Eyewitness Account:Maiduguri Under Fire By Abdulhamid Al-Gazali

“Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un. Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un”.

I took the courage to visit or more appropriately, pass through Gwange today after yesterday’s sad incident, to see for myself the truth about the damage said to have been caused by the Joint Task Force after one of their own was brutally killed. I have heard enough about the fracas and what has followed on the very day it occurred and I felt compelled to see the truth for myself at most the next day. I did and as I write now, I’m in a state of total shock and grief. If anyone, in the course of reading this piece, accuses me of scaremongering, well, I will pardon him. This is because what I’ve seen is absolutely incredible for anyone who has, even faintly, known how the place under reference used to be and no doubt it will remain as such until one sees for himself.

One of the most densely populated areas in Maiduguri is Gwange. Anyone who has known Maiduguri will simply tell you, without any reservation, that it is her heart. People never cease from moving around and the streets are always busy. For this night time in Gwange is as good as daytime. Shops are everywhere and are not closed until midnight, such that an outsider may mistake the place for a market. It is the largest town in the whole of Maiduguri. Many of us who have grown up here cannot even tell from where to where be the exact expanse of Gwange because it is very extensive. In fact, no one who has known Gwange will ever believe or even imagine that people will completely cease there one day.

And anyone who goes there now will have a complete change of mind. From passing through there, through the NUJ – Sabon layi junction and then through the UMTH highway, today, if not for the two old women I saw, one with a luggage in her hand, and the other a mattress on top of her head, trying to move out, I have seen no single human being. I’ve also seen more than ten buildings—shops and houses—burnt down. I did not count the houses and shops under lock and that was because almost all of them were. The few ones which were not could possibly be because the owners had no time to do so, but from the looks, you know that nobody was in. And seeing the scene, I knew the gravity of the risk I took and how lucky I was to have left the place safe.

What I have not seen, from all what I have heard is a dead body. This may have probably been because I didn’t go inside the main Gwange. Or they may have been already taken to the mortuaries.

After cruising through the UMTH highway, I took the Lagos Street route. At the side of the street, I saw many people trekking with heavy luggage, some of them one, some two, some mattress… and most of the people apparently could not, if not for the compelling circumstance on ground, carry such heavy loads. None of these IDPs(Internally displaced persons) seemed to have a certain place to go. You can sense fear, grief, pain, and despair in their eyes. I lost all sense of composure on seeing them, and you may notice that from the jargonization and mix up of points in this piece. It is utterly worrying, perturbing and distressing!

And it is even more worrying because the state government up to now has not even shown its concern over it, not to talk of providing refugee camps and feeding for the IDPs or calling the men of the JTF to order. It seems more like the news is yet to reach the government house. Because even after Isha’i prayer this night, as we come out from the mosque, we could see flames of fire burning from my location, over 10-15km away.

One apologist of the government who tried to explain why there was no reaction from the government house, ended up illuminating how blatantly unserious the government is over the plight of these people. He said that the governor has travelled out of the country, whether true or false. And how unserious! How sad, this is! Won’t he rush back?

Maiduguri is set on fire by two sides: the JASLIWA and the JTF, and sadly nobody is interested in doing anything about it. The few people who out of their concern rose to do something by drawing the attention of relevant authorities are at best debunked and get disobedience or other such things in return.

Today it is a crime to fall at the age bracket of 18 – 35. It is a crime to be near or around a scene of an explosion, i.e if you escape from getting exploded by the handiwork of fate. And now it is a crime to be a resident of Gwange because a soldier is killed, sadly! Be informed also that now, buildings—houses and shops—have joined JASLIWAJ (Boko haram)! “They” kill soldiers and throw bombs! So if you know your house is one, be reminded that “he” will be burnt whenever “he” kills a soldier or throws a bomb, if you don’t have money to pay for “his” damage.

However, on a serious (note), we share the pain of every soul that is done to death whosoever he is and condemn the act whosoever the perpetrator is. We equally share the pain of all those who are affected one way or the other by the unfolding incidents of the day.

There is no cause for narrating the sorrowful situation people in Maiduguri find themselves in now. What is most important now is how to help matters pragmatically: how to help these IDPs who are now clueless about where to go and what to eat. We are well aware that this is a duty upon us to come to the aid of these troubled people who suffer the punishment of a crime someone probably from other place committed (and possibly popped away), just because it was in their area. We stood in solidarity with our …folks in Riyom and Barkin ladi when they faced a similar incident. These people too need the same.

They need places to stay for the meantime; they need food, drinking water and other things such as soap, toothbrush, mosquito net etc. They need our help. By helping them, we will help give them some consolation, some sense of belonging, take off their trauma, and give them hope. Sometimes it could be you, me, or both of us.

The state government should kindly also help these internally displaced people with camps and feeding. They please should intervene and call the JTF to order to stop burning people’s houses and properties. And to the affected people, we share your pain. We hope you all get back to you homes sooner than later. God help us, Amen!

Abdulhamid Al-Gazali, 08051224561 ([email protected]

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