Nigeria: Kano recovers from Boko Haram attacks

KANO, Nigeria — This historic city is still recovering from the wave of brutal Islamic extremist attacks that killed 185 people last Friday, and President Goodluck Jonathan's goverment is struggling to find a strategy to cope with the increased terrorist violence.

Jonathan visited the city just days after the bombings and he fired the police chief but much more is needed to quell the sectarian strife that has engulfed this northern city.   

The president sacked his chief of police Wednesday after the escape of a Boko Haram member, suspected of masterminding a Christmas day bombing.

More from GlobalPost: Nigeria sacks police chief in wake of deadly Boko Haram attacks

Kano shows many signs of the attacks. Police stations, immigration offices and the local headquarters of Nigeria’s secret police remain scorched and burned out cars are left in parking lots.

Inhabitants are trying to get back to business. Cars and achabas — motorcycle taxis — fill Kano’s sandy roads as traders man their stalls, selling everything from flip-flops to imaginative plastic lighters. Hawkers stand in line beside jammed traffic, selling drinks and sweets. Children walk to school as they do everyday.

“The people of Kano are resilient, they are businessmen and need to work. After the strikes, we have no choice but to come out, people are scared but we will move on,” said Sadiqu, a soap seller who talked about last week's attacks reluctantly, afraid of Boko Haram members who remain in the city.

The Islamist sect, Boko Haram, whose name in the Hausa language means “Western education is sacrilege,” has killed at least 935 people since it launched an uprising in 2009, including more than 250 people since the beginning of this year, according to Human Rights Watch.

More from GlobalPost: Nigeria: Boko Haram violence threatens nation

Boko Haram began with unsophisticated drive-by shootings, targeting drinking spots and authority figures. Its violence dramatically escalated last August when a suicide bomber rammed a car laden with explosives into the gates of the UN offices in Abuja, killing 25 people and injuring dozens more. Christmas day saw coordinated bomb attacks hitting several Christan churches and other places across the country.

Kano, Nigeria's second largest city with nearly 10 million people, is at the center of the crisis created by the upsurge in the violent attacks.

Once at the crossroads of the important trans-Saharan trade route, Kano became commercially successful trading leatherwork and cloth. It was one of the seven walled Hausa cities and became renowned as a center for Islamic scholarship.

Today, the city experiences vast extremes of wealth. Almajiris, boys who have been sent by their families to study the Quran but are sent by their schools to beg, flood the streets of Kano. Living in poverty with little education or prospects, they are ideal recruits for Boko Haram.

And the signs of Islamic militancy and rejection of the Jonathan government are evident. Following an attack on a police station on Tuesday by suspected Boko Haram members, a crowd descended on the area the following day.

Cheering youths outside the station waved an officer’s uniform and jumped on top of a burned out police truck. One wore a police ballistic helmet. Some in the crowd said they would kill any police officer who returned, according to Associated Press.

This latest wave of violence is suspected to be a result of new links between Boko Haram and other Islamic extremist groups in Africa, particularly Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

There have been widespread arrests of suspected Boko Haram members, but many believe the heavy-handed actions of the military has exacerbated the problem.

“The population in Northern Nigeria is caught between being targeted by Boko Haram and Nigeria’s counter-terrorism measures that fail to prevent, investigate, prosecute or punish these acts,” said Amnesty International in a press release on Tuesday.

In one operation on Jan. 24 a team of soldiers and plain-clothes security agents shot and killed Uzairu Abba Abdullahi, 32, and his pregnant wife at Hotoro Quarters, a Kano neighborhood. Abdullahi was suspected of membership in Boko Haram.

More from GlobalPost: Nigeria on the brink

People see a failing police force as part of a corrupt government and the recent attacks highlight the vulnerability and ineffectiveness of the Nigerian security services.

President Jonathan, speaking to Reuters on Thursday, said that military confrontation alone would not eliminate the terror attacks and that efforts should be made to help youths find jobs. Jonathan also said he was willing to speak with Boko Haram, once it established its grievances.

But finding out what the group wants is a bit of a mystery, and if Boko Haram is not willing to negotiate, the attacks appear set to continue and intensify.

People fear if Boko Haram is allowed to entrench itself in Nigeria’s ancient city of Kano, it will tear northern Nigeria away from the rest of the country.

It is clear that Jonathan knows there is no quick fix to the festering problem, but part of the answer must be to curb the recruitment of the thousands of Muslim youths on Kano’s streets to the violence of Boko Haram.

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