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Peace & Security

Four fishermen killed in violent clash between two insurgent factions over ‘ownership’ of Lake Chad area

18 September 2023
Reading time: 5 minutes

Fishermen caught up in ISWAP and JAS fight lose more than 100 canoes as well as nets and traps – and they are terrified now of leaving the safety of Baga town to go to Tabkin Chad to fish

Four fishermen have been killed, more than 100 canoes stolen and masses of fishing equipment seized in a fight between members of the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and Jamā’at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da’way Wa’l-Jihād (JAS) insurgents outside Baga town in Borno State.

The fight took place at Tabkin Chad on Wednesday morning, September 13.
Baga is in the Kukawa Local Government Area and is close to Lake Chad. It boasts the biggest fish market in Nigeria. Most of the residents of the town are in the fishing business, either catching or selling them, or both.

Soldiers have been deployed to safeguard Baga inhabitants but travelling just 4km outside the town could mean a dice with death because there are a substantial number of both JAS, better known as Boko Haram, and ISWAP insurgents operating in the area.

Alhaji Sani, a fish seller, told RNI that three of his children were fishermen, spending most days fishing at Tabkin Chad.

“I am too old to go out to fish, so I sell what they catch. It’s our only means of survival. But things have got so dangerous now that if our children or others go fishing, they are likely to be killed. Now they are just sitting idly at home. It’s as if the insurgents have taken over. We are all stuck at home and we will die of hunger if this goes on for too long.

“Two of my children’s friends, also fishermen, were among those who died during the fight between the two factions on Wednesday.”

Sani said the fishermen were rounded up by JAS fighters who claim they are the “real owners” of the area, not ISWAP.
“Boko Haram fighters warned the fishermen that if they did not stop paying ‘royalties’ [in order for them to fish in the area] to ISWAP, they would all be killed. It was then that the ISWAP insurgents arrived and the fight between the two groups began. The ISWAP members just started shooting indiscriminately.”

“Two fishermen were killed instantly. The rest of them dived into the lake to escape the clash. Later we heard that another two fishermen had been killed. About 100 fishing boats were seized.”
Sani said his brother’s son had disappeared and they did not know if he was alive or dead. His neighbour’s son was “beaten to a pulp” by the insurgents.

He said the area of Tabkin Chad lacked security. It was about 4km from Baga town and there was no security presence at all, which was a “serious problem”.
“We do not have a security issue inside the community of Doron Baga and Baga town. But we have to leave the safe areas to get to our fishing spots. Fishing is our only way to make a living.

“But at Tabkin Chad you can’t see a single security operative. It’s all under the control of the insurgents.”
Sani said inhabitants of Baga fled from the town 13 years ago because of constant deadly attacks by insurgents. It was only recently that the Borno State government allowed them to return to their hometown.

“But the government has not provided any security for us outside the town since we returned. They know we rely solely on fishing to earn a living. We don’t have our freedom anymore, especially now that the Boko Haram and ISWAP are fighting among themselves in the area. The fishing zone at Tabkin Chad is under the control of the Boko Haram but ISWAP wants to take over.

“Many of our fellow fishermen have fled to the Niger Republic and Damasak in the Mobbar Local Government Area in Borno State. They left because they were terrified they might be targeted by the insurgents so they decided to go somewhere they could conduct their businesses safely and peacefully.”

Usman Taza, also a fisherman from Baga, said: “We do not have a choice. We pay the insurgents ₦2,000 every day so that we can go fishing. This is our only occupation. We have been fishing since we were children. We have families to feed so we pay up or starve.

“On Wednesday, the insurgents took more than 100 canoes and other fishing equipment, such as nets and traps. This means that more than 2,000 fishermen are going to suffer much hardship.”
Barra Adam from Baga told RNI that it was getting too dangerous to make a living in the area anymore.

“Four fishermen were killed on Wednesday. We are living in fear and we are too scared to leave the town to go fishing. Inhabitants of Doron Baga and Bunduram are in a difficult situation. There is no security outside Baga town. If you go just 4km out of town you come across the insurgents. Each of the two insurgent groups has its own rules and if you violate them you will be killed.”


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