In just over two weeks, Borno State has experienced four devastating attacks by Boko Haram insurgents that killed at least 36 lives in the state.
These attacks, mostly targeted at farmers in their fields, threaten a reversal of the relative peace and food security that the state gradually attained over the years.
Daily Trust reports indicate how the attacks that happened between June 14 and June 30 also left many farmers injured and scared many farmers off their fields this season.
These attacks, which are likely to be higher than reported, mostly took place in southern Borno–the agricultural hub of the state–and are threatening food security in Borno, the North East, and the country at large.
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The most recent attack was on June 26 when suspected Boko Haram militants ambushed eight farmers on their way to farm and slaughtered seven farmers in Damboa Local Government Area of the state.
Locals and security sources said the incident happened around 11:30am in the Bulajimbam area of the council.
“It is sad; seven people lost their lives and you see it is difficult for us to tell these people not to go to farm. We are working hard to ensure they are protected,” a security source who preferred anonymity told Daily Trust.
In another attack, on June 14, 15 people working on their farmlands were also slaughtered and some beheaded by suspected Boko Haram insurgents in Damboa and Jere local government areas.
Bukar Ali Musty, a top member of the vigilante group, said the farmers were working on their farmlands near Molai, on the outskirts of Maiduguri, when insurgents attacked and beheaded them.
“At least 15 dead bodies were evacuated after the attack this morning.
“Seven farmers were beheaded while working on their farms and the attackers also slit the throats of eight other harmless civilians in their homes,” the vigilante source said.
On June 22, eight woodmongers were also killed in a fresh Boko Haram attack in Mafa, the local government council of Borno State governor, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum.
This attack, which came barely a week after that of the slain farmers, happened in Bulamari village.
According to a Civilian JTF source, the insurgents killed eight out of the nine young loggers who were under the age of 20 and deliberately spared the life of one.
“They only allowed one Babakura, a 15-year-old boy, to come and break the story in the town.
“They tied their hands behind their backs and shot them in the heads. We went there together with the Civilians’ Joint Task Force to bring the corpses for burial; only one person was married among them, and all of them were young men,” he said.
On June 30, six other people, including a woman, were killed by the suspected Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP) in Damboa Local Government Area of the state.
According to sources, the attackers stormed the town around 8:30pm and fired mortar bombs into Damboa town, the local government headquarters, and 21 innocent people were injured.
Sources from the security claimed that after failing to gain access into the town, the attackers hauled a mortar bomb that killed six people and injured 21 in Wulari area, near the district head’s palace.
“Yes, there was an attack by ISWAP last night in Damboa town. We lost six people including women and more than 20 people were taken to the hospital, but the situation is calm now,” a security source said.
A top member of Civilian JTF told Daily Trust that those killed included housewives and aged women.
However, the most disturbing aspect of the killings is their change of modus operandi; the insurgents now trail the farmers and slaughter them quietly in their isolated farmlands.
Also, in most of these areas attacked by the insurgents, the locals complained of minimal or no security presence at the time of the attacks.
ISWAB accuses locals of spying, bans farming
In a new development, the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) was said to have imposed a ban on farming, fishing, and herding activities in the remote northeastern region of Marte.
A local source told Daily Trust that the move was to halt agricultural activities in areas under the control of the ISWAP to punish the farming communities over alleged spying for the military that carried out aerial bombardment in their location.
It was gathered that in the coordinated airstrikes, many ISWAP commanders were killed, and the group was forced to abandon their bases and seek refuge in locations perceived as safer for them.
It was gathered that the ISWAP Leadership vowed to kill farmers or fishermen found within the general areas of Katikime, Bulungahe, Kutukungunla, Chikun Gudu, Tumbumma, Guma Kura, Guma Gana and New Marte, after accusing them of spying on their activities to the Nigerian military.
Zulum releases 80 vehicles to transport farmers to Damboa
Meanwhile, the Borno State governor, Prof. Babagana Zulum, has released 50 buses and 30 pick-up vans to convey farmers to their farms for free in Damboa LGA and other parts of the state.
“To reduce the high cost of living caused by the withdrawal of fuel subsidy, Gov Babagana Umara Zulum released 80 buses and pick-up vans for free transportation of farmers.
“The 80 means of transport will comprise 50 luxurious buses to be allocated from the fleet of the Borno Express Corporation, while the 30 pick-up vans will be hired by the state government,” he said.
Zulum urged the military to consider the farmers’ population to avoid subjecting them to the rigour of checks that would consume the farming period.
“You can see thousands of farmers are here; with their number over 10,000. We acknowledge the tremendous support of the Nigeria Army, the police and paramilitary but we must review the hardship of these local people.
“I’m here not to undermine the effort of the Nigerian army, but to make things easy for the generality of the people of Borno State. For this, the Nigerian Army should devise methods of surveillance to reduce the hardships.
“Rainy season has a short span, a maximum of three months; screening each and sundry would take at least four hours, and this is never possible.
“I’m urging the Nigerian Army to look into the possibility of allowing the farmers to go into their farmlands to farm on time, because food insecurity is the worst form of insecurity,” he said.
Farmers fear possible attacks
With these attacks that continue to escalate, farmers in Damboa, especially the western part, have continued to express uncertainties over the security situation in the area.
One of the farmers, Alhaji Sheriff Damboa, said despite huge intervention by the state government, many farmers were forced to abandon their farms.
“Lots of farmers have abandoned their farmlands for fear of being killed, especially after the most recent killings. Days after Eid-el-adha, 6 farmers were slaughtered. We recovered their corpses and buried them.
“So, if enough security is not provided, farmers wouldn’t be able to carry out their farm activities without fear, especially in this season that we are experiencing a shortage of rainfall. The worst part is that after all the hardships, most farmers have to pay or even get killed by the insurgents before they harvest,” he said.
Another farmer, Hassan Mohammed, said farmers could only cultivate within five kilometres from Damboa town.
“Nobody can cultivate beyond 5km from Damboa town because the security operatives concentrate in the town and its fringes. So, those with the illusion that more land would be opened up for cultivation are not telling you the truth,” he added.