A security convoy carrying displaced persons back to their home was ambushed by suspected terrorists in Borno State, Northeastern Nigeria on September 25th, 2020. At least 18 people were killed, including four civilians and 10 police officers. The Islamist militant group ‘Islamic State in the West African Province’ (ISWAP) claimed responsibility of the attack, declaring on its Amaq website that 30 police officers and soldiers were killed in the ambush. The ambush happened on a road leading to the strategic fishing town of Baga, only a day after the Nigerian military had claimed to have killed several top commanders of Boko Haram in “massive clearance operations”.
The insurgency in Northeastern Nigeria began in 2009 when the group Boko Haram initiated military operations with the goal of establishing a state adhering to strict implementation of Sharia or Islamic law. Since then, several factions of Boko Haram have arisen over time. In 2016, one faction of the group pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and formed the ISWAP. Borno State is the epicenter of the insurgency, being the worst-affected state in the country. Since the start of the insurgency, at least 37,500 people have been killed while at least two million have been displaced.
In recent years, ISWAP has become a dominant force in Borno. Governor Babagana Umara Zulum’s convoy faced an attack en route earlier in July. Throughout 2020, civilians, villagers and aid workers have been constant victims of ISWAP-perpetrated violence. In July, five humanitarian aid workers working in Borno were abducted and subsequently killed. The aid workers came from four different organizations – Action against Hunger, Reach International, the Borno State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) and International Rescue Committee. Abduction and killing of aid workers have been a common phenomenon in Borno. In 2019 alone, 12 aid workers were killed in different gruesome incidents.
President Muhammadu Buhari was elected back in 2015 against the background of his campaign promise of eradicating Boko Haram. Unfortunately, the insurgency has become more intensive in the recent years and civilians have constantly complained about receiving very little help from security officials. Although most of the victims in this ambush were armed or security officials, civilians have been affected the most in numerous occasions of brutal violence perpetrated by the ISWAP in the last two years. Civilians from different villages and towns of Borno have taken asylum in numerous camps situated at Maiduguri, the state capital. The displaced population living in the camps have been badly affected by the Covid-19 crisis since there is very little room for maintaining social distancing. Government-imposed lockdowns, absence of a permanent home and reduced economic opportunities have deepened their miseries.
Recently, the government has begun a program of returning displaced persons to their homes in Baga. The ambushed convoy was part of this initiative. Despite the disruption caused by this atrocity, the government was able to relocate at least 1,000 displaced persons to Baga, which was a huge success in recent years. The returnees received 10,000 Naira (27 USD) and some rations including one bag of rice and one bag of maize grain. The governor supervised preparations of the returning program and stayed in Baga for two nights before returning to Maiduguri. While there is very slim chance of a rapid end to this violence, the successful relocation initiative is one of the very few positives the government was able to accrue in the last few months.