The population of the town of Damboa in northern Nigeria has now become a mass of 15,000 internally displaced refugees. After the town organized a citizen vigilante effort to rid its region of the jihadist terror group Boko Haram, the terrorists returned, dressed as beggars, and ambushed the villagers.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Damboa was made an example last month as citizen arrest groups became increasingly popular in attempts to fight off the threat of Boko Haram. The Agence France-Presse first reported the assault on July 22, with few details. Nigerian police forces declared in a statement, “Security agencies are firming up deployment of troops in the entire area,” despite the fact that a complete absence of state security allowed Boko Haram to ravage the town. Additionally, they stated, “We are also going to reverse every form of insecurity in that area very soon.”
The details of the attack The Wall Street Journal provides are harrowing. Boko Haram members walked door to door, disguised as beggars, and asked for charity. Anyone who opened the door was viciously attacked. Gunmen, witnesses say, paraded around the town, yelling, “You thought we would never come? Well, here we are!” Residents say only the elderly who physically could not flee remain.
Damboa is not a unique example, but perhaps the largest, sending up to 15,000 people out to seek new homes. According to the United Nations, more than half a million people are currently internally displaced in Nigeria, due to Boko Haram. The WSJ notes that Boko Haram succeeded at such devastation by targeting increasingly large towns, killing larger and larger numbers, and reportedly now controlling most of the northeastern state of Borno.
The targeting of these vigilante groups began in May, as Boko Haram’s international profile grew when they abducted more than 200 girls from the town of Chibok, Borno. Some of those girls have escaped; others’ fates are unknown. This month, Boko Haram has increased its use of young women and girls, some as young as ten, to carry out terrorist acts, including suicide bombings. In an international act of defiance toward government officials, the group also kidnapped the wife of the Vice Prime Minister of Cameroon.
United States planes flying over Nigeria have found clusters of young girls who are being held together in rural areas, bringing some hope that the missing Chibok girls will return home someday. The news is the best to come out of the region in some time, despite constant reassurances from the Nigerian government that they are one step away from defeating Boko Haram. President Goodluck Jonathan, in Washington, D.C., to attend a summit of African leaders, assured Nigerians at their U.S. embassy that he would eliminate the Boko Haram threat “soon.”
Few in Nigeria appear to believe him. “There is no reason to believe that things will change because of the NCS’ ultimatum. Nor do I need to listen to new police chief Suleiman Abba swearing that he would deal with terrorists and other violent criminals,” writes Aniebo Nwamu, a columnist at Nigeria’s Leadership. In a scathing column in Nigeria’s Vanguard, Lanre Idowu writes that because the worst of the stories rarely see the light of day, it is as much national media’s fault as it is the government’s that little is done to fight Boko Haram. While attacking the media for being partly complicit in government inaction, Idowu writes, “Media managers have complained of the military’s unwillingness to embed their reporters in periodic sorties to conflict zones, especially those suffering from BHM. The military have always hidden under the cover of the unconventional nature of the war as not conducive to such ‘adventures.'”
With no government presence in Borno and little government trust in the rest of the vast country, Nigeria faces an uphill battle in the war against Islamist terrorism, one which even armed citizens have failed to win alone. Without dramatic action from the Jonathan government, few expect the onslaught from Boko Haram to abate anytime soon.