Insurgent Attacks In Potiskum: My Traumatic Experience, By Usman Bawa
Potiskum is a local government in Yobe State, Nigeria which used to be a thriving hub of business activities catering to neighbouring states and countries reliant on the large cattle and millet markets situated there.
In July 2009, the terrorist group Boko Haram launched an attack on the Potiskum Central Police Station and the Divisional Headquarters of Police. There were no civilian threats or casualties, with the majority of the insurgents gunned down in a face-off with the Nigerian army stationed on the outskirts of Maiduguri and Potiskum. Residents thought the insurgents had been silenced. They thought wrong. Potiskum continued to be one of the main targets of the group, with deadlier attacks carried out not only on security operatives, but government employees, school teachers, doctors and retired paramilitary officers too. The group began killing Islamic scholars who spoke out against their extremist ideologies. They succeeded in planting fear in the hearts of residents; no one dared speak up against their beliefs or report them to the authorities. Schools, market places, motor parks, places of worship; nowhere was safe.
On May 2, 2012, a gang armed with explosives and assault rifles stormed the fenced cattle market in Potiskum and unleashed terror. They detonated several explosives, shot indiscriminately and set the market on fire. No fewer than 102 traders were killed with dozens others injured. Livestock were not spared as scores of animals were burnt to death – tethered cattle were burnt to death and their owners killed. This bloodshed instigated a demonstration, hundreds of people filling the streets in protest of the inhumane acts perpetuated by the terrorists and the lack of intervention by the military. On Thursday October 21, 2012, Potiskum witnessed a series of coordinated attacks that left at least 31 people dead and many buildings and properties destroyed by the Boko Haram in a three day operation. During this attack, the town was placed on security lockdown. This was my worst experience during the attacks in Potiskum. Markets were closed and residents were forced to make the most of whatever foodstuffs they had available in their houses. When the curfew was lifted on Sunday morning, hundreds of residents – myself included – fled the town in a bid to escape further mayhem. Many fled hastily, leaving their belongings behind. Those who owned cars stuffed their personal belongings into their vehicles and left, while others thronged the motor parks, piling into commercial buses and scrambling out of town. Potiskum became a shadow of itself as business activities ground to a halt following the exodus of over sixty percent of its residents. The general hospital could only provide skeletal services as most of their staff had also fled.
Early in December 2012, My family and I returned to Potiskum from Abuja where we had sought refuge. On December 10, 2012 another deadly attack began around 1am and lasted until morning. 14 persons, including the Divisional Police Officer (DPO), Mohammmed Garba, were killed, with a commercial bank and numerous vehicles burnt in the streets. It was literally a different attack every other week ranging from killings of individuals in their homes to suicide bombings in public places.
Members of Boko Haram killed three Korean Doctors posted to the Potiskum General Hospital on February 10,2016. Coordinated attacks on all telecommunication masts in September 2012 left the town without a single functional communication line, thus compelling residents to travel to Azare, Gombe and other neighbouring towns to make and receive calls to their loved ones. These attacks continued well into 2014.
On November 3, 2014 there was a suicide bombing during a Shi’ite Muslim procession, which killed at least 30. Before we recovered from the shock, another suicide bomber apparently dressed in school uniform detonated explosives in a crowded assembly in Government Technical College Potiskum. At least 48 students were killed and 79 wounded with severe injuries. This attack led to the closure of all schools in Potiskum by the Yobe State government. Parents who could afford it transferred their children to schools in other states while others had no choice but to keep their children at home. There seemed to be no respite from the violence as 4 people were killed and over 40 injured at Kasuwar Jagwal GSM market after an attack by two female suicide bombers on January 11, 2015. Mass relocation of traders crippled the economy of Potiskum, with only one functional bank operating skeletal services.
It is 2018 and attacks on towns in Yobe state continue, wasting lives, wrecking families, and reducing my beloved state to ruin. We are traumatized, and tired of being killed. It is important that we all say that not another Nigerian should be killed or displaced by acts of violent extremism.