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Nigerians Fear 'Things Are Falling Apart Right Before Their Eyes'


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We want to spend some time on international affairs now. In a few minutes, we'll talk about India's elections, but we start in Nigeria. That's where the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls a month ago has brought new global attention to the country's ongoing struggle against the extremist group Boko Haram and the violence that group has inflicted on the country.

Yesterday, the central city of Jos suffered yet another blow after two bombs ripped through a busy area. That was followed by a suicide blast in a street full of bars and restaurants in the northern city of Kano. Here to give us the latest on the situation as well as the ongoing story of the kidnapped girls is freelance journalist Chika Oduah. She has been keeping us updated since the girls first went missing a month ago. We reached her in Abuja. Chika, welcome back. Thanks for joining us again.

CHIKA ODUAH: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: What do we know about these blasts, and is it pretty clear that this is the work of Boko Haram?

ODUAH: You know, I would say this is a very clear attack being inflicted by Boko Haram. I just spoke to someone now who actually lives in the city of Jos. She's been there for many years. And what she was telling me was that what happened was a round 3 o'clock in the afternoon, a car was parked at a fast food restaurant. There were some traders close by, and they told this car to move away from the restaurant that there's not enough parking space.

The car then moved away to another very busy part of town - this is a market. And that's when the bomb blast went off. So the aim of this car was definitely to find a very busy area in Jos. Jos is a very huge city. It's heavily, heavily populated. And for - what we know now is that about 182 to 200 people are dead because of these two blasts that went off - two car bomb blasts that went off yesterday afternoon in Jos.

MARTIN: What has been the governmental response to this so far?

ODUAH: Well, so far, we're hearing more of the same. The president says that he's on top of this insurgency, but again, it's more of the same. There have not been any movements as far as military deployed to the area. Nothing has come out of that this point. We're hearing, again, more of the same from the president promising to stay on top of it.

MARTIN: Reporters are all saying that this has the hallmarks of an attack by Boko Haram. Why is that?

ODUAH: That's a good question. Jos has been a very violent-prone area. In the past decade or so, violence has taken out there. And it's been with different groups of people. Why I think this is more so the hallmark of Boko Haram is because of the recent attacks - the ones here in Abuja - those were both car bombs.

So I think people are just linking up what's happening in the country. It seems that Boko Haram is trying to spread - so the one in Kano, the one in Abuja, now the one in Jos. So this is definitely - as far as what we can see - the work of Boko Haram.

MARTIN: So it's been - moving to the story that has captured the attention of so many people around the world - the kidnapping of these young women, schoolgirls. West African leaders met in Paris to talk about how to deal with the group. And they are saying that they're going to wage total war against the group.

What does that mean? And how are Nigerians responding to that, I mean, given the criticisms of so many people that the government - the Nigerian government has not been effective in dealing with this so far?

ODUAH: Right. The Paris talks - what came out of that was that these heads of states, they agreed that there would be a battalion force stationed in northeastern Nigeria around the Lake Chad region. And this force was made up of troops coming from Chad, Niger, Cameroon and, of course, Nigeria.

There was not too much focus on the kidnapping of the girls. Most of the focus was on how to amp up border security so that the militants cannot keep crossing international barriers. What Nigerians see is that perhaps this attempt to involve the neighboring nations may actually bring the girls back.

MARTIN: A man claiming to be the leader of this group issued this video - I think a lot of people have seen it by now - offering to trade the girls for his jailed comrades. What are the points of view about this? I mean, the - do you see kind of public opinion coalescing about a certain point of view?

ODUAH: You know, I think negotiation is such a very risky thing to do. Many Nigerians are torn. Some of them are for it, some are against it. The ones who are for it kind of use examples that were done in Nigeria's history. Most recent, negotiating with terrorists and militants in the Niger Delta. People are saying if that was done in that case, why can't it be applied in this case? Other Nigerians say no, this group, Boko Haram, has done enough bloodshed that this cannot be negotiated.

Others, again, are saying that this needs to be presented in a more humane light - negotiate with these people. These are human beings. These are, in fact, our sons and our daughters, actually, who are part of Boko Haram. Negotiate with them, and try to get them to understand the point of view. Others say no, we need to take a more of militant stance. So there is no consensus in Nigeria as far as the topic - the issue of negotiating with these militants.

MARTIN: What about the idea of asking for sanctions to be imposed on Boko Haram? The government has recently asked the United Nations Security Council to do that. Would that even affect them?

ODUAH: I don't - you know, I don't see how sanctions can actually affect them. Yes, Nigeria asked the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Boko Haram. What does that look like? We don't know exactly how many people are running around in the name of Boko Haram, but our sense is that this is a few hundred to maybe, perhaps a thousand or so. I don't understand actually how sanctions would apply.

And again, many Nigerians don't see sanctions as being practical. This seems, again, perhaps another empty attempt by the president to look as if he's doing something. So perhaps this is more for appearance. We're not actually addressing the real issue.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, you recently visited Chibok, which is the town where the girls were taken from. What's the atmosphere there? How are they coping with this?

ODUAH: You know, a lot of people are expecting these people - the people in Chibok to be crying on the streets, but this is not what's happening. What I felt in Chibok was more so a spirit of unity, a spirit of optimism.

Everyone is praying, and they understand, they believe that their God - whether it's the Christian God, whether it's Allah, they're all praying together for the girls to return. So I felt a strong spirit of optimism in Chibok where people are kind of helping each other to cope quietly and, again, as a community.

MARTIN: What about the rest of the country?

ODUAH: People here are terrified, and they're confused, and they're frustrated, and they're angry. That's the best way to convey it. Just being on ground here, you're hearing people talk on the street. You're hearing conversations in the marketplace. You're hearing dialogue on local radios. And the overall sentiment is what's happening to our country? Things are falling apart right before their eyes, and there does not seem to be an end.

MARTIN: Chika Oduah is a freelance journalist based in the Abuja, Nigeria. And she's bringing us up to date on events there. Chika, thank you so much for speaking with us once again.

ODUAH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.