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Civilians are caught in the middle of the war against Boko Haram

While the Nigerian military has made significant gains against Boko Haram, killings by the group continue, with some civilians caught in the middle. As part of a week-long series "Nigeria: Pain and Promise," special correspondent Nick Schifrin reports with producer and cameraman Zach Fannin on the government's attempts to wipe out the militant group.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Tonight, we begin a week-long series on Africa's most populous country, "Nigeria: Pain and Promise."

    Special correspondent Nick Schifrin and producer and cameraman Zach Fannin spent more than a month on the ground there, chronicling a nation in the midst of an encouraging and impressive economic boom, but still plagued by income inequality, corruption and terrorism.

    This evening, we look at the government's attempts to wipe out Boko Haram, a terrorist group that killed more people in 2014 than the Islamic State we hear so much about.

    While the Nigerian military has made significant gains, the killings by the group continue. As we report, some civilians are getting caught in the middle.

  • A warning:

    Some of the images in this report may be disturbing.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    On the outskirts of Maiduguri, the men who protect the city fight with whatever they can find, 40-year-old shotguns and iPhone ear buds. Some carve their own clubs. Others patrol in floral and kitchen knives.

    What they lack in weaponry, they make up for in divinely inspired confidence.

    There's a couple of shotguns. There's a few machetes, a few knives, but that's it.

  • ABBA AJI KALLI, Civilian JTF:

    Yes.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    I mean, what would you actually be able to do if you ran into Boko Haram out here?

  • MAN:

    We chased them out of Maiduguri with stick and we didn't even have a gun, and when they have AK-47, they have RPG on their hand, but we pushed them out.

  • ABBA AJI KALLI:

    God has put the fear of the Civilian JTF in their heart. Well done.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Fifty-one-year-old Abba Aji Kalli leads the Civilian JTF, for Joint Task Force. He used to be a government auditor. Today, he's more comfortable on the front lines.

    If we kept walking this way, where would we end up?

  • ABBA AJI KALLI:

    If we kept walking, we would end up in Sambisa.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    In Sambisa forest, their headquarters?

  • ABBA AJI KALLI:

    In the forest is the Boko Haram headquarters.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Down this road?

  • ABBA AJI KALLI:

    Down this road.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    His men called call him elder. That's him in dark gray on the left. He and his vigilantes round up suspects using their own brand of justice. Their biggest fear, boys and girls carrying bombs.

  • ABBA AJI KALLI:

    They are using females to come and detonate their bomb attacks on us. So, if you see anybody, do not take chances.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Those bomb attacks are Boko Haram's primary weapons. An intelligence official says the groups detonated more bombs in the last six months than the previous six years.

    So many of Boko Haram's targets today are soft, like this mosque. A man walked in here pretty much to where I'm standing and blew himself up as a group prayed. The explosion was so powerful, it obliterated the mosque's roof. More than three-quarters of the victims are Muslim. And these attacks are grisly.

    A few days after this one, and you can still smell the blood that stains the walls. Boko Haram celebrates its attacks in slick, ISIL-inspired propaganda. It pledged allegiance to ISIL and now calls itself the Islamic State of West Africa. They embrace ISIL's brutality.

    Last year, the group captured Mubi and made the city its administrative capital. Its leader, Abubakar Shekau, preached from a local mosque. And his fighters celebrated in newly acquired Nigerian army tanks.

  • YA’U SA’EED, Nigeria:

    Very, very dangerous for everyone, because if you can see the attacks, they have attacked mosques, they have attacked church, they have attacked Christians, they have attacked Muslims. They are very dangerous.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Ya'u Sa'eed could be the most courageous man in Mubi. When Boko Haram arrived, he filmed this video riding this motorcycle into the stronghold to rescue his mother.

  • YA’U SA’EED:

    I called my mom. She said, they're hearing the sound of gunshots everywhere, gunshots.

  • NICK SHIFRIN:

    He witnessed an exodus, a city of 140,000 people fleeing by any means necessary. In total, more than two million people have fled Boko Haram since the fighting began.

    What did Nigerian army soldiers do when Boko Haram attacked?

  • YA’U SA’EED:

    They do nothing. They not do nothing when they attacked Mubi. And that is nobody, not any single person have shot one single bullet.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    But, today, the Nigerian military is firing back.

    It released this video showing Boko Haram fighters fleeing an air force attack. The military success has redrawn the map. At its peak, Boko Haram controlled an area the size of Belgium. Now it controls only three remote towns and a final stronghold, the Sambisa forest.

    Military spokesman Colonel Rabe Abubakar says this year the military's been transformed.

  • COL. RABE ABUBAKAR, Nigerian Defense Force:

    There has been tremendous change from what it used to be until now, morale of the troops, equipment, leadership. There will never be any territory that will fall back to Boko Haram's insurgency. Never again.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Mubi might be recaptured, but the reconstruction has barely begun.

    Bridges bombed by Boko Haram are still broken. Street vendors use burned-out cars as fruit stands. Many banks are still destroyed and empty. Boko Haram looted the cash to finance itself.

    Inside, that red frame is all that's left of the front door, those papers all that's left of depositors' accounts. Outside the nearby Church of the Brethren, the damage is everywhere.

    Inside, high above the podium, the fire set by Boko Haram almost erased the cross from the wall. Sixteen parishioners died.

    Elia Usman is the church's secretary.

    ELIA USMAN, Church of the Brethren: When these people landed in Mubi, they would ask you, are you a Christian or a Muslim? When you say you are a Christian, they will shoot you. There's not one single church left in Mubi. They bombed it.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    But the streets are busy. And those who fled have returned, including Ya'u's mother, Huraira Muhammad.

    Why do you feel safe here?

  • HURAIRA MUHAMMAD, Nigeria:

    We are going to the market. We are keeping on with our lives. We are scared a bit, but life must go on.

  • KASHIM SHETTIMA, Borno State Governor:

    We want everybody to go back to his or her village. We will provide all the arsenals at our disposal.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Borno Governor Kashim Shettima leads the state at the epicenter of this war. He vows to force all internally displaced people, or IDPs, to return home by May.

  • KASHIM SHETTIMA:

    The population of Maiduguri has snowballed. And it a powder keg waiting to explode. So, I think it's in our enlightened self-interest to expedite action in rebuilding the homes once they are back in their communities. At least their kids can go to school.

    Now we are really bringing up a whole generation of ignoramuses, of idiots, illiterates. All our schools are closed. All our schools have been converted into IDP camps.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    There is nowhere in the world with more children out of school. The IDP camps are overflowing with people and trauma.

    Hadiza is 17 years old. She was kidnapped by Boko Haram and held for nearly a year. In this war, the spoils of the battlefield are often girls.

  • HADIZA, Nigeria:

    They came and said they wanted to marry me. I wanted to know who I was going to marry. I didn't realize that the one I was going to marry was a member of Boko Haram. I didn't know. By God, I didn't know he was a member of Boko Haram.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Hadiza uses the word marriage only out of shame.

    This really isn't marriage, is it?

  • DR. GERIDA BIRUKILA, UNICEF:

    No, it's rape.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    This woman is a UNICEF public health specialist based in Maiduguri.

  • DR. GERIDA BIRUKILA:

    Some girls were raped by different men. So, we know that, in any religion or any culture, that is not marriage.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    But for Hadiza and hundreds of other girls, the impact is permanent. She's six months' pregnant.

    And what will you tell your child about his or her father?

  • HADIZA:

    I will — my son that when Boko Haram came, I met his dad. But I realized he wasn't a good person.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    How traumatized are some of these girls?

  • DR. GERIDA BIRUKILA:

    We have children who arrived, and they lost their voice because of what they saw. They saw the killings of their parents. They walked over dead bodies. Although now they are safe, it seems that the war still rages in their minds.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Boko Haram also kidnapped this boy. He is scared they will kill his family if he reveals his identity. I asked him his age. He didn't know.

  • BOY:

    They asked, where is your father? They asked, if we taught you our values, and you met with your father, would you kill him?

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Boko Haram teachers tried to indoctrinate him. Had they succeeded, he would have ended up a suicide bomber, or like this teenager in a Boko Haram propaganda video.

  • TEENAGER:

    Turning to Allah is not difficult. So come and follow his path.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Were you convinced by what you learned from Boko Haram's teachers?

  • BOY:

    I didn't believe what they said. How can I believe them when they're killing people?

  • ROBERTSON:

    When he escaped, the military found him and accused him of being a militant. He says they left these marks on his arms.

  • BOY:

    They tied up my arms with rope from a well.

  • MAN:

    All of them, they are Boko Haram members.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    The military has been accused of human rights abuses and indiscriminate arrests. This video is from 2013. All the people rounded up by soldiers were thrown into the most notorious facility in the area, the army's Giwa barracks.

    What is it like inside of Giwa barracks?

    This woman insists she is not Boko Haram. She spent one year inside Giwa barracks and was never charged with anything.

  • WOMAN:

    One of the female guards was terrible. She doled out perpetual beating and torture that leads to death.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    The army spokesman didn't deny her allegations of abuse.

  • COL. RABE ABUBAKAR:

    It could be that, yes, there could be some isolated cases. But this has been, in this dispensation, in this president's leadership, the emphasis is anybody, any uniformed man who manhandled a civilian anywhere either on the war front or anywhere, please report, and we will take appropriate action against that.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    But it's not clear that's possible, when the victims say they're threatened into silence.

    Were you told never to talk to anyone about what happened to you in Giwa barracks?

  • WOMAN:

    They told us, keep your mouth shut. Don't talk about anything you saw here.

  • NICK SCHIFRIN:

    Eventually, Nigeria will win the battle against Boko Haram, but the years of torture, rape, and kidnapping leave open wounds. The larger war won't be won until those wounds are healed.

    Nick Schifrin, PBS NewsHour, Maiduguri, Nigeria.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And you can tune in tomorrow for Nick's next report on "Nigeria: Pain and Promise," this one about the nation's status as the continent's biggest economy.

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