Armed with charms, Nige­rian hunters take on Boko Haram

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Haruna Umar

MAIDUGURI, Nige­ria — Thou­sands of Nige­rian hunters, armed with charmed amulets and in­ti­mate knowl­edge of harsh ter­rain, are pre­par­ing an of­fen­sive against the Boko Haram ex­trem­ists who have rav­aged the north­east for a decade, call­ing it “high time” they help sol­diers end the deadly in­sur­gency.

Nige­ria’s gov­ern­ment dis­cour­aged a sim­i­lar of­fen­sive five years ago, call­ing it a sui­cide mis­sion. This time it has the back­ing of the gover­nor of Borno state, which has suf­fered the worst of the Boko Haram at­tacks.

It is a sign that Nige­rian au­thor­i­ties, who have re­peat­edly claimed the de­feat of Boko Haram, might be run­ning out of op­tions against the Is­lamic ex­trem­ists and a re­cent off­shoot that has pledged al­le­giance to the Is­lamic State group.

Borno state’s new Gov. Baba­gana Zu­lum, who in­her­ited the con­flict af­ter win­ning elec­tion ear­lier this year, said he is tired of ap­ply­ing con­ven­tional strate­gies against an ex­trem­ist group that has killed and ab­ducted tens of thou­sands of peo­ple and dis­placed mil­lions. The un­rest has cre­ated a vast hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis.

The gover­nor re­cently ap­proved the sourcing of at least 10,000 hunters to help end the fight­ing.

While Nige­ria’s mil­i­tary would not com­ment, gov­ern­ment spokesman Isa Gusau con­firmed that the gover­nor has de­cided to “ag­gres­sively ex­plore ev­ery law­ful means nec­es­sary in try­ing to put an end to the in­sur­gency” af­ter con­sul­ta­tions with key stake­hold­ers in­clud­ing el­ders and tra­di­tional rulers.

“We need all the prayers we can get, given the task ahead,” Gusau said.

The hunters are sep­a­rate from the civil­ian self-de­fense forces that have sprung up in north­east­ern Nige­ria to com­bat the Boko Haram in­sur­gency. Usu­ally in­her­it­ing their vo­ca­tion, the hunters are seen as the only group with in­ti­mate knowl­edge of the forests and other ter­rain in the vast re­gion near Lake Chad. They see their charms and amulets as pro­tec­tion from at­tack.

An As­so­ci­ated Press reporter re­cently vis­ited the camp where about 2,000 hunters have been wait­ing ahead of their march into the Sam­bisa for­est and other Boko Haram hide­outs.

More than 5,000 are be­ing mo­bi­lized from Nige­ria and re­gional coun­tries in­clud­ing Burk­ina Faso, Niger and Chad, said one leader of the hunters, Baba Maigiwa.

“The ma­jor­ity of our men have re­turned to their var­i­ous states and com­mu­ni­ties to go and bid their fam­i­lies farewell” but are on their way back to the Borno cap­i­tal, Maiduguri, said an­other leader, Ab­dulka­reem Umar.

“We are here be­cause the gover­nor is pas­sion­ate about end­ing this mad­ness called Boko Haram,” he said.

He said the hunters are be­ing fed by the Borno state gov­ern­ment as they wait for the of­fen­sive, and food and wa­ter have been de­ployed to var­i­ous lo­ca­tions that can be used as for­ward op­er­at­ing bases.

“We are so happy with the move the state gover­nor is mak­ing by rec­og­niz­ing the con­tri­bu­tions that the hunters can bring into the coun­terin­sur­gency war,” said an­other hunters’ chief, Maigana Maidurma. “We are ready to lay down our lives if that is what it would take to bring peace to our dear land.”

HARUNA UMAR/AP

A group of hunters gather at a camp in Maiduguri, Nige­ria on Oct. 8. Thou­sands of Nige­rian hunters are backed by the gover­nor of Borno state to end the deadly in­sur­gency.

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