Ever-present Boko Haram threat casts shadow in Niger

Boko Haram - ISWAP - ISIS - Islamic State

Seven years after the first Boko Haram attacks in southeastern Niger, the people of the city of Diffa do not even dare to speak the group’s name.

Residents live in a state of siege, scared and struggling with the economic impact of the Islamist threat.

For fear of reprisals, they speak of “insecurity”, “problems” or the “current situation”.

The fear is well founded, according to a security source who says Boko Haram supporters in the city are relaying information to the group.

Among the poorest countries in the world, Niger, which will hold presidential elections on Sunday, faces jihadist groups from the Sahel in the west and Boko Haram in the east.

“I don’t have 1,000 CFA francs (1.5 euros) in my pocket. I have been unemployed for four years, ”says Abdou Maman, 46, who has two wives and eight children to support.

“I manage the best I can. Sometimes I do business worth 3,000 or 5,000 CFA francs. Sometimes I don’t do anything and when you don’t do anything, you don’t eat ”, he adds.

In the last four years, the situation in the region has gone from bad to worse.

The inhabitants of Diffa live under a curfew, with a permanent military presence, fearing attacks – there were four in May – or suicide attacks, as in 2018.

In early December, an attack on Timour, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Diffa, left 34 dead.

The region has 300,000 Nigerian refugees and internally displaced persons from Niger.

Today no one can really give an estimate of the population of the city. In 2011 it had 50,000 inhabitants, a figure that is believed to have more than doubled in recent years.

“The lack of security has many consequences. It leads to job losses, a high cost of living … ”adds Abdou Maman.

“Fishing, agriculture, commerce. All of this is not going well (due to Islamist groups extorting and killing those involved in Diffa and the Lake Chad region) ”.

Small-scale trade with Nigeria is also not working due to the closure of the border.

“We are very afraid”

“With the curfew, the small street vendors must stop at 10:00 pm. The families live in hangars, the displaced but also some people who have lost their jobs ”, he adds, accusing the leaders of“ bad governance ”.

“Due to this lack of security, getting money is very difficult. Before, when there was peace, things worked very well, ”says a woman named Zenabou, whose husband, a farm worker, is blind and can no longer work.

She has six children to care for and travels up to 20 miles from home every day to sell condiments from a mat on the floor.

“We fight to pay back the credit. We eat with what we earn, sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t, ”he says.

“Before it was expensive, but now the price of everything has risen due to the lack of security,” he says.

“But above all, we are very afraid. We often hear gunshots. It comes from everywhere. We have to stay home. “

Some, however, manage to find a way to survive, such as the small merchants of the city or the innumerable yellow and black taxis-tricycles that make their way in and out of carts and donkeys in the streets.

“There are more people in the city, then more customers,” says Abdalla Maman, a taxi-tricyle driver.

However, he regrets the cost of smuggled oil illegally arriving from Nigeria to Diffa, where most transactions are in Naira, the currency of Nigeria, and not in CFA francs, the local currency of Niger.

“Before, gasoline came in huge tanker trucks. Now the border is closed, it is the small carriers who transport it in cans, without going through the border post ”.

Gasoline has risen to between 450 and 650 francs in four years, he said. But “business is good.”

Meanwhile, the authorities believe they are winning “the war” against Boko Haram and former Minister Mohamed Bazoum, one of the pioneers in the presidential elections, has even promised that refugees and internally displaced persons will return to their homes before the end of 2021. .

Get more stories like this at Twitter