• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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Boko Haram: Military onslaught rekindles hope for cross-border trade

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Cross-border businesses in the troubled northeast of Nigeria are gradually picking up following the ongoing onslaught against the Boko Haram Islamic sect by the Nigerian Military, aided by combined forces from neighbouring countries, reports BD SUNDAY.

It would be recalled that Boko Haram fighters had launched an offensive on Monguno in Borno State from different directions and eventually captured the town and other towns which the Nigerian Army later secured after fierce battles along with other northeast villages such as Marte, Baga, Doron-Baga, Mile 4, Mile 3, Kauyen Kuros and Bunduram communities from Boko Haram occupation.

Cameroon’s army has also been heavily involved in the ongoing campaign to get rid of terrorists in the region with its government claiming that it recently killed 143 Boko Haram fighters, the biggest defeat it had inflicted on the Islamist group according to Issa Bakary, the country’s government spokesman.

Also recently, the Chadian Army in a statement said it killed 207 Boko Haram members in clashes near a Nigerian town close to the border with Cameroon, adding that a Chadian soldier lost his life in the process and nine others wounded in Gambaru, the scene of regular attacks by the insurgents in recent times.

Niger, Cameroon and Chad had launched a regional military campaign to help Nigeria defeat the Boko Haram insurgency, which aims to carve an Islamic emirate out of northeast Nigeria. Idriss Deby, the Chadian president, had penultimate week during a briefing with his visiting Niger counterpart, Mahamadou Issoufou, boasted that he knew the hideout of Abubakar Shekau and vowed that the leader of the terrorist group would be killed if he fails to surrender.

Yakubu Maina, a resident in Maiduguri who spoke with BD SUNDAY, said the Borno State capital, founded in 1907 as a military outpost by the British Colonial Administration, was now maintaining a peaceful outlook and gradually being populated by Nigerians resident in Cameroon who had abandoned their businesses since the insurgents began its fierce campaign against the Nigerian Government and traders who had fled for their lives.

He, however, admitted that the sales of ladies’ hair extension and Nollywood movies were the main businesses readily available for these ‘returnees’ in Maiduguri, saying that agricultural produce was currently ruled out of export as far as the northeast was concerned because many farmers in the region had either been killed or displaced.

“You know majority of the residents of these villages which were attacked and captured by the insurgents are farmers by profession. The implication of this is that there is a huge shortage of agricultural produce. Our people in Kano and Kaduna have also shown readiness to start bringing food items here. We are very happy with the latest development. We hope it will be sustained and the insurgents destroyed and never to rise again,” he said.

Manasseh Jubril, a Nigerian who primarily based in Cameroon but involves in business activities between Chad and Niger, said that he was cordoned off while in Zinder, a region in northern Republic of Niger when the insurgents attacked a nearby village in Yobe State.

Jubril, who spoke with BD SUNDAY via telephone from Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, on his way to Maiduguri to connect Cameroon, postulated that cross-border business activities may soon witness ‘light’ at the end of what he described as ‘long and dark tunnel’ due to the aggressive stand he said the military of both Nigeria and its neighbours have taken to flush out terrorists in the sub-region.

“I think our soldiers and that of our neighbours who have decided to take a stand with Nigeria against Boko Haram deserve more than applause. I have been doing business across these borders for nine years, until the insurgents put a hurt to it. The borders had become very dangerous with cross-border business activities coming to an end. What I saw on my way from Zinder and Diffa  in Niger to Yobe State has really given me a lot of hope that border business may thrive again soon. Though, soldiers everywhere, those doing legitimate business have nothing to worry about because they would not be unduly harassed once they can identify themselves and where they are going. It is a big hope for us who depend on these borders for survival,” he said.

Explaining further, he said the sales of Nollywood movies in neighbouring countries in the north were among the businesses that are currently been hampered by the activities of the insurgents, particularly in border communities where some traders had been ambushed and killed while trying to gain access to either Chad, Niger or Cameroon.

“These northern neighbours (Nigeriens, Chadians and Cameroonians) so much like Nollywood movies. Even with the advents of movie productions by some of these African countries, Nollywood movies were still in high demand before Boko Harm scuttled our movement.  As for Niger and Chad, the coming on board of local movies in Hausa language was something they could really relate with because their culture is similar to what we have in northern Nigeria. You know, one of the challenges facing Nollywood industry both within and outside Nigeria is distribution. Once insecurity is adequately taken care of, legitimate distributors of Nigerian movies and other items across these borders would be able to do business. I pray that they sustain the current tempo of victory,” he said.

Jubril also strongly advised against the influx of illegal immigrants from neighbouring countries into the northeast, saying the locals in border communities believe that willing emigrants from Niger, Chad and Cameroon can venture into Nigeria through thousands of routes that have no gate, police and Customs or Immigration officers to man them.

“It is equally through the same unmanned borders that smugglers, peddlers, traffickers and other sundry offenders troop into Nigeria from Sudan, Central African Republic, Mali and Libya. This is really where the main challenge is for both the Nigerian Army and other security apparatuses and the security forces of our neighbouring countries. You can see the result of the current synergy. That is the main secret of the current victory because Boko Haram no longer has any place to hide in Cameroon, Niger or Chad after committing a crime in Nigeria. Nigeria may have acquired new weapons but it would have amounted to nothing without the corporation of these neighbours. This corporation is the major way forward as we seek to revive businesses across these borders,” he advised.

The African Union last month had authorised the creation of the regional force, which will also include Benin, and the organisation is at the moment pushing for a United Nations Security Council mandate for the operation.

Mu’ aza Isa Mado, General Secretary, Fish Producers/Marketers Association (FPMA) in Baga Motor Park, said residents are gradually returning to the community following its retake by the Nigerian soldiers recently, emphasising that trans-border traders though hopeful with the unfolding event, were however, still patiently studying the situation.

He said: “As I speak to you now, I am in Baga. Things have started taking shape little by little, thanks to our soldiers who came to rescue our town from Boko Haram. Security in the area is very tight. But business activities has picked up in Baga Motor Park. Soon we will start moving goods to Chad, Niger and Cameron if the current progress is maintained. Everybody is cooperating with the soldiers and the JTF because we are hoping for full restoration of business activities”, he told BD SUNDAY via telephone.

NATHANIEL AKHIGBE