Kano - One year after a massive attack ranked among
the worst in Boko Haram's six-year insurgency, the residents of Baga in
northeast Nigeria say their home is a ghost town.
The jihadists razed the fishing hub on the shores
of Lake Chad in a four-day assault beginning January 3 last year, forcing
thousands from their homes and killing hundreds of others.
Unlike other Boko Haram attacks, which often go
virtually unnoticed outside Nigeria, the Baga massacre made headlines around
the world after it was reported 2 000 people lost their lives in the raid and
Amnesty International released satellite images showing the ravaged town.
With its charred houses and shuttered businesses,
it is hard to believe Baga used to be a lively trading centre of 200 000
people, where merchants would travel to sell cattle, leather goods and trade
"Baga is still deserted, we are all living in
camps and homes of friends and relatives in Maiduguri because we are scared of
returning home," Muhammad Alhaji Bukar, a displaced Baga resident, told
The Nigerian military reclaimed Baga in March and
troops patrol its dusty streets today.
But the town's enduring emptiness – under 1 000
people are living there now – highlights how difficult it is to get people back
home and restore peace to the battered northeast region.
In June, destitute residents of Baga and
surrounding villages started trickling back to fish, encouraged by military
victories winning territory back from the jihadists.
The fishermen would sell their catch of catfish and
African bonytongue in the key northeast city of Maiduguri, the spiritual home
of the insurgency and the restive capital of Borno state.
In the window of calm, about 5 000 residents
returned to Baga. But the peace did not last long.
In July, Boko Haram ambushed a lorry carrying
people returning home, killing eight Baga residents.
In the days that followed, the militants slit the
throats of several fishermen and killed farmers who had returned to harvest
‘We can’t return’
The Nigerian army and forces from neighbouring
countries, have over the past year been able to flush Boko Haram out from
captured towns, but is not able to stop the jihadists from regrouping in the
surrounding villages and bush.
Spurned not crushed, the militants had found cover
near Baga in the little islands lined with tall grass that dot the freshwater
As Bukar Kori, head of the Baga's traders union,
put it: "We can't return to Baga yet, it is still not safe, especially
with Boko Haram lurking on nearby islands."
Today, an estimated 700 people are living in Baga,
with the majority the town's former residents staying in Maiduguri.
Its population has almost doubled from two million
since 2009, when Boko Haram embarked on its bloody quest to establish an
independent Islamic state in Nigeria.
The extremist insurgency has forced over 2.5
million people – just over the population of Paris – living in the Lake Chad
Basin to flee from their homes, according to a December report issued by USAID,
a United States government humanitarian agency.
While the Nigerian government insists that Boko
Haram has been "largely" defeated going into 2016, the jihadist group
continues to wreak havoc by sending out suicide bombers, sometimes in droves.
Last Sunday in an attack lasting 48 hours, the
militants invaded Maiduguri unleashing "dozens" of suicide bombers,
killing 22 people.
The Nigerian government has acknowledged the
monumental task of getting displaced people like those in Baga back home, but has
not yet given a concrete plan on how to tackle the issue.
"There is still a lot of work to be done in
the area of security," President Muhammadu Buhari said in a New Year's
"This government will not consider the matter
concluded until the terrorists have been completely routed and normalcy
restored to all parts of the country."
Boko Haram's insurgency has killed 17 000 people in
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, damaging millions of dollars of
infrastructure at a time when the country is facing a cash crush as a result of
the plunging price of oil.