By Robyn Dixon
Los Angeles Times.
When Boko Haram invaded her village last year, the Islamist extremists burned the churches, destroyed Bibles and photographs, and forced Hamatu Juwanda to renounce Christianity.
“They said we should never go back to church because they had brought a new religion,” the 50-year-old said. “We were going to be converted to Islam.”
The head of the village, a Muslim, presented her with a thick nylon hijab to cover her head and renamed her Aisha.
She submitted, smarting with rage. Women who didn’t wear the hijab were beaten.
“When I went to the market, I wore the veil,” she said. “But at home, I took it off and prayed.”
The gunmen returned time after time to the village of Barawa, shooting people, burning houses and wearing down the resistance of the villagers.
In September, the attackers came again: 30 turbaned men with covered faces, big guns and camouflage clothing. Juwanda’s husband tried to flee but was shot in the chest and killed.
Horrors became commonplace for Juwanda: She saw a young man shot in the head as he fled along a rural track. She watched a neighboring woman weep bitterly as gunmen abducted her with her children.
“She was crying, but they told her not to,” Juwanda said. “The leader of the group told her, ‘If you cry, it’s useless. If you don’t cry, it’s useless.’ ”
In the last year, the government has lost control of vast swaths of the country’s northeast to Boko Haram with barely a fight.
In a military-style campaign, the extremist militia has raised its black flag over villages, driven Christians from their farmland and houses, and dragged people from cars at roadblocks, killing “infidels.”
Boko Haram’s insurgency has killed 12,000 people and shattered the northern economy. Schools have been shut down because of attacks that have seen hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped and schoolboys burned alive in their dormitories.
The crisis encapsulates Nigeria’s myriad problems: its poor governance, its corruption, its abject neglect of the mostly Muslim north, which for years has been the poorest region of the country.
The military’s violent, scattershot approach to the insurgency alienated the public and helps explain how Boko Haram was initially popular in its sweep through the northeast.
Support for Boko Haram has waned as its attacks on civilians have grown more ruthless. But Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, and the military, lacking the capacity and apparent will to resolve the security crisis, remain deeply unpopular in the north.
Nigeria spends $5.2 billion a year on security, but because of endemic corruption, much of that doesn’t make it to the military’s coffers.
“The army is unable to fight the war. The police are unable to maintain security,” said Clement Nwankwo of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center, a think tank in the capital, Abuja.
“To me there are only two responses. Military force: Subdue them. And good governance. You’ve got to deliver development. You’ve got to end corruption. That’s what brings it to an end.”
The attacks by the militants intensified last month.
When Boko Haram assaulted a village called Attagara, Michael Yohanna said he and others begged military commanders to defend it.
“They said they had not been given a command,” said Yohanna, an activist in the town of Gwoza. “Even as the attack was going on, they never came.” He said at least 150 people were killed in Attagara.
“As I’m talking to you now, no army has entered there,” he said. “The insurgents came in military vehicles with an armored personnel carrier. They went to the central church and ordered a man to gather people. Then they just shot them.
“Women and children are just languishing in the caves and hills,” he said. “There’s no food. The insurgents looted all the food, they looted all the property.”