The fishermen of Lake Chad must sail in secret, forced to evade both Boko Haram extremists and Nigeria’s military in a desperate dance that has strangled livelihoods and caused scarcity of a once-staple food. For Aminu Mohammed, that means “no fishing, no selling fish,” until the end of August, the date when “Operation Last Hold” is set to end. But he goes anyway, forced to disregard the rules in order to survive and feed his six children.
“Boko Haram lurks on the lake and when they do not kill us they take 10,000 naira ($27, 23 euros) to allow us to fish,” said the 45-year-old.
There is also a threat of arrest by the Nigerian army, who have detained fishermen in the region and accused them of financing the extremists by paying them taxes.
The once-teeming fish market at Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state and major trading hub some 200 km from Lake Chad, looks abandoned after nine years of bloody conflict.
Most stalls are empty, their owners, Hausa and Kanuri traders who have made their fortune there for centuries, have left to buy fish at the Cameroon border.
Yakubu Dangombe is one of the few to remain, yet business has never been harder.
Dangombe said he had two million naira of fish stuck on the road in Baga, the main fishing hub on the Nigerian side of the lake, blocked by soldiers.
“I have 35 children, I can’t feed them or pay school fees, it’s a disaster,” says the once rich trader.
To avoid the military, traders smuggle the fish into Maiduguri by road in bundles of 10 or 30 kg stashed in cars and “under travellers’ suitcases”, said a salesman on condition of anonymity. Still, not enough fish gets in to meet demand.
The shortage has caused a dramatic spike in fish prices: one pile (seven or eight fish) has surged in the past three months from 4,000 to 10,000 naira.
So customers have turned to other sources of protein. In a large yard where men use jerry cans to smoke tilapia and perch, there are some new additions to the menu: monitor lizards and cats. — AFP