"They know our names and where we live," one journalist says
He describes living in "constant fear" of the Islamist militant group
Many foreign media organizations have pulled their reporters out of northern Nigeria
A group of local journalists in northern Nigeria has become the most crucial communication link between the militant Islamist terror group Boko Haram and the rest of the world.
“They know our names and where we live, but to us, they remain faceless,” one of the reporters in Maiduguri says.
The reporter says having access to the group, which wants to impose Sharia law throughout the country, comes with a heavy burden.
“You live in constant fear knowing that they can take you out anytime you write something they find offensive,” says the journalist, whom CNN is not naming for safety reasons.
It’s usually after an attack, he explains, that Boko Haram makes its intention to communicate known to one of them. That journalist then spreads the news, and at a stipulated time the reporters huddle around a cell phone on speaker, waiting for a call – Boko Haram’s version of a press conference.
The group, whose name translates from the local Hausa language as “Western education is forbidden,” is sometimes referred to as Africa’s Taliban.
In recent weeks, members have torched numerous schools – a new strategy in a campaign that has previously targeted Christians and government structures. Boko Haram’s targets include police outposts and churches, as well as places associated with “Western influence.”
Despite daily reports about their violent attacks, the group complains about not getting enough publicity.
On Friday, the group appeared to be more concerned about a lack of coverage than the fact that President Goodluck Jonathan had blamed them for the kidnap and murder of two European construction workers during a failed rescue attempt.
“(Spokesman Abul Qaqa) began the press conference by berating us for not giving their recent attacks enough publicity,” before denying involvement in the killings of the Italian and Briton, according to the reporter.
New York-based Human Rights Watch says Boko Haram attacks have killed more than 900 people since an uprising in 2009 that saw its leader, Muhammed Yusuf, killed.
With increased security at police stations and other government buildings, suspected members of the group have targeted individual police officers and government officials. The group has recently displayed sophistication and training and is suspected of have links with al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb. Their attacks have forced scores of people to flee, invoking fear of a religious civil war.
Nigeria has suffered a rash of attacks on churches and mosques in the past year.
In December, Jonathan declared a state of emergency in several northern states following a series of Christmas Day attacks on churches. Those attacks were linked to Boko Haram.
And in November, dozens of Boko Haram assailants descended on Damaturu, capital of the northern Nigerian state of Yobe, and killed more than 100 people in a coordinated series of bombings and gun attacks.
Many of those targeted were Christians, but police stations and mosques deemed “insufficiently Islamic” were also attacked.
It’s a story considered too dangerous to cover by many foreign media organizations, with most pulling their journalists out of northern Nigeria. Until the situation changes, this group of local newsmen will remain critical witnesses to what has been referred to by some as religious cleansing in Africa’s most populous country.