by Eromo Egbejule
You hear a lot of stories about North-East Nigeria, a slice of the country that has been at war since 2009, at the hands of Boko Haram. But we have largely only heard a single story. Sending a reporter across 7 cities, we tell a more complete story – personal tales of survival and recovery – that speak to hope, to strength and to faith. Stories that speak to life. Across 20 narratives over the next 3 weeks, you will hear the most inspired and touching stories about Nigerians – at their best, even when they have only just recovered from their worst.
At the City Blues Hotel in Yola where Alice Bwala works as a receptionist three days a week for N10,000 a month, patronage is fluctuating. “People don’t come to our bar like before,” she says. “And the management is sacking people up and down.”
The reason? In 2009, a radical preacher – Mohammed Yusuf – and his followers began waging war against the Nigerian state, calling government and symbols of westernization including schools, hospitals and churches, ‘haram’. The war which began in Maiduguri, birthplace of the sect called Boko Haram, finally extended to the rest of the North-East including Adamawa State.
In Yola the state capital, there were a series of explosions between 2012 and 2015, with special focus on the Jimeta Modern Market in the city. Alice’s elderly mother lost her shop during one of the market bombings so consequently, her earnings dropped significantly. As a result, the 24-year old has become breadwinner for her family of five.
“It is hard. You work from morning till night for peanuts and watch men stare at you, then hand over most of the money to your family because they need it.”
Because of its Southern cuisines, the hotel used to attract visitors from out of town with rates increasing during some weekends in keeping with the demand. But since mid-2015, thing have changed. One of the three cooks has been laid off and the food portions have reduced, just to be able to balance the books.
At the peak of the crisis, Alice graduated from secondary school with hopes that she would be proceeding to one of the tertiary institutions. But with the war came failed dreams.
Her father was killed two years ago when he went to Michika to attend the funeral of one of his relatives and that dampened her hopes. But it was the bombing of the Yola market that finally extinguished it, she laments.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to enroll in the university and I’ve settled that in my mind. But I want to start a small business – knitting sweaters and small caps for babies. It’s small but it will help me provide for myself and buy small things like toiletries.”
These days, Yola is peaceful, even moreso than Maiduguri and Damaturu, capitals of the other two states that were particularly ravaged by Boko Haram. But while patronage dimmed as a result of the insecurity and the curfew that came with the crisis then, the current economic crisis is the cause of the sustained low returns.
Alice says she has been tempted to resign many times but has resigned to fate until she gets another job. “I have no choice in this matter.”
*This is the final installment pf the We Survived Boko Haram series. The wrap up story outlining what we can do to help victims of the North East insurgency will be published at 10am WAT tomorrow.