Bosso, a city in south-east Niger, faced a brutal attack from Boko Haram a few months ago. The attackers knew their way and so, the people of Bosso say, some must have been from the city. Now, only eight months later, 10.000 people have returned to the city of once 35.000.
Bosso feels deserted. When you enter the city, you pass several armed soldiers. They came after Boko Haram, a Nigerian ISIS-alligned terrorist organisation, attacked the city in June of last year. ‘I feel safer with the soldiers here,’ says Boulla (37). ‘Safer than in the refugee camp.’
A few months ago, Boulla and her family returned from Toumour – a city that because of Boko Haram’s threats turned into a refugee camp. ‘Everything is better than staying in Toumour. Life is really hard there.’ However, life in Bosso is rudimental since the attack: electricity and telephone connection are still shut down. ‘They wanted to avoid Boko Haram using it,’ explains Viviane Van Steirteghem, head of Unicef Niger. ‘But what was initially done for safety, is now what puts the whole of Bosso in danger. What if there’s another attack? How will they communicate with the outside world? How will the warn they rest of Niger?’
The people of Bosso are afraid for new attacks. The terrorists invaded the city via the Komadugu, a river that separates Niger of Nigeria. Boko Haram is especially active in Nigeria, but every now and then they don’t mind crossing the river. Like that one evening in late June when the whole of Bosso was too distracted to be suspicious. ‘It was Ramadan and everyone was preparing a holy islamic ritual and that’s the moment we got attacked,’ one of the inhabitants tells us. ‘They knew their way. We must have known at least some of them.’
Farmers used to cultivate on the river banks of the Komadugu. However, months after the attack Boulla’s husband, Omar, is still too afraid to go back there. ‘He was a farmer. He would cultivate tomatoes, mais and everything else,’ says Boulla. ‘But because of Boko Haram the river banks have become too dangerous to cultivate on.’
Some have found new places to cultivate, using irrigation techniques they never used before. ‘It’s sad to say, but at least that’s something positive the threats of Boko Haram have brought. They have made people inventive’, explains Charlotte Arnaud, communication specialist of Unicef Niger. ‘They have no choice but to be inventive.’
‘Before they came, Bosso was prosperous’
Boko Haram didn’t take over the city and although that’s a good thing, it makes the locals wonder: ‘Why do they attack?’ Most think they need medication and food, others think they mainly want to sow fear and terror. Or has the group weakened because of the leadership split?
Nobody is sure, but Boulla hopes more people will return to Bosso. ‘Before they came, Bosso was a prosperous city.’ A Chinese company was even building a proper road to the city, but construction has been stopped indefinitely because of the terror threat. ‘People should return,’ is Boulla’s solution. ‘Within a year we will blossom again.’ She pauses and adds: ‘I really hope so.’
She’s not the only one with a positive attitude. To quote the Chef de Canton of Bosso: ‘Now it’s over. From now on, everything will only get better.’ But earlier one of Unicef Niger’s aid workers was very clear when he told us that Boko Haram isn’t over: ‘Boko Haram, ce n’est pas fini.’
In November 2016 I won the Belgian Unicef Young Journalist Award managed by Unicef Belgium and news organisation Stampmedia. A month later I visited Niger together with Philip Henon from Unicef Belgium, photographer Frank Dejongh, journalist Jesse Van Regenmoortel and people from Unicef Niger, including Viviane Van Steirtheghem (head of Unicef Niger) and Charlotte Arnaud (communication specialist).
Foto heading this article ©Frank Dejongh.