The United Nations (UN) has warned about growing violence by Boko Haram militants in northeastern Nigeria, saying tens of thousands of people — mostly women and children —have fled their homes in the conflict-ridden area over the past weeks.
The international body raised the alarm on Wednesday following heavy clashes between Nigerian government forces and armed militants from the Takfiri terrorist group in Baga Town, on the shores of Lake Chad, about 200 kilometers north of the Borno State capital, Maiduguri.
“More than 30,000 internally displaced people have arrived in Maiduguri, mainly from Baga, in recent weeks. The majority of these people have arrived since December 20, 2018, often after arduous journeys with young children,” said the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon.
He said a clash on December 26 triggered a “massive displacement” of civilians, causing men, women, and children to flock to already-overcrowded camps in Maiduguri and struggle with a lack of “humanitarian assistance, notably shelter, food, water and sanitation.”
The UN report said a second attack on Monguno, a garrison town southwest of Baga, on December 28 had also led to the arrival of some 20,000 people at one camp in Maiduguri, stretching its capacity beyond the limit.
“The impact of the recent fighting on innocent civilians is devastating and has created a humanitarian tragedy. It is heart-wrenching to see so many of these people living in congested camps, or sleeping outside with no shelter. Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict and the United Nations is extremely concerned about the impact that violence in northeast Nigeria, especially in Borno State, is having on civilians,” Kallon said.
The UN official further said “some 260 aid workers” had to withdraw from three local government areas in northern Borno State near Lake Chad since November, citing possible attacks by Boko Haram militants.
Kallon said the withdrawal — the largest since the international response to the violence increased in 2016 — had affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance to “hundreds of thousands of people.”
Boko Haram’s nine-year militancy is estimated to have killed more than 27,000 people and forced 1.8 million others to flee their homes, also triggering a humanitarian crisis in Nigeria.
In 2015, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s security record has become a campaign issue ahead of a February election in which he is seeking a second term.
Buhari, a former general, came to power in 2015 on a platform of stamping out Boko Haram; but despite retaking swathes of territory from the group, Boko Haram continues to stage attacks targeting both civilians and military personnel.
Buhari’s government maintains that the militancy is close to defeat.