By Olarewaju Kola
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AA) - Nearly 7 million civilians around Lake Chad in Africa’s Sahel region may be hard hit following the escalation of Boko Haram terror attacks.
About 1 million people in Nigerian northeast also risk being cut off from aid distributions as terrorists step up their activities on highways, communities and military base recently, humanitarian experts said.
Security situation in the country’s volatile region escalated as Boko Haram -- an affiliate of Daesh/ISIS terrorist organization -- attacks, kills and abducts civilians and humanitarian workers traveling on major roads in the area since early January, fueling tension about safety in aid distributions.
At least 12 aid workers were killed in 2019 alone in the area, a figure twice that of 2018 according to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Nigeria. Six aid workers abducted in 2018 and 2019 are still held by the terrorists. Alice Loksha, a nurse and mother abducted in March 2018, and Grace Taku, kidnapped in July 2019 by the terrorists, have not been freed yet. They were staff of international humanitarian organizations.
The UN's humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria Edward Kallon said the international community was worried about the spate of terrorist attacks in the area. He expressed concern about the new trend the terrorists now adopt, mounting checkpoints on major highways.
“The humanitarian community is troubled by the rising trend in vehicular checkpoints set up by non-state armed groups along main supply routes in the [northeastern] states of Borno and Yobe,” he said.
With about 3 million people displaced and over 36,000 killed in the over a decade-long violence in the region, Kallon said the worsening insecurity has continued to hamper the ability of civilians in many communities to access basic services, food, and their livelihood, mostly farming and grazing.
A Network of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in the country has asked Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to halt the growing insecurity to prevent further humanitarian crisis in the northeast.
Ahmed Shehu, the executive director of the network -- a coalition of 178 CSOs -- said the state of insecurity in the region has continued to deteriorate.
The brutal tactics of the terrorists were a toll on aid distributions, he told Anadolu Agency in an interview in Maiduguri, heartland of Boko Haram violence. Nearly 1 million people at some provinces on the shore of the Lake Chad in northeast Nigeria were already trapped in their communities, without access to aids, he added.
“The poorly-managed crisis has spilled over to the Lake Chad region, rendering about 7 million helpless people in dire need of immediate assistance,” said Shehu.
The area is twice the size of Belgium, covering northern parts of neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
He said previous support to the people have been insufficient, and the present spate of attacks on aid workers and civilians could escalate the humanitarian crisis.
Shehu listed malnutrition, gender violence, drug abuse, conscription to terrorism groups, extortion and sexual abuse as some of the challenges that the lack of access to foods and basic needs could fuel.
He said cases of malnutrition already in the hard-to-reach communities are expected to double in the next few months except authority halts the terrorists’ activities.
The Nigerian military has repeatedly claimed that it “technically” and “militarily” defeated Boko Haram despite incessant attacks by the terrorists.
There have been over a dozen terror attacks on three major highways that lead to the northeast Borno state and an exit to the border of neighboring Cameroon. More than 30 people, including civilians and military troops, have either been killed or abducted by the terrorists since the beginning of this year.
But Maj. Gen. Olusegun Adeniyi, the commander of the counter-terrorism military operation in the northeast, said increased offensive on Boko Haram in their camps around the Lake Chad shore forced them out to the highways to attack vulnerable civilians.
“It is not as if Boko Haram has returned, but it is an attempt to create fear and remain in the news, even internationally,” he stressed.
The insurgents often disguise with military camouflage and four-wheel vehicles painted in military color to strike on the highways, said, assuring that the military has already taken measures to prevent further attacks.
“We now have more presence of troops and we conduct patrols on the roads,” Gen. Adeniyi said. But some Nigerians said they were not convinced with the military's explanation.
Abdul Saleh -- a security expert in the country’s capital Abuja and also a former military personnel -- faulted the military claim, saying: “We appreciate military efforts in the counter-Boko Haram war, but the operation should take care of safety on roads in the northeast,” he said.
Charles Adegbite, a journalist in Lagos, a Nigerian commercial hub, said the military should turn the heat against Boko Haram, and added: “The violence has dragged for too long, it is time to end it, because otherwise the current social and economic problems will aggravate.”
Boko Haram terror group, which seeks to create a Caliphate for itself in Nigeria's northern region, has been responsible for most of the violent attacks in the area since July 2009 when it first launched its offensive against the state institutions.
Since the early 2010s, it has wielded power and influence also in Niger, Chad, and Cameroon.