Kano (Nigeria) (AFP) – When Boko Haram Islamists raided a remote village on Nigeria’s northeastern border with Niger last year, frightened and confused residents fled into the bush to escape the marauding attackers.
But the locals got lost and in desperation called a radio station based hundreds of kilometres (miles) away in the commercial hub of Kano.
“The distraught villagers called our studios on a mobile phone from the wilderness and explained their predicament,” explained the head of radio station Dandal Kura, Umar Said Tudun-Wada.
“The information they provided was used by security operatives to track them,” he told AFP.
Dandal Kura has been on air since the start of 2015, broadcasting to residents who have been plagued by Boko Haram for nearly seven years.
It is the first outlet dedicated to the conflict and every day transmits three hours of programming on short-wave to the remote region’s ethnic Kanuri population.
Its 30 staff includes 11 reporters across the Lake Chad basin comprising northeast Nigeria, northern Cameroon, southwestern Chad and southern Niger — and its aim is simple.
“Our focus is to provide a voice to the over nine million native Kanuri in the Lake Chad area, particularly in Borno state, to lend support to the counter-insurgency efforts because the Kanuri ethnic group is the worst hit by Boko Haram,” said Tudun-Wada.
– Life-saving advice –
Dandal Kura, which has been backed by the USAID, currently has studios in Kano at a building which also houses the privately owned Freedom Radio, where Tudun-Wada used to be general manager.
But it is set to relocate its studios to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and birthplace of Boko Haram, as a relative peace returns to the conflict-hit city.
Dandal Kura in Kanuri means ‘big arena’ and aims to provide a platform along the lines of the traditional village square where people affected by the conflict can exchange views.
The bulk of Boko Haram membership is Kanuri, the dominant ethnic group in the Lake Chad region.
Boko Haram was founded in Maiduguri in 2002 and drew its support largely from Kanuri-speaking youth disenchanted with social inequality and the failure of political leadership.
The group used ethnic and linguistic affinity to recruit members among the local population, capitalising on anger at poverty, illiteracy and the lack of access to economic opportunities.
The radio station’s social media officer, Yagana Kachallah, said the broadcasts also have wider aims given the spate of bomb and suicide attacks in the region.
“There is the need to sensitise the people in the northeast, the victims of the violence, on how they should respond to the Boko Haram violence,” she said.
“Doing so requires speaking to them in their own language.”
Muslim clerics, for example, use 15-minute religious programmes to counter the Islamists’ extreme ideology to dissuade potential recruits from joining their ranks.
There is also advice on what to do when approached by a Boko Haram recruiter, tips on identifying suicide bombers and what to do in the event of an attack.
“These basic tips have helped save lives of people in the theatre of violence,” said Tudun-Wada.
As a result, people no longer cluster around scenes of suicide or bomb attack because of information broadcast about the risk of secondary strikes, he added.
– Overwhelming response –
Kachalla, who tracks listeners’ feedback on Twitter, Facebook and text messages, said the volume of response from the Kanuri audience took the radio station by surprise.
“We receive an average of 120 responses from our listeners every week,” she said.
Radio has long been the major source of news in Muslim-majority northern Nigeria, where literacy levels were low, even before the insurgency.
Broadcasters such as the BBC, Radio France Internationale (RFI) and Voice of America (VOA) capitalised on this and set up affiliates in the dominant northern language, Hausa.
But Tudun-Wada said the demand for Kanuri radio was also there — even beyond the Lake Chad region.
“We never knew there was such a huge number of Kanuri in Sudan until we were inundated with sustained requests… for representation… and we had to recruit a Kanuri reporter in Khartoum,” he added.
In addition, Boko Haram fighters have also tuned in and last September a man who identified himself as a rebel commander phoned in and took issue with the station’s reporting of one attack.
“With more funding from donors we intend to expand our reach by establishing FM stations across the countries in the Lake Chad region to strengthen the impact Dandal Kura is making in tackling Boko Haram insurgency,” said Tudun-Wada.