Riding a Horse in Northern Nigeria Might Get You Shot
Military warns locals as Boko Haram trades motorbikes for mares
Riding a horse in Nigeria’s northern state of Borno could result in your violent death at the hands of government troops. The Nigerian army issued the warning as Boko Haram increasingly relies on horses to get around.
The radical Islamist group began waging a brutal war with Nigeria in 2009. Since then, Boko Haram has become infamous for leveling entire villages and killing or kidnapping residents.
In April 2014, the organization made international headlines and sparked global outrage after it abducted more than than 300 girls from the town of Chibok. Widely accused of corruption and human rights abuses, Nigerian security forces have struggled to contain the violence — and stop desertion in their own ranks.
The Nigerian army’s 7th Division is trying to limit Boko Haram’s options by curtailing horse riding in and around Borno’s capital Maiduguri. According to the country’s Daily Post newspaper and other local reports, the 7th Division announced the new rules earlier in September:
The 7[th] Division of the Nigerian Army in Maiduguri has prohibited Borno residents, particularly traditional rulers from using horses in view of recent attacks by the Boko Haram sect which were executed by horse-riding militants. It warned that anyone found using a horse would be considered as an insurgent.
The warning was contained in a statement issued by spokesman of the Division, Colonel Tukur Gusau, during the destruction of dry fish worth millions of naira which were seized from the Boko Haram insurgents at different locations in Borno State.
The statement disclosed that the seized fish was another source of funding for the terrorists that has been truncated. He disclosed that the seized fish consist 2,000 cartons of smoke fish and dry meat that the insurgents carted away from innocent traders.
But government crackdowns have generally produced brief victories. Ironically, the animal-borne attacks are likely a product of previous restrictions on Boko Haram’s trademark motorbikes in 2011.
A BBC article at the time explained the specifics of that ban:
The Borno state government said it was now imposing a 24-hour ban on motorbikes in the city.
“The ban includes private as well as commercial motorcycles of all categories that operate within Maiduguri metropolis,” Usman Ciroma, spokesman for the Borno state governor, said in a statement.
Correspondents say motorbikes are one of the most common forms of transport in Maiduguri, as most people cannot afford cars.
The AFP news agency reports that the governor, Kashim Shettima, warned that the ban could be extended.
“If the security situation does not improve following this ban, the government will extend the ban to cover the whole state,” he was quoted as saying.
With many Nigerians unable to afford cars, motorbikes are an extremely popular alternative across the country.
The fighters who seized the schoolgirls in Chibok reportedly arrived on the two-wheeled vehicles. Curiously enough, the bike helmet law may have actually contributed to the rise of the extremists, according to The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman:
It’s a largely forgotten episode: In January 2009, the Nigerian government began enforcing a law mandating that motorbike drivers and passengers – most controversially, operators of the country’s freewheeling, ubiquitous motorcycle taxis – wear helmets. The authorities were responding to a serious public-health hazard; Nigeria’s roads are among the least safe in the world, and by 2009 motorcycle crashes accounted for more than half of all road-traffic injuries.
Initially, news coverage of the regulation was lighthearted, and primarily focused on the advent of pumpkin helmets. Riders were worried about helmets casting magic spells over them or giving them lice, and some were taunting traffic police by covering their heads with dried pumpkin shells, painted pots, or rubber tires. “We are impounding their bikes and want to take them to court so they can explain why they think wearing a calabash is good enough for their safety,” an exasperated Nigerian official told the BBC.
But the government’s bike-helmet drive soon took a far darker turn. In Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno, a sect led by the Muslim cleric Mohammed Yusuf was agitating for an Islamic state and railing against secular education. The group wasn’t yet calling for the violent overthrow of the Nigerian government, but it was increasingly at odds with local authorities. Its members were occasionally arrested and intermittently skirmished with police.
With horses now restricted in Borno, one wonders how Boko Haram members will travel next.