Dandal Kura Radio International is showing an unwavering commitment toward informing Nigerians about how not to fall prey to Boko Haram's propaganda.
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — One evening in early August, Abdulrahim Abdullahi sat inside the transmission room of Dandal Kura Radio International. His face was almost buried in the audio mixer as he tried to fix an occasional glitch in the studio microphone.
“It’s fine now,” he said, signalling to Amina Abbagana.
Abbagana is one of the presenters at the radio station located in Maiduguri, the largest city in Nigeria's northeastern Borno State.
“This is Dandal Kura Radio International. The voice of the people. Welcome to our feedback programme tonight,”
Abbagana said in native Kanuri. She wore a sky blue headscarf and a long robe that touched her toes. “Kindly call in, our studio phone lines are open,” she spoke into the microphone.
Dandal Kura, once funded by United States and the UK but now describes itself to be editorially independent, broadcasts six hours of programming on a daily basis. They reach a large audience, not only in northeastern Nigeria, but also in neighbouring Chad, Cameroon, and Niger – all countries where the Boko Haram is still active.
“I am Mohammed Musa calling from Kano state, Nigeria,” said the first caller. “Tell the government that we know the enemies of this country. The hypocrites would fail because they don’t care about the poor. That’s my view”
When the idea of the Dandal radio station was born — a platform used to counter the narrative of Boko Haram — Abdullahi was a student in the university of Maiduguri. The university, the biggest symbol of western education there, is deeply opposed to the insurgency, and has become the heart of the battle between the military and the insurgents.
“Sometimes bullets would be dropping in different parts of the school and our hostels, killing unlucky students,” he said. “But when I lost my friend in one of those attacks, I thought what to do.”
In 2014, when the Boko Haram insurgency was at its peak, the militant group captured many small settlements around Maiduguri, imposing rigid laws on the besieged communities. Buratai, Abdullahi’s village, about 150 kilometres from the university of Maiduguri, was relatively untouched until it was attacked one evening, and things were never the same.
They razed houses and killed many.
“Over 45 people were killed and 35 of them were between the ages of 18 – 35,” Abdullahi said. “I knew I had to do something after that and Dandal was a good project.”
Facing Boko Haram Suicide Bombers
Dandal moved from Kano state to Maiduguri in February 2016. It started off with a show called “The Counselling” that focused on countering the insurgents’ radical views. It targeted the ideological underpinning of the insurgents, clarifying – through invited clerics – the misinterpreted pages of the Quran, with which the insurgents won followers. The clerics cleared doubts about how to pursue peace in Islam and described the circumstances in which engaging in a war is appropriate in Islam.
“Millions of these youths lack the mind of their own and believe anything in the name of God, and they are made to think that Jihad is to kill a non-Muslim,” Abdullahi said.
But before Abdullahi anchors the counselling programme in the evening, he roves around the city in the morning, feeding the studio with reports from the various Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) after listening to their stories.
Partly, his greater duty was to spot sites of suicide attacks and report as it happens, focusing on the number of the dead, any trace of their identity as well as bringing the incident to the attention of emergency teams and the military.
“We meet a lot doing this and we escape a lot too” Abdullahi said, running his fingers in a circle on the table, reflecting on the repeated cycle of risk associated with his work.
In January 2017, there was a bomb blast seven kilometres away from the studio and Addullahi recalls that he immediately rushed to the scene. The horror of “seeing blood gushing like water” was something he eventually came to accept as normal in his job.
While reporting on the incident, another female suicide bomber from the assembled crowd charged at him. Luckily, she stumbled on a stone and fell a few meters away from where he was standing, taking photographs and interviews. She killed many more, particularly those who came to assist the injured.
“Their blood poured on me like water and human flesh blown into pieces, were dropping on me. I was stained with flesh and blood” and “I became traumatized, unable to talk for several hours.”
The attack left over 50 dead.
The Day I Spoke with Boko Haram
“I have spoken to Boko Haram several times, sometimes they call in during our programmes,” said presenter Almed Hauwa.
Both Hauwa and Abdullahi think that though the work is full of dangers, they still embrace it. “I am a son of nobody. I don’t have money to help anybody. But this is my sacrifice for the common people,” he said.
In 2018, Hauwa was presenting a live programme, and a commander of Boko Haram called. He repeatedly told them that he will destroy the station.
“They told us that the programme we are airing is forbidden. They say we should stop broadcasting or risk their wrath. They say we are on the wrong path,” Hauwa told TRT World.
In a video sent to the station earlier, Abubaker Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, threatened to behead all the female workers in the radio station.
“I was shocked the day they called. I stayed up thinking about it that night but it did not affect my job,” Hauwa said. “My mum told me that my work is dangerous but I assured the family that I was safe and happy with the job.”
Boko Haram, founded in 2002, drew its support largely from Kanuri-speaking youths disenchanted with the growing social inequality and the failure of political leadership. The group, after their violent transformation in 2009, has killed over 20,000 people, escalating the humanitarian crisis in the Lake Chad region where some 24 million people need humanitarian assistance with nearly 10.8 million lacking food and 4.7 million children malnourished, according to UN data.
In a society where language is one of the deepest signs of affinity, Dandal would naturally have an impact, explains Dr. Liman of the Department of Mass Communication at the University of Maiduguri.
Dandal broadcast in two major languages: Hausa and Kanuri, arguably the two most used native languages in the affected region. Kanuri, popular around the Lake Chad, has over 4 million native users and is used as a lingua franca in the region.
In 2014, Gallup’s national media survey showed that “radio remains the dominant news platform" in Nigeria, with 77.4 percent saying they listen to the radio for news at least weekly. And the native speakers of Hausa, the other language of Dandar’s broadcast, has the some of the most avid radio listeners in Nigeria.
Using Boko Haram Against Boko Haram
In 2017, Dandal introduced a new programme focused on sharing the stories of repentant insurgents, who did not just provide insider details about the operations of the group, but talked directly to the youths who have joined or might be considering joining the group.
Soon after, a high ranking Boko Haram officer parted ways with the group in Yobe, a state neighbouring Maiduguri and equally affected by the insurgency. He was featured in the radio and detailed his experience with the listeners, prompting another fifteen more to leave in less than a month.
The Dandal programme were designed to make their guest talk about their roles and all the secret activities of the group, as well as to offer security tips to both the military and to ordinary people, including revealing how to act and respond to Boko Haram attacks.
But the roughly 30 radio staff does more than talking with those who chose to leave the insurgency. They reconnect families displaced by the war,, hold events to aid the traumatised and offer updates on the needs and troubles of the Internally Displaced Persons.
“It was great, using Boko Haram against Boko Haram,” says Abdullahi.
Despite the role they play, Dandal is struggling, threatened by a recent drop in sponsorship. In northern Nigeria, where despite the fact that the use of low cost phones as radios is growing, many traditional listeners are restricted from accessing the services of the three-year-old station due to issues around the weather, illiteracy and deep-rooted poverty, further complicated by the crisis.
Faruk Dalhatu, the station manager, sees the risks and the dangers, but believes they should persist.“The insurgency ensured that no media station can talk about them...They always go about blowing up radio stations that talk about them, but here is a safe place to talk about Boko Haram.”