Timothy Olanrewaju (Maiduguri) and Olakunle Olafioye (Lagos)
Wave of attacks by Boko Haram on vulnerable communities in Borno State in the past one month has forced many humanitarian organizations to suspend supplies of aid to victims of insurgency in the state and some other parts of the Northeast, the epicenter of the murderous campaign of the terror group.
Boko Haram stepped up attacks on civilians and aid workers in Northeast part of Borno State in mid-December 2019, forcing more people to flee their homes in search of safety.
On December 13, the terrorists announced that they had murdered four of the six aid workers earlier kidnapped in July in the northern part of Borno State. The tragic news sent sad message across the international humanitarian community in Nigeria.
The murdered abductees were among the six aid workers (five men and a lady) of Action Against Hunger (AAH) taken by the insurgents. AAH is an international humanitarian organization that has been providing aid to displaced victims of Boko Haram in the Northeast until they were abducted by the terrorists on July 19.
When the incident happened, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) was expectedly saddened and outraged by the news of the murder of the aid workers. UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, said that then he was “greatly horrified” by the development. “It is another sad day for the people of Nigeria and the humanitarian community,” Kallon said.
Seven aid workers have so far been killed since 2011 when the insurgents re-launched attacks in the Northeast, according to the UN, while other humanitarian organizations put the figure at 26. The December 13 killing was followed by nearly a dozen of other attacks, including that on six communities in the state, namely, Chul, Rumingo, Lassa, Musa, Kufa and Gwandam in Askira Uba Local Government Area in the southern part of Borno, in mid-December.
Also, the insurgents attacked Biu, the third largest town in Borno on Christmas eve, leading to the death of two persons while about 13 people were injured. About eight people were killed and five kidnapped on Christmas Day along Tuhumshe-Monguno road. Tungumshe is a small community, which provides access to other neighbouring towns, including Monguno, which is host to about 100,000 IDPs.
Borno State governor, Prof Babagana Zulum, described the attacks as worrisome, but assured that the government was doing everything possible to improve on the security situation.
“The governor shares the pains with victims of these attacks and assures them of his administration’s continued effort in trying to address the security problem,” Isa Gusau, the spokesman of the governor, said in a statement made available to journalists.
Scores of civilians have fled their homes in the wake of all the attacks, in search of safety. The attacks have also fueled more displacement of the civilian populace and cut assess of aid to civilians in volatile areas.
AAH said it was providing food relief to about 300,000 people in the Northeast, but regretted that the recent attacks, including the one on its staff, were affecting civilians’ access to aid.
It called on Boko Haram to respect the principle of neutrality, which humanitarian actors stand for in conflict situation and ensure aid workers are protected.
“I renew the call for all armed actors to respect the principles of humanity, neutrality, independence, and impartiality which guide humanitarian assistance, and to ensure the protection of aid workers,” AAH said in a statement.
Tunde Alakija, an aid volunteer, said that humanitarian workers were scared of travelling outside Maiduguri to supply aid to nearly two million people who have been displaced over the past decade by Boko Haram violence.
“Many aid workers are scared of travelling even a kilometer outside Maiduguri now for aid supplies. This means many of the IDPs may not have access to food, medication and other aids,” he told Sunday Sun.
UN said that the upsurge in Boko Haram attacks in Northeast in recent time was affecting aids to civilians.
“The upsurge in violence witnessed over the past years, and especially along the main roads over the last six months, is leading to a deteriorating humanitarian situation,” Antonio Jose Canhandula, UN chief in Nigeria, said.
He pointed out that 160,000 people have fled looking for safety and “arriving in already congested camps, stretching a majority of sites to capacity. Insecurity and violent attacks continue to hamper the ability of people in many areas of Borno and Yobe states to access basic services, livelihoods, and land for farming and grazing.”
Canhandula said that over seven million people are in need of urgent life-saving assistance in the crisis-affected states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. Many are surviving in harsh conditions without humanitarian assistance as UN and humanitarian NGOs estimate 1.2 million people have become unreachable to them.
Therefore, security experts have tasked the government on the need for more proactive steps in tackling insurgency in the country.
The President of the Association of Industrial Security and Safety Operators of Nigerian (AISSON), Dr Ona Ekhomu, said that “the barbaric killing of Christians and the release of the video images to coincide with Christmas festivities was meant to make the cruel terrorist acts rankle more and create animus between various religious communities,” adding that “Boko Haram is an equal opportunity killer. They have killed more Muslims than Christians. If you don’t belong to their demented brand of Islam then you are fair game.”
He, therefore, advised the military to re-engineer its strategy for combating terror in the Northeast.
He said that the ungoverned spaces are a vulnerability that the terrorists are exploiting, stressing that the loopholes must be closed.
“Security vulnerabilities in the Northeast are both observable and exploitable by the terrorists hence the frequent attacks, abductions and atrocities,” Ekhomu noted.
He said that ISWAP leader, Abu Musab AlBarnawi, in August 2016 declared that he would target and kill Christians and aid workers. “So, it should not surprise anyone that he is doing just that. The important thing is to implement a troop surge strategy that will take the fight to the terrorists rather than adopting a defensive strategy, which involves waiting for them to attack and then calling in air strikes. In military strategy you must control the ground to win,” he said.
He urged the Federal Government to seek greater international cooperation with the West, saying, “afterall, ISWAP said that beheading the 11 Christians was in retaliation for the death of ISIS leader, Abubakar El Baghdadi in Syria. Since Nigeria is dealing with the backlash of a successful US operation in Syria, Nigeria deserves help to confront the crisis here.”
Speaking in the same vein, another security expert, Anthony Osezele, said that the recent atrocious acts of the insurgents in resorting to the execution of their hostages was a clear indication that the terrorists were feigning their holds in the country, when it is clear that the military has been able encumber their activities in the recent months.
“The military has recorded a huge success in restricting the activities of the murderous group in the Northeast. The recent resort to the execution of their hostages is just part of the group’s desperation to create the impression that they are still on ground in the zone. So, I will urge the military to be more relentless in its onslaught on the group,” he advised.
He urged the government to have a rethink on the plan to withdraw troops from the volatile zone as announced, saying that “insurgency is like cancer that festers rapidly, but difficult to cure. So, rather than withdraw troops from these volatile zones, military presence should be made more visible until the last seed of terrorism sown in these areas is killed.”