Bida is one of the villages under Monguno local government, and it hosts a market once-popular for livestock and agricultural produce, before Boko Haram insurgents sacked residents, making the market their very own. About 30 kilometres from Monguno town, the hometown of National Security Adviser, Major-General Babagana Monguno (rtd), the insurgents have fixed every Sunday as their market day, where business starts from 11:00am to wind up by 1:00pm, with only able-bodied men seen either buying or selling. Most of the buyers, Daily Trust learnt, are bulk buyers, except a few villagers, on whose faces discomfort can be seen.
At Bida market, 20 litres of petrol sells for N12,000 instead of the N3,000 it goes for in Monguno town. Prices of commodities like rice, tomatoes and other vegetables are extremely high, sources revealed, most times double the going price elsewhere. Roasted meat, otherwise known as Suya, believed to be made from rustled cows and other livestock, is also sold at one corner of the market, by long-bearded young men in long dresses and turbans, the type banned in the state. Most patrons of the market throng the stand, sampling the spicy delicacy.
A commodity supplier who braves the market on a weekly basis, identified himself as Alhaji Mala, said: “The insurgents around this area were killing anyone they could at a point, but when they decided that everywhere has been blocked and they had no means of getting fuel and food supplies, they realized using Bida market was their best option. Another problem they faced was how to get goods supplied to the market, because they have already looted the area, and killed all the young men in the surrounding villages. They had also rustled all the livestock there, with the few people left only able to grow millet, as the insurgents seem to dislike that particular grain. It was at that stage that they allowed some businessmen to be supplying the market with goods, accepting high prices as they know the difficulty of trading there.”
But another businessman told Daily Trust that there is no way anyone can head towards Bida with even sachet water, because soldiers in Monguno have blocked all the routes. “You’ve seen how we came, from Maiduguri and along the road we were telling the soldiers, Civilian JTF and other security forces that the goods were Monguno-bound. But after Gajiram, we park and offload as if we want to change our tyres, then use cattle-cart to continue along bush paths.”
The source continued: “The Amir commanding and directing the affairs of all the insurgents in this area lives in Debere, whose over 200 inhabitants are Boko Haram conscripts, living with him. But majority of the foot soldiers of the group are living in Kulli. Some of the traders make bulk supplies direct to Kulli where the insurgents collect the goods and pay in bulk. But we take our goods to Bida market and sell every Sunday. We are not members of the group, we have nothing to do with insurgency, just businessmen doing business.”
The source added that the insurgents are indeed running short of fuel and food. “Sometime last year, whenever they loot a community, they use vehicles to cart away swag. But for almost five months now, we have not been seeing them with vehicles. They use stolen cows and motorcycles. Again, in the past, they used be two or three riding motorcycles, but now up to four of them do so, possibly because they cannot fuel many bikes at once,” he said.
When Daily Trust asked why the traders trade with insurgents, rather than report their activities, another source said: “Where are those Bulamas and Lawans (streets and ward traditional rulers) that gave the security agencies information about the insurgents in 2010 and 2011? They were all killed, of course.” He added that nothing was done to security agents who trade information given to them by the traditional rulers. “Why should I think of giving them any information?” he asked.
In a convoy of cart riders passing through Wulo, Sire and Maram under Monguno local government, Daily Trust noticed there were no soldiers, even as the few elderly people remaining in the villages said the dare not go to Bida market. A resident of one of the villages around, said they could go to the market to buy food items in small quantities because the insurgents know where they are coming from. “They do not allow us to travel outside our villages. They come around at least twice or thrice every week. When they see strange faces here, they kill them. They patrol all the surrounding bushes in the day time and sleep at night,” he said, adding that those who sneak out do so only at night.
The insurgents, Daily Trust learnt, also have informants. A source said three weeks ago, two of their informants at Da’alla village who are of the same family fell out and the elder killed the younger one brazenly. Some of the informants even have firearms, he said. “It is extremely risky to report such things to security personnel,” the source said, adding that the insurgents would kill a squealer and wipe out his entire family when they find out. “Beyond that, even the soldiers are aware that the insurgents are here. Few weeks ago, a combined team of Civilian JTF and soldiers left Nganzai to this area and they intercepted two insurgents with large sums of money on the way to the market.”
A major point of relief for many locals is the fact that the insurgents in their area have never abducted or raped their wives or daughters. “But they kill and loot,” he said.
Bulama Kaloma, who was abducted by insurgents around September, in a bush near Bida said: “We were three, and they immediately searched us and took away all we had and told us to follow them. They wanted us to lead them to Gardai, in Marte local government. We were going when a plane came hovering, and they threw their guns to one side and hid under a tree. The three of us ran in the opposite direction and crawled to safety. That was how we escaped.”
One of the cattle cart riders at the market, Malam Goni, said: “You’re the first and only stranger I have seen in this market since the big Sallah in July. For anyone to visit, he must have been led by one of the merchants and introduced to them as a trusted transporter or shop keeper of the merchant.”
Goni told this reporter that most of the unarmed young men on the way to the market are their members, while the armed ones are hiding in the bush, spying. “You are lucky that when they searched you they did not find any paper or pen on you…they would have killed you,” he said.