Fear pervades the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri where hundreds of troops have been deployed after a wave of bombings and shootings by the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram.
A week after at least 25 people died and dozens were injured in a single attack, the beer garden where it took place stands scorched and empty, strewn with blackened debris. A few goats attracted by heaps of corn grain are the only sign of life.
Scores of military checkpoints have sprung up around the city.
“The city has been under siege from Boko Haram and the military following these senseless attacks that have put everybody on edge,” said resident Hadi Sadiq.
The attack, in which Islamists hurled explosives and fired indiscriminately, came on the day a joint military task force was launched to combat a spate of earlier bomb and shoot-and-run assaults.
The initiative saw hundreds of military, navy, air force, police, immigration and customs personnel deployed to quash the sect on the orders of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Boko Haram launched a short-lived armed uprising two years ago in a doomed bid to establish an Islamic state.
Although the rebellion was crushed in a military assault that killed hundreds, mostly sect members, it failed to deter further attacks.
“What is more frightening to residents of this city is the bomb attacks that continue to increase in frequency, magnitude and sophistication despite the deployment of troops,” said Khalifa Dikwa, a linguistics professor at Maiduguri University.
Last year, the sect began to launch shoot-and-run killings, targeting police and military personnel, community and religious leaders as well as politicians. It also added to its guerrilla tactics, bomb attacks on police and government facilities, as well as churches.
“Nowhere is safe in Maiduguri even with the military presence,” Jummai Musa, a beer seller, said. A checkpoint erected 500 metres from the beer garden was like “medicine after death”, she added.
A day after the beer garden attack, suspected sect members detonated a bomb concealed in a car parked outside the customs office, killing two girl vendors.
On Tuesday gunmen opened fire on a military checkpoint around the same area leading to a shootout with soldiers but there were no casualty.
Troops that have been deployed in the city are on edge and do not leave anything to chance.
Motorcyclists have to disembark 500 metres (550 yards) from checkpoints and push their bikes until they pass the checkpoints as a precaution against attacks by the Islamists.
Searches of vehicles are stepped up at night and troops fire sporadic warning shots in the air to scare away potential attackers, an AFP reporter witnessed.
“We can’t take any chances,” said a soldier at a checkpoint.
The unrest has also taken a toll on the economy of the city. Businesses are gradually closing and relocating to other cities while social activities have been grounded.
“I have relocated my business…. I’m here to pack my remaining personal effects because I can’t operate in this atmosphere of insecurity,” said Umar Mudassir, an IT consultant.
A group of residents aired their complaints in an open letter to President Jonathan in the Daily Trust newspaper on Thursday.
“Continuation of this situation will ultimately lead to the collapse of the local economy, leading to more despair and further conflict.
“More indiscriminate military and police intervention will lead to an angry population which will sympathise with, aid and assist the young as they take up arms against authority,” the group said.
But the military commander of the special crack unit, Brigadier-General Jack Okechukwu Nwaogbo, is determined to end Boko Haram’s reign of terror.
“My mandate is to end this Boko Haram issue, I’m not here to curtail it but to end it and restore peace and order in Borno State,” Nwaogbo told AFP in Maiduguri.
“It is a difficult mandate, given the type of adversary we are dealing with,” Nwaogbo admitted.