Sukur and Boko Haram
Everything changed in 2014 ... but while Boko Haram viciously assaulted Sukur and destroyed lives and properties, Sukur was not defeated. Boko Haram was never able to occupy or control the Sukur plateau, which became a center of refuge and resistance. The celebration of 'Ɓər, the biennial male initiation ceremony in August-September 2016, constitutes an important marker in the recovery not only of Sukur but also of its region.
The remainder of this page was written in mid-2015. It is retained for its historical significance.
This was THEN (2010).................and this is NOW (2014)
Interior of the chief's residence: on the left the late Hidi Gezik sits on the stone throne where he received visitors, on the right the same scene after the passage of Boko Haram. Photos: Stefan Kiehas and Simon Zira.
Boko Haram is responsible.
The Sukur web site tells the story of a people and a cultural landscape that no longer exist as they once did. On this page we tell a story of destruction. We are also attempting to do something to help -- not only Sukur but the whole area traumatized by an insurgency so bloody and violent that even Al Quaeda in the Maghreb has spoken against it.
If you wish to help or tolearn more go to bokoharamvictimsrelief.org, or read on and visit that page later.
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Boko Haram assaults Sukur
In May 2013, shortly after armed men believed to be Boku Haram shot 15 men in the Margi settlement of Midlu, a state of emergency was federally imposed upon Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states, but it was not until 2014 that Boko Haram began a series of attacks on Madagali Local Government Area with at least 161 residents killed in 11 reported incidents occurring between January and 13 December (and many more unreported and uncataloged, including some in the Sukur vicinity). According to the Nigerian Vanguard newspaper, Madagali itself, together with Michika and other towns, was overrun by Boko Haram on 7 September. On 6 October a Nigerian army and air force attack on insurgents occupying the towns of Bazza, Michika and Madagali resulted in "about 400" terrorist deaths. However on 5 January 2015 Vanguard reported the military as claiming that its failure to retake various towns, including Madagali, was due to the "need to reduce collateral damage". As if Boko Haram was not daily inflicting damage ....
Although Boko Haram had come near, they did not reach the Sukur wards (village quarters) around the northern foot of the Sukur plateau until 24 September 2014. On that day Boko Haram militants assaulted and occupied settlements around the foot of the Sukur plateau. These attacks impacted nearby Sukur, mixed and non-Sukur settlements such as Baba, Mefir Suku, Midlu and Damay Kasa. Crimes committed in the course of this assault included the killing of many men, the kidnapping of women and girls, the burning of large numbers of houses (compounds), and the wholesale theft of furniture, tools and other property besides livestock and stored foodstuffs. Many fled with little more than the clothes on their backs, forced to leave without their old and sick, who were subjected to forced "conversion" to Islam. As one informant (JL) put it, "Our people lives in the bushes now, most of the Baba people migrated or narrowly escaped to Sukur Hilltop, Kurang, Wula and some to the borders of Cameroon. They are in a harsh condition, no food, no clothing and no shelter. The amount of suffering they going through cannot be quantified or immeasurable."
The refugees scattered in many directions. Some regained the mountain settlements that they or their ancestors had left after 1925 when the end of slave-raiding allowed montagnards to take advantage of land on the plains. Others made their way to Taraba and Gombe states and as far away as Abuja and Lagos. The Hon. Saleh Kinjir, himself a Sakun and former Adamawa state Minister of Chiefs and Chieftancies and founder of the Kinjir Foundation, states that the foundation has registered over 3000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Yola and is assisting about 200 households.
According to the same source there are presently over 5000 IDPs on the Sukur plateau which in the 1990s supported a population of only about 3000. This more than doubling of the population resulted in a lack of accommodation, failure of the always inadequate health facilities, stress on water resources (despite recent well-digging by the Nigerian Commission on Museums and Monuments), a scarcity of diesel for grinding grain, and of food. Across the border in Roumzou, the nearest open market, an hour and a half's walk from Sukur, prices rose. No assistance was then or subsequently received from the federal or state governments, from international charities, or any other source besides the Kinjir Foundation and a few private donations.
Boko Haram had made an abortive attempt to raid the settlements on the Sukur plateau on 1 October 2014, but did not succeed. Then, on 12 December, their fighters came in force by night. Their actions on this occasion were described to us by a by a group of Sukur from Yola, amongst them the Hidi, a councilor, and the chairman of the Sukur Development Association. (They had reached Sukur via Mubi and Cameroon on 21- 22 December.) After killing a man and kidnapping a woman and a girl at the foot of the mountain, dozens of militants reached the hilltop at 3:30 am and began burning houses and stealing livestock and any goods they could lay their hands on and were able to carry or drive off. They also burned crops standing in the fields. The raiders shot men, women and children as they fled, and wounded the elderly mother of the chief, but it seems that the majority of those on the plateau, residents and refugees alike, were able to run and hide in the bush. After some hours on the rampage the insurgents retreated down the mountain, where, at this time, they are still in control.
During the raid some 173 houses were torched and on 13-14 December many of them were photographed by a young man (SZ). One of Kinjir's associates (JL) sent me the set of 140 images of which we include here a small sample. The "burning of houses" refers primarily to the destruction of thatched roofs and granary covers. In addition, the lumber supporting corrugated iron (pan) roofs was often fired causing the roofs to collapse, incinerating diesel grinding machines, furniture, tools, etc. in room and shed interiors. Other structures seriously damaged by fire include the residence of the Hidi (see above), an iconic element in the WH Cultural Landscape, together with schools, churches and the "gallery" constructed by the NCMM on the ceremonial area.
While, after the wholesale arson committed by Boku Haram, compound exterior stone walls and room walls remain standing and the mud domes over loft and standing granaries generally survive, the loss of the protection against rain provided by thatch and matting is disastrous. Huge quantities of grasses collected for thatching, matting and basketry, recently cut and stocked, were burned during the raid. More will not be available before next October-November, whereas the rains arrive no later than May. Without waterproof coverings the mud domes, only a centimeter thick at the top, will melt and the contents of granaries and lofts spoil. The burning of crops in the fields just as the harvest got under way was viciously cruel. Not only must the harvest be greatly reduced but the facilities in which to store it have been compromised. Besides the cessation of state health and education services, the threat of famine and epidemic disease hangs over Sukur and the region as a whole -- cholera has already arrived. Emigration might seem a possibility, but where could they go in a land under Boko Haram's control? Certainly not to Cameroon, which has its own refugee problems, is itself increasingly subject to Boko Haram incursions, and has refused Sukur entry.
Abandonment of Upper Sukur would definitely endanger the cultural landscape, since it is the economic and other activities of the inhabitants that created and maintain it. Conversely, the substantial reported increase in population occasioned by the arrival on the Sukur plateau of refugees from the lowlands will of necessity require changes in the nature both of settlement and of economic and particularly agricultural practices. Lumber for building, firewood and thatching grasses will be in high demand. This too must endanger the cultural landscape. Third, Boko Haram has by its actions, destroying and degrading traditional architecture including the Hidi residence (and very probably traditional shrines) directly interfered with landscape integrity. UNESCO has been notified.
UNESCO has finally taken notice of the situation and produced a document on the state of conservation of the Sukur Cultural Landscape which includes numerous suggestions and requests to relevant authorities.
In 2015 in response to this crisis, we incorporated a Canadian not-for-profit corporation, Boko Haram Victims Relief, intended both to raise funds for victims and to provide information on trustworthy partners on the ground for individuals and organizations wishing to provide relief in a humanitarian crisis that unfortunately continues. Alas, the little money that we were able to raise was out of proportion to the administrative and other efforts required. And so in 2016 we unincorporated while continuing to maintain the bokoharamvictimsrelief.org website for informational purposes.
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