LAGOS - Worried of being caught in the fight between security forces and militants, fears are gripping Muslims in north-eastern Nigeria over an army swoop to hunt down Boko Haram members.
Everybody now lives in fear of being caught in the crossfire as the troops intensify manhunt for the Boko Haram members and their suspected hideouts across the state, Muhammad Dahir, a 27-year-old social worker, told OnIslam.net.
Nigeria has launched a military crackdown operation and declared emergency in the north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa to hunt down Boko Haram militants.
But residents are worried that the emergency rule and curfews imposed by the army could trigger a humanitarian crisis in the region.
Dahir warns that a 24-hour curfew across 11 neighborhoods of the city of Maiduguri could trigger humanitarian crisis unless the measure is relaxed.
People have had their businesses disrupted and access to other basic needs totally denied, he said.
The sick and the hungry are in precarious conditions. This is a community where most people are poor.
If they cannot access basic needs then humanitarian crisis is inevitable. I appeal to the authorities to relax the measures.
Parents of students in the region have also complained that the army restrictions are cutting them off their children.
For the past few days since the action was taken I have not been able to speak with my daughter who is writing her examination, Sekinat Alara told OnIslam.net.
She urged Nigerian authorities to look into the curfew as it is inflicting psychological trauma on parents.
And since curfew has also been imposed, the students are trapped in the crisis-ridden state because they cannot leave.
Boko Haram, a Hausa term meaning "Western education is sinful", is loosely modeled on Afghanistan's Taliban.
The group originally said it wanted Shari`ah to be applied more widely across Nigeria but its aims appear to have changed.
The sect focuses its attacks mostly on the police, military and government, but has attacked Christians more recently.
It says it is fighting enemies who have wronged its members through violence, arrests or economic neglect and corruption.
Many residents are afraid of indiscriminate arrests and killings as government forces attack suspected hideouts.
There is the fear of indiscriminate arrest and killing on the part of the troops, Umaru Ibrahim, a student of political science at the University of Maiduguri, told OnIslam.net.
If you claim that Boko Haram is faceless, how do you know who is a Boko Haram member? The answer leads us to the fear of indiscriminate arrest and killings by the troops.
He said many residents have fled the area out of fears of being mistakenly caught in the fight.
Anybody would want to flee unsafe zones. Indeed people have been running from here, he said.
So how would you identify who is a Boko Haram member and who is not? The message is that the troops should exercise highest level of restraint and professionalism even as I support the decision to flush out Boko Haram.
The Nigerian army said Monday that it has arrested 120 suspected militants in Maiduguri and captured five areas from the militants.
Haruna Mustapha, a social commentator with local rights group Campaign for Democracy, has warned that the emergency rule and the military presence have heightened the tension and raised possibility of humanitarian crisis.
The extent of violence and rights violations is never reported in the local media for certain reasons, he told OnIslam.net.
But the truth is that the emergency rule has equipped the soldiers with sweeping powers which inevitably may lead to humanitarian crisis.
Already people are leaving Maiduguri in droves to become refugees somewhere. That is because they have left their source of livelihood and wealth in search of safety. I have friends and relatives who have left Borno in the wake of the latest violence.
Plus or Minus
Many Nigerians are divided on whether the army operation and emergency rule would help end the Boko Haram menace.
State of Emergency will not in any way help in ending the violence but will aid rights violations and licensed brigandage by the state, said Shehu Sanni, a civil rights activist.
Sanni, who refused to be a member of a government-appointed amnesty committee, argues that the emergency rule contradicts the idea of granting amnesty to the insurgents.
That step shows the very insincerity and incoherence that made me reject membership of the so-called amnesty committee. Having said so, this should not be mistaken for me calling on government to condone violence or gangsterism.
Sanni cautioned the government against sweeping the Baga massacre, in Maiduguri, in which about 158 persons were killed extra-judicially and up to 2000 houses burnt in a military raid targeted at Boko Haram.
But Barrister Sola Iji, a right activist, disagrees.
I believe the President has taken the right step to protect lives and properties of Nigerians, he told OnIslam.net.
For the first time, the President acted in the best interest of the country because you cannot allow some miscreants to continue to kill innocent citizens, attack places of worship and anyone that is against their strange ideology.
These people are threatening the corporate existence of the country and they must be wiped off, he said.Similar views were expressed by Nigeria's umbrella body of lawyers, the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), and the Northern Governors Forum (NGF), which backed the Nigerian president on the emergency rule, saying it would help stamp out the insurgency.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net