Boko Haram’s lesser-known reign of terror in southeast Niger
Issued on: Modified:
Activists in Niger are trying to spread the word about the kidnapping of 39 women and children by Boko Haram in the village of Nguéléwa, Niger last July. The tragedy highlights the terror wreaked by the jihadist group in the Nigerien region of Diffa, where more than 300,000 internally displaced people and refugees are living in fear.
On the night of July 2, 2017, men from the Boko Haram armed group entered the village of Nguéléwa on foot and launched an attack, killing some residents and kidnapping others.
Shortly thereafter, activists in the region took to Twitter and Facebook to launch the campaign #JeSuisNguéléwa (I am Nguéléwa). The campaign’s organisers asked supporters to post photos of themselves posing with a sign stating "Je suis Nguéléwa".
The #JesuisNguéléwa campaign is a blend of two previous solidarity campaigns: the "Je suis Charlie" slogan popularised after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in France in 2015 and the "Bring back our girls" campaign, which called on supporters to post pictures of themselves and the slogan to social media as a means to pressure Nigerian authorities to look for the 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in Chibok, Nigeria, in April 2014.
The #JeSuisNguéléwa campaign was launched just after the attack to raise awareness about the 39 missing people.
This photo, posted on Facebook, includes a sign referencing the Chibok schoolgirls. Translation: As a woman, mother and wife, I am thinking of the women and children kidnapped in Nguéléwa. Bring back our 39 women and children!
Our Observer Kaka Touda Mamane Goni is a lawyer, an activist, and a human rights advocate with the Alternative Espaces Citoyen organisation. He is also the coordinator of the campaign.
"People know about what happened to the school girls in Chibok in Nigeria, but they don’t know about what happened to us”
A month after the kidnapping, the president of Niger said during a speech that he was urging for every effort to be put forward to find the missing people. But since then, the authorities have said nothing about the incident. The president didn’t even bring up the situation during his new year’s address to the nation on December 31.
We launched the "Je suis Nguéléwa" campaign last summer to raise awareness and to make sure that the 39 women and children aren’t forgotten.
After a while, we decided to take a break from the campaign because we didn’t want to run out of energy. We also didn’t want people to get tired of our message.
We decided to re-launch the campaign at the start of the year [on January 8], on the 190th day since the women and children were kidnapped in Nguéléwa. We need to talk about these missing persons. Many people don’t even know that Boko Haram is present here in Niger. People know about what happened to the school girls in Chibok in Nigeria, but they don’t know about what happened to us. We want to get more media coverage.
"Since then, everyone has left Nguéléwa"
Our Observer Mari Djoumami was living in Nguéléwa when Boko Haram attacked.
Around 11pm, we started to hear the dogs barking, so we knew that something was happening. I went with other residents to the outskirts of the village, where we found ourselves face to face with about 20 to 30 men. We knew immediately that they were part of Boko Haram. They were armed with rifles and rocket launchers. They gathered us in a group in front of the mosque.
They selected nine teenage boys, who were all about 16 or 17. They tied their hands and then they cut their throats. These young men hadn’t done anything or even said anything. Another group of men robbed our homes. They took our cell phones, jewelry and anything else of value.
Then, they chose 39 women and children from the group. Some of the children weren’t older than five years old. They took my 17-year-old daughter and my son, who is 10. They took them, without saying anything to us.
"The authorities won’t tell us if they are negotiating”
Since that day, no one has spent the night in Nguéléwa. Some people return during the day to work or to manage personal affairs, but by 7pm, we leave.
Like many of my friends and neighbours, I now stay in a nearby village. The residents there welcomed us and we are all staying in a straw hut. Other Nguéléwa residents moved into IDP camps along the national highway. Others went to towns like Nguigmi.
There has been an increase in security forces in the area and we feel less threatened. But we still have no news of our wives and children. We learned that two children were released by Boko Haram. The authorities picked them up but we don’t know anything about them. We don’t know what message Boko Haram was trying to send by releasing them. The authorities won’t tell us if they are negotiating or what they are trying to do to liberate our loved ones.
Boko Haram has targeted the Nigerien region of Diffa, which borders Nigeria and is close to Lake Chad, since 2015. In the years since, there have been numerous attacks and kidnappings there. Between Diffa and Nguigmi, along Highway 1, the UN and other NGOs have set up camps for refugees and IDPs. Many more of these displaced persons live amongst the population – staying with relatives, for example. In total, there are more than 300,000 IDPs and refugees – many of whom fled Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria – living in Diffa.
One of our Observers made this video in an IDP camp along the national highway in July 2017.
Negotiations through traditional chiefs
When contacted by the FRANCE 24 Observers team, the governor of Diffa, Dan Dano Mahamadou Lawaly, said that the authorities are doing everything within their power to rescue the missing women and children.
"You can’t send in the army to get the kidnapped women and children, it’s sure to fail,” he said. “We are trying to negotiate with them through traditional chiefs. Making and maintaining contact with Boko Haram is extremely difficult because they are always moving and they don’t have a fixed base or a reliable person to discuss with.”
In late September, Lawaly says that he personally hosted the two children who had been released. The 8- and 10-year-old children were found in the bush by a camel driver. Both of them were given medical and psychological care for several days before being returned to their families.
Since 2015, there have been 244 attacks attributed to Boko Haram in the Diffa region, according to the UN. An estimated 582 civilians have fallen victim to these attacks. In 2017, 141 civilians were “wounded, killed or kidnapped”, which is less than in 2016 (227) and 2015 (214).