On front­line of Nige­ria’s ji­hadist war, nightlife fights the blues

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - By Celia Le­bur

At Hot Bites, the party is in full swing and there is beer, danc­ing and boy-meets-girl un­til cur­few time hits Maiduguri, the cra­dle of the Boko Haram ji­hadist move­ment. “We need to move on,” said 18-year-old Fatima, her al­mond-shaped eyes rimmed with eye­liner, tee­ter­ing on high heels with a dress sport­ing a plung­ing neck­line. “Maybe I can find my fu­ture hus­band here,” she said with a laugh. Nightlife is slowly re­turn­ing to the north­ern city, where the Boko Haram in­sur­gency erupted in 2009 and has since spread havoc and de­struc­tion across Nige­ria and its ad­join­ing coun­tries.

At Hot Bites, the trendi­est night­club in the cap­i­tal of Borno State, north­ern Nige­ria’s many cul­tures ca­vort, with dancers in veils next to writhing women in sexy glit­ter­ing dresses. Beer flows as in­dul­gent sol­diers watch on, tak­ing a wel­come break from the rigours of the front­line. Af­ter years of be­ing un­der siege, Maiduguri is at­tempt­ing to re­turn to nor­mal. The cease­fire has been pushed back four hours to 10 pm, and there are fewer po­lice­men and sol­diers on the streets. Boko Haram’s vi­o­lent cam­paign for a hard­line Is­lamic north has claimed more than 20,000 lives in Nige­ria alone and led to more than 2.6 mil­lion peo­ple to flee their homes. Teens like Fatima have spent half their lives liv­ing in fear: fear of be­ing ab­ducted, raped or killed, or hav­ing some­one in the fam­ily mur­dered.

‘I just drink beer’

But tonight, Fatima is out to snare a man, and has dropped her hi­jab to­ward that end. “I live with my grandma, so I can’t dress like that, she doesn’t even know I came here,” she said, adding: “I changed my clothes on the way.” Al­though Borno is con­ser­va­tive-Sharia was de­creed in the state in 2001 well be­fore the Boko Haram in­sur­gency broke out-Maiduguri has al­ways been more re­laxed, at­tract­ing youths from across the north seek­ing more free­dom and fun.

Chris­tians and Mus­lims party to­gether at Hot Bites, groov­ing to hits from Afropop stars such as Wizkid or Mr Ba­lo­gun, born more than 1,000 kilo­me­ters down south in La­gos, Nige­ria’s teem­ing sea­side eco­nomic cap­i­tal. Muna, her hair tucked un­der a black tur­ban and a cig­a­rette in hand, downs a third beer perched on a bar stool. “I just drink beer, I don’t take any­thing else,” she said, adding that many of her peers did drugs. Tra­madol-a pow­er­ful pain killer which is used by Boko Haram fight­ers and can lead to ad­dic­tion-is sold round the cor­ner. Heroin and co­caine are also eas­ily avail­able in Maiduguri, hu­man­i­tar­ian work­ers say.

‘Can’t live with­out mu­sic!’

But rev­el­ers at Hot Bites know that the con­flict is not over, that Is­lamist fight­ers are hid­ing out at the nearby Sam­bisa for­est and that they have to scrupu­lously re­spect the cur­few. Some hard­ened vet­er­ans lock them­selves in and party all night long over week­ends. “We are free to do what we want” in the pul­sat­ing night­club, said a 32-yearold of­fi­cial named Sun­day. “Ev­ery­body is wel­comed, ex­cept for Boko Haram.”

Hot Bites’ owner Ayo Deji or­ga­nizes pool­side par­ties with lo­cal artists on Sun­day af­ter­noons. “We suf­fered too much. Young peo­ple just want to re­lax and for­get the trou­bles,” Deji said, adding that Boko Haram mem­bers or their co­horts would spy on the young to see if they were ad­her­ing to tra­di­tional Is­lamic mores. “When Boko Haram was there, they for­bid us to lis­ten mu­sic. Even on the phone you couldn’t lis­ten to mu­sic or they shoot you,” he said. But that left him un­de­terred. “They can launch bomb­ing at­tacks, I’ve never stopped lis­ten­ing to mu­sic. We, the Nige­ri­ans, can­not live with­out mu­sic!” he said.


A pic­ture taken in Bama, north­east Nige­ria shows a fuel sta­tion de­stroyed by Boko Haram. The con­flict with Boko Haram in north­east Nige­ria has dis­placed more than 2.6 mil­lion peo­ple.

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