Nigerian fishing community on edge after jihadists threaten attack

By Thomson Reuters Jun 10, 2024 | 11:37 AM

By Ope Adetayo and Ijasini Ijani

ABUJA/MAIDUGURI (Reuters) – Nigerian fisherman Modu Umar has hardly slept for two weeks, torn between staying in his Baga community or fleeing after Islamist militants warned residents to leave their homes or face an attack.

Umar, a 33-year-old father of three, has known no life but fishing in nearby Lake Chad and selling his catch in the four countries around it. Now, like hundreds of other residents, he is anxious about his future.

Five Baga residents said fighters from Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), a Boko Haram offshoot, attacked the community on May 27, killing 15 people and abducting many more.

Days later, the group issued a 14-day eviction notice that has rippled through Baga, which in the past has witnessed battles between the multinational forces of Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria and Niger, and jihadists.

“We are in a difficult situation and helpless,” Umar told Reuters by phone. “Ever since the notice, I have been constantly worried and in fear.”

Many residents have already left, although an estimate was unavailable.

President Bola Tinubu came to power last year promising to end widespread insecurity, which includes the Boko Haram insurgency that started in 2009.

Baga is part of Kukawa, one of the 27 local government areas in Borno state, the heart of the insurgency.

The town is headquarters to a brigade of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF). But that offers little relief for residents. In January 2015, Boko Haram carried out a series of raids on Baga, overran the MNJTF headquarters and killed dozens of people.

Defense spokesperson Major General Edward Buba did not respond to requests for comment.

Modu Massah Baga, 39, provides for his two wives and eight children from fishing. Now he is worried he may have to give up his means of support.

“How can you just leave where you have a source of livelihood and go to where you don’t know? It is disheartening to us because many are afraid and worried,” he said.

“This is the only place we work to feed our families.”

Baga has also seen intra-jihadist fighting between ISWAP and Jama’tu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (JAS), another Boko Haram remnant that has since last year been seizing islands in Lake Chad previously controlled by ISWAP, security experts say.

This fighting could have triggered the eviction notice, the experts added.

“ISWAP is sometimes more aggressive towards civilians in the Lake Chad communities when it is facing setbacks because it has to resort to terrorizing communities in order to deter them from working with either the military or a rival faction,” said James Barnett, a Hudson Institute research fellow who has written extensively on the insurgency.

(Reporting by Ope Adetayo, Editing by MacDonald Dzirutwe and Rod Nickel)