ABUJA — Nigeria’s new National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki says he is optimistic that a cease-fire between the government and the militant group known as Boko Haram could offer some relief to the embattled northern Nigerian city Maiduguri within the next few weeks. Some residents and local leaders say the fighting has crushed the city’s economy and forced many people to flee their homes.
Ibrahim used to live in a neighborhood next door to the mosque that was the home of the Islamist sect known as Boko Haram before it was demolished and the area became a war zone.
Residents of his neighborhood are literally caught in the crossfire, he says, with constant gunfire and bomb blasts.
His neighborhood is mostly abandoned and those that haven’t left mostly stay inside with their doors locked. “We feel that we have no other option if we want to stay alive than to leave the area, that’s why we fled,” said Ibrahim.
After three years of battle between security forces and the militants, local leaders say Maiduguri is almost on its knees. Bulama Mali Gubio is the secretary of Borno State Elders Forum. He says nowadays, many people in Maiduguri can no longer safely leave their homes long enough to pray in neighborhood mosques.
"Our markets and other places of business are no more," said Gubio. "Many people can no longer access schools for their children. All the things we held dear to our culture, tradition and pride are gone."
Gubio does not call the group Boko Haram, but by the name the group calls itself: Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati Wal-Jihad, or People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad.
He calls on both sides to lay down their weapons, and requests that security forces “drastically minimize” the presence of armed soldiers in communities. He asks militants to re-join society and promises their grievances will be addressed.
"We wish to appeal to you to consider the plight of your own people and consider bringing the situation under control. We appeal to you to lay down your arms, come back home, reintegrate yourselves," said Gubio.
On Friday, Nigeria’s new National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki, a northerner, visited Maiduguri to work with local leaders in hopes of ending the security crisis that has plagued Nigeria since Boko Haram began violent operations in 2009.
Boko Haram has been blamed for hundreds of deaths this year alone from attacks on government buildings, markets, schools, media houses and churches, including church bombings that sparked a new wave of sectarian violence in late June. The violence killed about 100 people between the bombings and the fights.
In a televised conference June 24, President Goodluck Jonathan said Boko Haram’s goal was to destabilize the government by inciting religious violence. He called for renewed dialogue, if the group is willing to present a public “face.”
So far, the group's communication with the public and with journalists has come almost entirely through phone calls and e-mail.
Boko Haram says its goals are to establish Islamic law and to free imprisoned members. The group has claimed ties to other clandestine militant organizations like al-Qaida.
Abdulkareem Haruna contributed to this report from Maiduguri.