This is to give an account of what is happening in Maiduguri in case all you have heard is a garbled sentence or two on a mainstream news channel.
Maiduguri Prison on Fire (Picture from Daily Trust - click for link)
What has happened has been misreported as “ethnic violence” which may bring to mind the “Moslem v Christian” clashes of the recent past. Early reports of many churches being burned in Maiduguri seem to be based on rumours (e.g. the first BBC report of all churches but one in Wulari being damaged) and the last I heard was that most Church buildings are intact (of course, this is hearsay on both sides). AMENDMENT: I have heard of a Christian Pastor being murdered and two churches being damaged since I wrote this.
The problem is with a loose knit group of Islamist fundamentalists and their violence is being directed to Police and other government agencies.
These people are sometimes called “Taleban” but have no links to Afghanistan. They are also called “Boko Haram” which means something like “Education is Taboo” because they see Western-style Education as Godless defilement. The leader for most of them seems to be a Mallam called Yusuf Muhammed. Funny enough, they have had a presence on the Unimaid campus for some years. They have been suspected of being involved in the 2006 riots and causing other trouble.
In the past the authorities have been fairly slow to close them down, preferring to watch them. But in the last few months they have been watched more closely by squads of policemen. The latest trouble seems to go back to six weeks ago when they went en masse to the funeral of a few of their number who died in a road accident. Police stopped the convoy and tried to arrest motorcyclists who were riding without crash helmets (!). The arrests turned into argument and – in the end – about a dozen of the sectaries were killed and some policement hurt.
Since then the group has been arming for a counter-attack. They seem to be targeting police stations and security personnel. The suspicion is that they want to grab more guns – particularly the AK47’s which are carried by some policemen – and they probably see it as appropriate revenge for the deaths of their associates.
There have been attacks in Bauchi, Biu, Potiskum and smaller disturbances elsewhere. A man died in Maiduguri over the weekend while in the process of making a homemade grenade in his house in Maiduguri and there have been widespread rumours of a battle coming.
The largest attack was in the night of Sunday/Monday on a Police Station in Maiduguri. It seems a lot of innocent bystanders suffered. A large number (around 100) of the sectaries have been shot dead and more arrested. It seems the attack was expected.
Police and army have gone on the attack. Mallam Yusuf’s house was attacked by tanks and shellfire has been heard all over the city. The latest story is that the house is destroyed and the occupiers killed.
There is a curfew which is officially dusk till dawn but no one is going out of their compounds unless forced by circumstance. No business activity at all. Many police and army are patrolling the city. There are roadblocks in abundance.
So far, the violence is mainly between Boko Haram and the uniformed authorities. Let us pray it doesn’t spread. Some links:
Daily Trust report
Leadership Nigeria article