Jigawa: How Borno IDPs recovered losses, built fortune in fish business decade after Boko Haram attack

In the wake of Boko Haram menace in Nigeria, especially in the Northeast, many victims were displaced from their homes. Different camps were created by governments, non-governmental organisations and some concerned individuals, where internally displaced persons were accommodated.

In this report, Muhammad Abubakar Tahir writes on how Boko Haram displaced persons recovered their losses after just 10 years of venturing into fishing and other businesses  in Jigawa State.

Alhaji Ahmadu Keya, an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) from Doron-Baga in Borno State said he begged for what to feed his family for a while after they arrived at makeshift shelter at Hadeja in Jigawa State following their displacement by Boko Haram  insurgents from Baga in Borno State.

Keya said prior to the attack in 2014 he was an established merchant in fish at Doran Baga. Beside fish business, he engaged in wet and dry season farming of rice, beans, wheat and other vegetables.

He added that while he was at Doron Baga he made supplies to his numerous customers across the southern part of the country and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory. So, life, for them was good.

That was until a devastating attack on Baga by Boko Haram insurgents that left scores dead or wounded. Keya and others were lucky to escape the bloody attack. He said most of them (IDPs) came to Hadeja without anything, having been hurriedly sent packing from their homes by the insurgents.  When they arrived, they did not even have shelter and other amenities.

However, in just 10 years, unlike the story of many IDPs who suffered a similar fate and are scattered in camps across Nigeria,  Keya’s story, along with that of some others who fled from Borno to Hadeja,  has dramatically changed.

“Many members of our group who were into the fish business in Hadeja had their own houses, cars and several plots of land as the fish value chain provided job opportunities for many people,” Keya reminisced.

“The people who got opportunities across the value chain include among others people who buy from fishermen, those who dry the fish, another set of buyers engaged in sale to other part of Nigeria and so on,” he continued.

Corroborating this position, Malam Haruna Ahmed Gaidam, popularly known in Hadeja Fish Market as Kawu Haruna, who is also an IDP from Malanfatori Abadam LGA, Borno State, said he has spent about 12 years in Hadeja. He was among few others who first came to survey places for the relocation of a section of Baga fish market due to the then persistent attacks by insurgents and they found Hadeja to be the most suitable place.

According to him, despite initial relocation challenges, his business has been thriving  and he has developed a good rapport with key stakeholders in the area.

“The Hadeja residents have been very hospitable to us which has led to several marriage relationships where our members own properties in the area,” he said.

Contrary to the position of some IDPs on relocation back to Borno state, Kawu Haruna insists on staying in Hadeja than to go back to Borno state.

He, therefore, urged the Jigawa State government to explore better ways of regulating the market and provide additional infrastructure such as security lights and drainages at the market to strengthen security and prevent loss occasioned by flooding during the rainy season.  He further appealed to the state government and other stakeholders to caution security agencies over arbitrary arrests and unnecessary interference at the market: instead. Such arrests and interrogations, he said, should be through the market leadership.

Alhaji Haruna Shuaibu, chairman of the Association of Fish Marketers at the Hadeja Fish Market described the influx of the IDPs as a blessings and  a good development.

He said there were no serious challenges at the market due to the influx, stressing that the insurgency and subsequent arrival of IDPs from Borno and Yobe states have brought more buyers across the country since Maiduguri markets are not accessible to them (buyers).

“We have profiled the IDPs who were into the fish business according to their local governments and communities. As a union, we have established a committee that would verify individuals before they are allowed to practice in the market.

“We have people from 12 local governments of Borno and Yobe states who are now doing business in Hadeja Fish Market. Before the arrival of the IDPs the market had over 3,000 members. At the moment, I don’t know the exact number of members in our register.

“What I know is that there are a lot of people doing different businesses in our market. For instance, some were selling empty cartons for fish packaging, some are just agents arranging vehicles to convey the fish to different places, others are mechanics and so on,’’ Shuaibu said.

He commended some interventions earlier made to the association and  also appreciated the government’s plan to build a new fish market in Hadeja and urge it to encourage people to invest into the  area of processing and packaging of fish products.

Another IDP in the market from Gashua, Yobe State, Malam Abubakar Labaran,  said the Boko Haram crisis seriously affected his community, which forced him to relocate to Hadeja in 2014 and now says that he has settled and established a family there and become successful in the sale of engine oil and other petroleum products.

Another IDP, Malam Salisu Zahiri, from Doro Local Government Area in Borno State, an auto mechanic who has spent over 10 years in Hadeja, is so well established that he has 12 employees working for him.

However, in spite of reasonable daily earnings from his business, he also appealed for additional support from the government on his business such as access to credits to help his business grow even bigger

Also speaking to our reporter, Malam Aba-Borr Baga said he relocated to Hadeja from Baga in Borno State due to the Boko Haram crises over 10 years ago. He said he has been able to sustain his family of two wives and 19 children with as an auto mechanic, adding that he also has eight apprentices under him.

He explained that many people from Baga moved Hadeja due to the crises.

“We have now naturalized in the area; personally, I have married four of my daughters here in Hadeja and our younger children were able to attend both western and Islamic education,’’ he said.

Unlike others who say they are now settled in hadeja and would never return to Borno State, Baga says that he wants to go back, in spite of the relative prosperity he now enjoys. He said most of the IDPs from Baga who reside in Hadeja were his friends and neighbors at their before their displacement and that “they are emotionally attached to Borno State.”

He added that many of them went back to Borno State during the 2023 general elections to exercise their franchise as they were registered to vote there..

“This indicates our attachment to our home state; we want to return to our original habitat, hence our appeal for intervention of government and other stakeholders on this to help us return home.”

In November 2021, the Borno State government said IDPs will not be forced to relocate to their ancestral homes, noting that only those who have shown interest will be returned. The governor also said the majority of the IDPs were willing to be relocated, adding that they will be supported with cash and means of livelihood.Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State has approved the construction of 1,000 housing units for resettlement of displaced people of Darajamal and Mayanti communities in Bama Local Government Area of the state.

However, it is not every IDP in Hadeja who has hit gold. Malam Sani Hamisu, an IDP, while speaking to our reporter said he was a fish merchant trading from Hadeja to some parts of Niger Republic but he lost the capital for the business.

Hamisu added that he later went into transportation of the fish to Niger Republic and, again, harsh economic conditions frustrated his business. He is considering returning home.

According to Hamisu, some of the friends (the IDPs) who stayed at Yobe State were receiving incentives from the state government and they support those in Jigawa with food they receive from the government.

Alhaji Sulaiman, another IDPs from Malamfatori Abdan LGA, said he came to Hadejia after his community was attacked by Boko Haram in 2014.

“I was displaced with members of my family where I had been living with them in Maiduguri. Initially, we lived in a displaced persons camp, but subsequently, I rented a house for my family and paid my children’s school fees because we cannot allow our children to miss good education. We are now living in a government-owned market and getting our daily bread, as well as paying little revenue to officials of the market.

While speaking on the issue, Dr. Isah Billami, Chairman, ‘Hadeja ina Mafita’ a community development association, said the IDPs have enhanced and strengthened businesses and other economic activities in Hadeja in addition to bolstering the population of the area.He said besides economic benefits to the area, their presence has adulterated some moral values of the area due to some cultural differences.

Dr. Billami added that,some of the IDPs in Hadeja brought  a strange, alien and distasteful characters to some innocent people especially youth into the area, those  alien and distasteful characters include rising incidents of gays in the community, drugs abuses and proliferations of prostitute dens. These led to high incidents of thefts and other criminals activities which devastated the moral character of so many youths in the area. Considering the vulnerabilities of these IDPs so many people especially men explore their vulnerabilities and engaged their girls mostly underage into prostitution.

while commending efforts of security agencies on cleansing the area IDPs camps through the arrest drug abuse dens and houses used for luring young.into immoral acts, Billami said  the.economic  benefits of their presence outweigh the negative effects.He  further explained that they enhance economic activities in the area through the fish business most fish merchant would also buy grains and other commodities.

On increasing criminality activities due to influx of IDPs, Kawu Haruna among Camp officials,  added that the leadership of the IDPs were collaborating with relevant security agencies to weed out bad eggs at the IDPs camp in Hadeja. Stressing that it is very displeasing how bad some of the IDPs were, but still the bad eggs among the IDPs were still very minor.

Dr. Yahuza Getso Conflict and Security analysis gave his perspective of how IDPs could have made it in business business withing a decade of their displacement.  

“Their activities had significantly strengthened businesses and brought many direct and indirect employment.  Further, their coming has fostered good relationships and marriages between them (IDPs) and Hadeja residents. Several IDPs own stores in the market, some now own houses and cars. But, as would be expected, some of them are still struggling to put body and soul together.

He said the government should encourage the IDPs that showed interest to return back to their state, most of who were not actively engaged into their former businesses.

According to him, the presence of IDPs from Borno and Yobe states is a booster to Hadeja Fish Market, which is directly linked to the general economic development of the area.

Getso noted that the rising cases of some social vices being experienced in Hadeja is not peculiar to the area alone and it has no link with the presence of IDPs in the area. He, therefore, urged the government to step-up efforts to address the identified challenges.

When contacted DSP Shiisu Law Adam, Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in Jigawa State Command, said the state command has not receive reports of criminal activity allegedly perpetrated by any IDP. He further explained that the IDPs were hosted by traditional leaders of the community and such leaders did not file report again them. He, however, urged the IDPs to maintain good character and moral so to become ambassador for their state.

Efforts to speak to Alhaji Abdulkadir Bala T.O Chairman, Hadeja LG Council were not successful as he was said to have traveled out of his constituency when the reporter went calling. Both the  Vice-chairman and Secretary of the council said they were not allowed to speak to the press over the issue unless they received direction from the Chairman.

Between 2014 and 2015, Boko Haram did a lot of damage to Doron Baga, which is an extension of Baga, a popular town known for its fishing business. Amnesty International describes these attacks as the “largest and most destructive.” The terrorist group attacked Doron Baga and its neighbouring town, Baga, simultaneously, leaving behind about 2,000 people dead and over 3,700 structures damaged or totally destroyed.

Since the beginning of Nigeria’s conflict with Islamist armed group Boko Haram in 2009, more than 2.2 million People has been displaced in the country’s northeast according to Human Right Watch, Over 25,000 people in Nigeria are registered as missing by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as of August 2022.

In areas where humanitarian access is restricted by insecurity, IDPs are not able to receive aid, which increases their vulnerability, including food insecurity, lack of access to health and other basic services. This also exposes them to protection risks, including gender-based violence .Findings by our reporter reveals that the IDPs in Hadejia have  access to  health facilities, both westen and islamic education and other social  amenities  With minor risk of gender based violence.

*This report was done with the support of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting, under its Promoting Democratic Governance in Nigeria Project.