A twin bombing that killed 58 people at a camp in a northeastern Nigerian town last week underlies the destructive capacity of Islamist militant group Boko Haram that’s left 3 million people cut off from access to aid.
The camp at Dikwa stands in a town where shops and homes have been deserted by residents who fled Boko Haram’s onslaught, before it was liberated in July. About 53,000 displaced people live in tents pitched on an expanse of arid land guarded by soldiers in an area about 89 kilometers (55 miles) from the Borno state capital of Maiduguri. They’re among those who can’t be reached by aid organizations from United Nations to U.K-based Oxfam, who won’t venture there due to security concerns.
President Muhammadu Buhari said in December that Nigerians displaced by the violence would be returned home this year and that Boko Haram had been “technically defeated”. Despite boosting defense spending last year, his administration hasn’t presented a clear plan to redevelop the northeast at a time when government finances are pressured by a 46 percent plunge in the price of Brent crude in the past year, with oil providing about two-thirds of revenue. Borno, the worst hit state, needs more than $1 billion to repair damage done by the insurgency.
“I have spent two days without food,” said Baana Masa, a 56-year-old widower in Dikwa who lines up everyday with his two children hoping their turn comes before the food runs out. “We escaped Boko Haram’s manhunt and now we are facing hunger.”
As attacks continue in the northeast, Maiduguri, home to about two-thirds of 2.2 million displaced people in accessible zones, and Yola, the capital of neighboring Adamawa state, remain some of the few places with the minimum level of safety required for international aid workers to operate. Dozens of suspected Boko Haram militants attacked the village of Kuda in Adamawa late Monday, leaving at least six people dead and more than 20 houses burnt down, according to a pro-government vigilante Jacob Abu.
Masa is one of those who live in zones that remain vulnerable to Boko Haram attacks and are deemed inaccessible to aid workers, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. By the end of January, the UN agency had received four percent of the $248 million it is seeking from donors this year for Nigerian victims, including 4 million people considered “severely food insecure.”
“The only way we’re able to access these people at the moment is through government agencies who use military escorts,” Dominic Stolarow, emergency manager at the UN Children’s Fund, said by phone from the capital, Abuja.
Boko Haram insurgents continue to carry out suicide bombings and hit-and-run attacks in Nigeria’s northeast, despite losing territory in the region since early last year. The group’s campaign to establish its version of Islamic law in Africa’s largest economy has left thousands of people dead since 2009. Lai Mohammed, Nigeria’s information minister, told reporters in Abuja on Tuesday that the spate of recent attacks isn’t an indication of Boko Haram’s resurgence.
The government, along with the World Bank, European Union and UN also finished a two-week assessment of the northeast, which will help in drawing up a regional recovery plan, the office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said on Sunday.
In Dikwa, Nigeria’s national emergency agency and the Borno state government make food deliveries, while recognizing the supplies fall short of the needs of the people living there, Mamman Durkwa, the state’s deputy governor, said on a Feb. 2 army-escorted visit.
“With a humanitarian situation we can’t predict when people will be able to return home,” Yinka Afolabi, Oxfam’s Nigeria program manager, said by phone from Yola. “It’s not about the date, it’s a process and the priority should be to support the people wherever they are displaced and restore safety and basic facilities to the areas of return.”