By Umaima Arif | Contributor
In the early afternoon of Saturday November 28, at least 43 civilians, and likely many more, were massacred in a brutal attack in Koshobe, a northeastern Nigerian village near the capital of Borno state (Maiduguri), and other rural communities in the local Jere government area.
Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group in West Africa, has claimed responsibility for the attack, which targeted unarmed farmers in the rice fields. The group is also reportedly active in Chad, northern Cameroon, and Niger.
Accounts from a pro-government militia claim that the assailants arrived in motorcycles, tied the farmers up and slit their throats. The victims largely consisted of immigrants and labourers from Sokota state; as of Saturday, six were wounded and eight were missing.
According to Edward Kollon, the United Nations’ Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, the incident has been “the most violent direct attack against innocent civilians this year,” an alarming statement considering 2019 was reported to be the deadliest year for local security forces, with 800 soldier deaths.
In addition, Kallon cites several reports claiming that an undetermined number of women were kidnapped and are being held hostage. He called for “the perpetrators of this heinous and senseless act to be brought to justice.”
The attack was further condemnned by Nigerian president Muhammad Buhari, who states: “the entire country has been wounded by these senseless killings. My thoughts are with their families at this time of grief. May their souls rest in peace.”
The attack took place as voters were coming to the polls for the long-awaited elections of Borno state, which were repeatedly delayed in the past due to an increase in local attacks by Boko Haram and its rival faction, known as the Islamic State of West Africa Province (or ISWAP).
Several similar attacks in the region on loggers, fishermen, farmers and other agricultural workers have been blamed on these two groups as well. Both groups are active in Nigeria and have collectively slaughtered at least 30,000 civilians within the past decade.
On its own, Boko Haram has displaced about 2.3 million people from their homes and is directly responsible for tens of thousands of civilian deaths since the radical insurgency began in 2009. Their increased radicalisation and mobilisation over the years has occurred despite suppression attempts by local Nigerian security forces, leading to heightened military tension in the region.
Earlier on Sunday November 29, Borno governor Babaganan Umara Zulum noted that the death toll may rise as search operations resumed and urged the federal government to recruit more civil defense fighters, Civilian Joint Task Force members and soldiers to protect agricultural workers in the region.
Together, the political dispute and heightened security concerns have had a devastating impact on Nigeria’s economy and the welfare of its people. Zulum observed that “on one side, they stay at home they may be killed by hunger and starvation; on the other, they go out to their farmlands and risk getting killed by the insurgents.”
Bulama Bukarti, an analyst at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, supplements this and attributes it partially to the failure of the Nigerian military in controlling the insurgents. He refers to the military’s most recent strategy of withdrawing militants from rural communities and remote areas which, while reducing military fatalities, effectively surrendered much of northeastern Nigeria to Boko Haram and northwestern Nigeria to rogue criminal gangs.
Furthermore, security analyst Sulaiman Aledeh points out that several people in Nigeria are growing restless with the failing military control and partially blame the Nigerian government as well. There are questions about the competence of multiple security chiefs and why they still retain their positions, as a similar incident in Niger resulted in President Mahamadou Issoufou firing existing security chiefs.
Vincent Leilei, the UN’s deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, fears that the prolonged effects of the current political instability, along with the increasing violence against unarmed civilians, will continue to destroy livelihoods and cause more displacement.
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