Hauwa Audu said the insurgency has crippled the economy of the state. “Apart from the incessant killings and displacements of people, many market women have lost a lot in sales. Right now, I don’t make N10,000 a week, unlike the N25,000 or N30,000 I used to make when Maiduguri was peaceful. At the height of the insurgency, sometimes we even returned home empty handed. The bombings and gunshots continued unabated until recently when President Muhammadu Buhari directed the Service Chiefs to end the insurgency in three months.”
Obi, however, thinks it would be unfair to say the military has not put in its best, given the peculiar challenges of anti-insurgency operations.
“In the interim, Maiduguri is not under pressure; it’s the local governments. The soldiers are trying. You can’t say they are doing nothing, because this is not an easy task. They are trying. They are doing the best they can under the circumstance. Remember that they don’t have a well-defined enemy or battle line; the people they are fighting live among civilians. That makes it difficult. But nothing lasts forever. One day, all these will be over.”