MAIDUGURI, 5 July 2012 (IRIN) – More than 1,000 people areestimated to have died in bombings and shootings by Islamist extremists in northern Nigeria since 2009, but an additional casualty has been the jobs and opportunities lost in an already deprived region.

Business is slow in Maiduguri

“The economy has been ground down, people are running from the city,” said Joshua Bullus, a deputy pastor in the northeastern city of Maiduguri, where Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad), better known as Boko Haram, began.

Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, bordering the Sahelian countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroon, was the centre of a thriving livestock-based economy, with an ancient trade network extending as far as Sudan and the Central African Republic. But despite its illustrious past, the region is one of Nigeria’s least developed.

When Boko Haram declared war on the federal government in 2009, the northeast was already at the bottom of virtually all socio-economic indicators – its marginalization a clue to the violence, according to several analysts. From literacy to child survival, Nigeria’s Demographic Health Surveys consistently reflect a region that has been left behind by the rest of the country.

Motorbike taxi ban

Commercial motorbike taxis, popularly known as `okada’, offer one of the few urban job opportunities for young men across Nigeria – typically those with a bit of schooling. `Okada’ riders are key to what makes cities work, and in risking Nigeria’s formidable traffic and the scorn of car-users, they earn well over the national minimum wage.

In July 2011, the state government banned both private and commercial motorbikes from the streets of Maiduguri in response to their use in ride-by shootings by Boko Haram. “The government is not helping the youth,” a University of Maiduguri student, who asked not to be named, told IRIN. “The `okada’ ban is encouraging the youth to join Boko Haram because they don’t have anything.”  Read more…