Hunting Big Game or Boko Haram, ‘You Kill It or It Kills You’

Maiduguri, Nigeria – Ever since he was a boy, Bunu Bukar has hunted big game in the forests of northeastern Nigeria, tracking the footprints of wild pigs, antelopes and elephants through the thick brush.

Now the prey he hunts leaves motorcycle tracks.

Mr. Bukar and dozens of members of a century-old hunting association have trained their weapons on Boko Haram, the militants who have shot, kidnapped and burned their way through villages on an eight-year campaign of murder and destruction across the region.

Nigeria has marshaled huge battalions of soldiers to carry out a sweeping operation to attack and kill the insurgents, who have since retreated to remote forest hideouts.

Last weekend, Nigeria scored a major victory in the battle with the militants, securing the release of 82 girls whom fighters kidnapped from a boarding school three years ago as they were preparing for exams in the village of Chibok.

Mr. Bukar said he was with Nigerian soldiers last fall when they came across one of the abducted schoolgirls: Amina Ali, who was scrounging for food in the forest with other Boko Haram members. She was the first of the girls to be found since the mass kidnapping shocked the world in 2014.

Mr. Bukar’s hunting group is well acquainted with the remote forest areas where the militants have taken refuge.

His group, which once gathered regularly in the bush to track rabbits, wild hens and other game, first encountered Boko Haram when the militants fled the state capital four years ago and took their rampage to the countryside, encroaching on the hunters’ turf.

“In the beginning, there was no problem,” said Mr. Bukar, 51, secretary of the hunters association. “Hunters and insurgents met in the forest, and everyone was doing their own business.”

That changed when the military started chasing Boko Haram through the countryside. The soldiers needed help finding water and shade as they passed through unfamiliar terrain. They turned to the hunters for help. It did not take long for Boko Haram to realize that the hunters were guiding soldiers, and the group wanted revenge.

Boko Haram’s first target was Mai Ajirambe, an elderly leader of the hunters’ group. Insurgents tracked him to a village near his home and kidnapped him. When fellow hunters found Mr. Ajirambe, he had been decapitated, his head carefully placed on his back.

“We decided right then, they won’t stop until they kill all of us,” Mr. Bukar said.

He and other hunters gathered their families and moved them from their rural villages to the state capital, Maiduguri, for safety. Then they joined the fight. Now, the hunters sometimes lead soldiers into battle with their own homemade, long-barreled guns.

Like most hunters, they brag about their successes and lament the ones that got away.

One of Mr. Bukar’s biggest regrets came on the day that he and the soldiers found the first girl from Chibok. He said he caught a fighter and delivered him to the soldiers, but then the man somehow escaped in all the excitement of finding one of the kidnapped students.

While last weekend’s liberation of the Chibok schoolgirls is a victory, Mr. Bukar knows the hunt for Boko Haram fighters is far from finished.

When Mr. Bukar gets ready for a mission, he follows the same routine he has used since boyhood. He rubs an herbal mix across his body to mask his scent. He puts on his lucky necklace. In the field, he stays as quiet as possible, relying on hand signals to communicate with fellow hunters. He never runs after his prey; he lets it come to him.
“Once you meet it, there are only two options: You kill it or it kills you,” Mr. Bukar said.

The hunters are relying on traditions handed down through generations. Many began hunting when they were young boys, heading to the bush with uncles, fathers and grandfathers. A handful of women who hunt have also joined the Boko Haram fight.

Some hunters carry knives fashioned years ago by grandfathers who etched squiggly designs across the blades. Before the bush became too dangerous, they would gather as many as a hundred people at a time for major hunts, combing the bush for prey.

The hunters said pursuing humans was trickier than going after animals — even elephants, which are notorious for fighting back.

“If you climb a tree, you might be safe from an elephant. But not with Boko Haram,” said Mr. Bukar, who is also the secretary of the hunters’ organization. “If you climb a tree, they’ll shoot you.”

The militants specialize in ambushes, he said. Sometimes the best strategy to catch fighters involves carving a hole in a wide tree to hide in and wait for a group of Boko Haram members to pass, typically on motorbikes, which are banned in Borno.

Most hunters have superstitions, and Mr. Bukar and the others are no exceptions. Their bodies are laden with dangling, round leather amulets.

Abba Balomi, a 20-year-old, baby-faced hunter, wears amulets around his waist and a beige, quilted cloth vest designed to look like a bulletproof vest. The items give him a sense of protection, he said.

Mr. Balomi has recovered war trophies from raids on Boko Haram hideouts — mobile phones and cash, mostly, but also the insurgents’ good-luck charms. He said he and his brothers destroyed them.

Ba Bunu, 25, is commander of a local group of hunters. His lucky charm is the tail of a black cat that dangles from a necklace.

New York Times

Boko Haram Videos of Purported Chibok Girl, Threat to Bomb Nigerian Capital

Boko Haram late on Friday released a video claiming to show the Chibok schoolgirls who refused to be rescued as part of a recent swap deal with the Nigerian government as another video of a man purporting to be a militant said the group plans to bomb Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.

In the first three-minute video, a woman who claims to be Maida Yakubu, one of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April 2014, is seen wearing a black veil and holding a gun.

Flanked by three other women clad in black, she proclaims her loyalty to Boko Haram.

When asked by a man in the background why she doesn’t want to go back home to her parents, she replies: “the reason is that they live in the town of unbelief. We want them to accept Islam.”

The woman then speaks in the local Chibok dialect for the rest of the video.

Last week, about 82 schoolgirls who were kidnapped three years ago were released after negotiations between the terrorist group and the government.

Presidency spokesman Garba Shehu later disclosed that one girl had refused to leave.

Analysts said it was likely others may have been radicalized and developed sympathies for their captors over time.

The militants seized 276 girls in April 2014. Fifty-seven escaped in the immediate aftermath. Of the 219 who did not manage to flee, 106 have either been released or found, leaving 113 still missing.

The second video released by Boko Haram, claimed to show five commanders that the Nigerian government freed in the recent swap.

In the video, a man holding a rifle and identifying himself as Abu Dardaa, or Money, says Boko Haram is preparing to bomb Abuja. He was flanked by the four other armed men.

The threat comes as Nigeria opened another round of talks for the release of more kidnapped schoolgirls.

Nigeria’s state security agency, the Department of State Services (DSS), in April said it had thwarted plans by Boko Haram militants linked to ISIS to attack the British and US embassies in Abuja.

Chibok School Girls Are Released by Boko Haram

Twenty one school girls from Chibok who were released by the Nigerian group Boko Haram after they were detained for more than two years returned to their families on Sunday in Abuja and recounted the difficult circumstances of their detention.

During a religious ceremony held in their honour, one of the girls named Gloria Gloria Dame said that they had survived for 40 days without food and that a bomb dropped near them nearly hurt them. She said: “I was in the woods when the plane dropped a bomb near me but I wasn’t hurt” and that ““We had no food for one month and 10 days but we did not die. We thank God.”

Dame recounted her story at a Christian religious ceremony organised by the Nigerian security forces that were behind their release after negotiations with Boko Haram militants. After the young women, most of whom were Christians, were abducted, they were forced to convert to Islam.

The ceremony was suddenly interrupted with the arrival of the families of the young girls who were abducted in April 2014 and the ensuing hugs and tears. In his concluding speech, the Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed said “We can all see the emotions of the families and their happiness”. He added that “negotiations with Boko Haram are not over until all the girls are released”, and explained that “negotiations are still ongoing as we talk. Many other young women will be freed soon”.

Boko Haram Releases 21 Chibok Girls

Boko Haram militants have released 21 schoolgirls kidnapped more than two years ago in the northern town of Chibok following a prisoner swap, an official in the president’s office said Thursday.

The Chibok girls were released as part of the swap deal struck between Boko Haram, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Nigerian and Swiss governments, said official and local sources.

“It is confirmed that 21 of the missing Chibok girls have been released and are in the custody of the department of state services,” presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said in a statement.

“The release of the girls… is an outcome of negotiations between the administration and the Boko Haram brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government,” Shehu said. “The negotiations will continue.”

The girls were exchanged for four Boko Haram prisoners in Banki, northeast Nigeria, said local sources.

“The girls were brought to Kumshe, which is 15 kilometers from Banki where a military base is stationed, in ICRC vehicles,” said a source.

“The four Boko Haram militants were brought to Banki from Maiduguri in a military helicopter from where they were driven to Kumshe in ICRC vehicles.”

From Kumshe, the Chibok girls were taken by helicopter to Maiduguri, the capital of northeast Borno state.

“The 21 (Chibok) girls arrived (in) Banki around 3:00 am (0200 GMT) where they found a military helicopter waiting. They were immediately ushered into the helicopter and flown to Maiduguri,” said another source.

The identity of the girls has yet to be confirmed, said Bring Back Our Girls campaigner Aisha Yesufu.

“We cannot confirm anything yet,” Yesufu said.

Around 270 girls were captured from their school in Chibok in April 2014 by Boko Haram militants as part of their fight to establish an extremist state in the region, drawing global attention to the jihadist insurgency.

Dozens escaped in the initial melee, but more than 200 are still missing.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has said the girls would only be released if the government swaps them for detained extremist leaders.

Nigeria asks UN Al-Qaeda committee to blacklist Boko Haram

A woman holds a sign to call for the release of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants on May 19, 2014 during a sit-in organised by Human Rights organisations in Abidjan.  (AFP PHOTO/ SIA KAMBOU)
A woman holds a sign to call for the release of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants on May 19, 2014 during a sit-in organised by Human Rights organisations in Abidjan.
(AFP PHOTO/ SIA KAMBOU)
United Nations, Reuters—Nigeria has formally asked the UN Security Council Al-Qaeda sanctions committee to blacklist the Islamist militant group Boko Haram after the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls, UN diplomats said on Tuesday.

If there is no objection by the 15-member council committee, which operates by consensus, Boko Haram will be sanctioned at 3:00 pm EDT (1900 GMT) on Thursday, the council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“[It is] difficult to object to such a request by the concerned country,” said one of the council diplomats.

Until recently, Nigeria has been reluctant to seek international assistance in combating Boko Haram.

The document submitted by Nigeria to support its blacklisting request references a bomb attack on the United Nations’ Nigeria headquarters on Aug. 26, 2011 that killed 24 people, diplomats said.

It also describes a “campaign of violence against Nigerian schools and students” by the group and references other attacks on schools last year, according to diplomats.

Boko Haram, which Western governments and Abuja say is linked to Al-Qaeda, kidnapped more than 250 girls from a secondary school in Chibok in remote northeastern Nigeria on April 14 and has threatened to sell them into slavery. Eight other girls were taken from another village earlier this month.

Boko Haram’s five-year-old insurgency is aimed at reviving a medieval Islamic caliphate in modern Nigeria, whose 170 million people are split roughly evenly between Christians and Muslims.

The group is becoming, by far, the biggest security threat to Africa’s top oil producer.

Earlier this month, the UN Security Council threatened to take action against the insurgents and the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, urged the body to work quickly to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist group.

Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language means broadly “Western education is sinful,” is loosely modeled on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.