A group of hundreds of hunters and vigilantes have been staying in Maiduguri,
hoping to join the search for the missing Nigerian schoolgirls…
They Await a Chance to Penetrate Forests Thought to Contain Boko Haram……
The Wall Street Journal
May 18, 2014
After a lifetime of chasing rats and antelope through the woods, several hundred hunters carried their rifles to this city last week to plan their biggest hunt yet: the search for 223 kidnapped schoolgirls.
“I know the forests. I was born in the forests,” said 70-year-old Dan Baba Kano, a huntsman in a purple frock, who added that he wasn’t afraid of dying in the forests: “At my age? No.”
Armed with homemade rifles and bows and arrows, hunters in these parts of northern Nigeria insist they can penetrate the forests where the army has so far refused to enter. Their campaign is low-tech—especially compared with the surveillance drones now part of the operation. And they have yet to leave their dusty, Maiduguri camp.
But their offer exposes the one thing Islamist militancy Boko Haram, for all its ferocious weaponry, increasingly lacks: popular support. The group’s kidnapping and killing rampage is turning Nigeria’s countryside against it. Last week, vigilantes in the nearby village of Kalabalge repelled a Boko Haram attack, in part by firing from the trenches they had dug when they first heard the group was coming to raze their homes.
“These people kill anybody, whether you are Muslims, Christians, anything,” said a leader of the hunters’ guild, who said Boko Haram shot and killed his brother, a pharmacist, two years ago.
After a half decade of insurgency by Boko Haram, the kidnapping of several hundred high-school students, taken the night before their final exams, has proved to be a pivotal moment. On Twitter, it has sparked a groundswell of tweets tagged #BringBackOurGirls that has in turn pushed world leaders— Barack Obama, David Cameron and François Hollande among them— to offer help.
That international and domestic attention has put intense pressure on Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, who has been criticized for moving too slowly to rescue the girls. Nigeria’s military has also been cautious about venturing into the forest that serves as a Boko Haram stronghold. Many soldiers say they lack the guns, bullets and body armor to face the heavily armed group.
The government needs all the help it can muster in its bid to defeat an insurgency blamed for more than 7,000 deaths over the past two years and a spate of recent abductions. On Saturday, the same day Western and African leaders met in Paris to discuss joint efforts to combat Boko Haram, suspected militants kidnapped 10 Chinese workers from a town in next-door Cameroon.
Western powers are pressing the United Nations to designate Boko Haram a terrorist organization, senior U.S. officials said on Saturday, a move that would subject the group’s members to sanctions such as asset freezes and travel bans.
“It could be next week. It could be that quick,” U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman said in Paris on Saturday, adding: “Frankly, I can’t imagine any country who would not support this designation.”
Saturday’s talks carved out a preliminary deal for intelligence swaps and tighter military cooperation between Nigeria and African countries that border the vast hinterlands where Boko Haram operates.
The foreign governments plan one of the most high-tech manhunts in modern history. The U.S. is sending both manned and unmanned airplanes to survey the forests where Boko Haram is thought to be holding the nearly 300 girls it kidnapped on April 14; 53 later escaped. The U.K. is dispatching a sentinel surveillance plane, and China is sending satellite data.
The major thing they haven’t agreed to send is troops. Even if the 21st century technology can pinpoint the girls—a big if—it isn’t clear who would dare cross into the woods to retrieve them.
That is what the hunters would like to do. Along with vigilantes and pro-government villagers, they represent a rising resistance to Boko Haram.
“Our main mission is to rescue these girls,” the leader of the hunters’ guild said.
The roughly 400 hunters gathered on the outskirts of Maiduguri over the past two weeks. Many of them, in their 60s and 70s, are armed with swords, daggers, bows and poison-tipped arrows. Several taped flashlights to homemade rifles to see at night.
They sleep on bare earth and lack for vehicles. Many have cellphones—even smartphones—but reception is poor, and the hunters still call across the forest using cattle horns.
Exactly one has heard of Twitter. None knows what #BringBackOurGirls is.
The group they hope to defeat boasts rocket-propelled grenades; night-vision goggles; satellite phones; and heavy machine guns mounted to their pickup trucks.
In one instance, vigilantes led soldiers to the town of Mari, where Boko Haram had been spotted carrying girls alongside a river, said Bello Dambatta, a spokesman for the civilian Joint Task Force, one of the vigilante groups. By the time the troops arrived, Boko Haram had crossed the river in canoes, and the soldiers, he said, didn’t have canoes to follow.