Maiduguri is a city of two million plus people – the capital city of Borno state in north-eastern Nigeria. It was the birthplace of Boko Haram (Western Education is Forbidden), an Islamist group who have long been committing terrorist attacks and annexing territory (including in Adamawa state), who have recently established a caliphate.(1)
More than 650,000 people are enduring internal displacement to escape the brutal campaigns of insurgency and counter-insurgency – ‘tens of thousands‘ of those had retreated to Maiduguri. But now, according to the Borno Elders Forum (BEF), it is ‘completely surrounded’ by Boko Haram. They have closed ‘almost all the roads’ out of city. The BEF fears ‘the total annihilation of the inhabitants of Borno’.
Protection of cultural heritage at times of conflict, urbicide and genocide
At the same time, as I learned via the Antiquities Coalition, the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) has been running a workshop on how to Train the Trainer, as part of a wider Capacity-Building Programme for the Protection of Cultural Heritages in the Conflict Afflicted Zones of Nigeria (in the relative safety of Abuja, in the Federal Capital Territory in the centre of Nigeria, between the 8th and 12th of September).
That programme is a tailored Cultural Emergency Response (CER), out of a range of contingency plans to ‘help to evacuate, stabilise or rescue cultural heritage under imminent threat of destruction or damage’ (for whatever reason). The Director-General of the NCMM, Yusuf Abdallah Usman, stated that
the first target of terrorists is the heritage of people, both in tangible and intangible forms…. to undermine the people’s self-esteem to make them feel unwanted and insecure so that they can find it easy to take over their environment and their persons.
Restoration of cultural heritage after political violence
It is feared that not enough will be done to rescue the besieged population (before great suffering), let alone to protect their community’s cultural property. However, cultural restoration can be simultaneously social and economic; it can support economic and social security, and thus undermine some of the foundations for extremist action.
Hence, the Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, Chief Edem Duke, has guaranteed ‘”adequate consideration” for the culture and tourism sector by the Federal Government in the various plans for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of affected communities’.
1: Boko Haram formally identify as People Committed to the Prophet’s Teachings for Propagation and Jihad (Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’Awati Wal-Jihad).