The United Nations and Alliance for International Medical Actions (ALIMA), an international non-governmental organisation in Borno State, are yet to provide details more than 24 hours after an attack by Boko Haram insurgents on a village near the state capital on Sunday.
Four humanitarian workers were reported killed and two others abducted in the attack on Sunday.
In the incident, a convoy of humanitarian aid providers believed to be working with ALIMA was ambushed by suspected Boko Haram insurgents who killed three of the staff and abducted two other women.
The abduction came barely two weeks after the insurgents shared a gory video of the killing of four of the five humanitarian workers and staff of Action Against Hunger they had held since July. The insurgents had abducted six persons, including a lady, but executed one male among them earlier in October.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that the aid workers were on Sunday travelling between Maiduguri and Monguno, a town 140 km from the Borno State capital, when they ran into the ambush.
The incident has since raised serious concerns in Maiduguri, where most international NGOs and the UN staffers reside.
However, the victims’ employer, ALIMA, and the coordinating UN body are yet to give a clear picture of the incident.
Efforts to get a statement from the UN official on Monday evening failed. Those who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES said “a high-level stakeholders meeting” was still going on at the time of the call and that nothing could be said on the abduction matter until the end of the meeting.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES at 1.23 a.m. on Tuesday confirmed the “horrifying” incident.
The statement quoted UNOCHA’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Antonio Cahandula, saying he was “horrified by reports received yesterday (Monday) of the execution of many civilians and the abduction of several others on the Monguno-Maiduguri road, in northern Borno State, and on the Damaturu-Biu road, which is a key road linking Yobe and Borno states.”
Though it has taken more than 24 hours after the humanitarian workers were attacked, Mr. Cahandula, indicated that they still had no details of what happened on Sunday and how many of their aid workers were involved.
“As information is still coming through, the humanitarian community working in the northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe condemns the violent incidents that took place yesterday and the increasing practice by armed groups to set up checkpoints targeting civilians.”
He called on the “Nigerian authorities to do their utmost to prevent further violence and brutality and to protect the civilian population, including aid workers, from such grave violations of international laws, especially women and children who are among the most vulnerable and are caught up in the violence.”
ALIMA on its part is yet to issue any statement on the matter. Nothing was mentioned about the Sunday attack on its official website.
PREMIUM TIMES also checked with the police in the state, but the spokesperson, Edet Okon, a deputy superintendent of police, said the police would rather not comment.
“We don’t normally speak on matters like this because Borno State is under emergency being managed by the military and the police don’t comment on anything that happens outside the metropolis,” he said.
The state Commissioner for Home Affairs, Information, and Culture, Babakura Abba-Jato, had in response to PREMIUM TIMES’ inquiry described the incident as very sad. He said the state government was doing everything to assist the military in the war.
He attributed the recent spike in attacks to the modus operandi of the insurgents whom he said mobilise towards the end of the year, especially the yuletide, to make a statement undermining the efforts of the authorities.
“Government of Borno State is not relenting to see that this is brought to a quick end, despite all challenges,” he said.
He said the government was doing a lot in supporting the military with vehicles, engaging other paramilitary groups like the Civilian-JTF, bringing in the local hunters and even encouraging the insurgents to embrace the federal government’s offer of amnesty through the safe corridor initiative. The government is also encouraging prayers from all faiths “because without the hand of God we cant win the war.
“We must understand that this is the end of the year and the insurgents would always want to make a point by carrying out this kind of attack, and you know they must have been prepared for this to make it appear as though they are still on the ground.”
But UNOCHA’s Humanitarian coordinator, Mr Cahandula, in his statement, expressed worry that the Boko Haram insurgency has taken too many lives of innocent civilians.
“Over 36,000 people have lost their lives since the beginning of the conflict, about half of them civilians who continue to pay the ultimate price of a crisis they did not start and do not want,” Mr Cahandula said.
More Disturbing statistics
He said since the beginning of 2019, “nine aid workers have already lost their lives while trying to provide life-saving assistance to those who desperately need it in Borno State.”
“The upsurge in violence witnessed over the past year, and especially along the main roads over the last six months, is leading to a deteriorating humanitarian situation. Since the beginning of the year, over 160,000 people have fled, looking for safety and arriving in already congested camps, stretching a majority of sites to capacity.”
Mr Cahandula said insecurity and violent attacks have continued 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.
“Over seven million people remain in need of urgent life-saving assistance in the crisis-affected states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa,” he said.
“Many are surviving in harsh conditions without humanitarian assistance as UN and humanitarian NGOs estimate 1.2 million people have become unreachable to them. The humanitarian community in Nigeria reminds all armed groups of their duty to protect civilians and calls for increased respect for international humanitarian law.
“The protection of civilians is paramount, and we also call on the general public, including the media, to refrain from sharing any unconfirmed information. Spreading misinformation risks further endangering the safety of civilians abducted and those whose whereabouts are still unknown and could jeopardise their safe return.”