John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Thousands Flee Military and Boko Haram in Northeast Nigeria

by John Campbell
August 15, 2012

A man stands outside a burnt shed which housed a generator in Damaturu, Yobe state, North east Nigeria, November 8, 2011. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)


Damaturu, the capital of Yobe state, has been a major focus of attacks by Boko Haram, the radical Islamist group that, in effect, has declared war on the Nigerian economy. On August 6, a suicide bomber killed six soldiers. Since then, according to the press, the state security forces have responded with mass arrests of young men. One resident is quoted as saying, “the soldiers move about with a sack of handcuffs; they break into people’s houses and arrest youths, and nobody knows where they are taking them to.”

Press reports indicate that the fleeing population fears the security forces as much as it does Boko Haram. The Nigerian press quotes another resident as saying, “As a law abiding citizen I have nothing to do other than to pack my family and leave the town so that the army and the Boko Haram fighters would have empty space to use as a battle field; so I would not allow myself to be killed by the JTF (the army’s Joint Task Force) or Boko Haram fighters.” Flight is also encouraged by the fear that Boko Haram will launch an attack in the town during the current end-of-Ramadan holiday, Eid el-Fitr.

According to the Nigerian press, some 60 percent of Damaturu’s population has fled, mostly from the poor parts of the city. (According to the 2006 census, the city’s population was 44,268.) The press reports that the state government is largely closed: “All the policy makers in the state have left for lesser hajj, not even the governor is around; the commissioners are not around; state assembly members are also not around…heads of service and local government chairmen have all left with their families.”

Eid and the lesser hajj may be the reason so many state officials have left; they are also likely afraid of Boko Haram, which targets officials.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Chike Chukudebelu

    This is an extremely sad event, but what is sadder is the lack of empathy by other Nigerians.

    The reasoning goes like this “nobody bothered when the Igbos were devastated by the Civil War” or “when the Niger Delta was ravaged for forty years” or “when Odi was sacked”. “So why should we bother now?”.

    It is wrong and should be discouraged, but it illustrates how little impact this news has on the bustling cities of Southern Nigeria.

  • Posted by Zainab

    It is absolutely sad, tragic and frightening to find out that a staggering 60% of the population have fled Damaturu, Yobe state. People have also been fleeing Maiduguri, Borno state en-masse.

    Putting aside political-economy considerations of how the economies of these states and indeed the North-East region are being pummelled to lifelessness, there’s a whole new dimension to this insecurity saga, that is, the North would soon have a humanitarian crisis on its hands if things continue happening this way. Where are all these people fleeing to? This is a very grave situation.

    What is baffling, perplexing and utterly infuriating is the apathy exhibited by government officials who in this difficult and trying period decided to “jet-out” for the lesser hajj, while Damaturu residents are either held hostage, incapacitated by fear or gunned down and bombed to death. Tragic!

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