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Gruesome Massacre of Nigerian Farmers

A “gruesome” massacre against farmers in northeastern Nigeria killed at least 110 people, the United Nations has said, raising tolls initially indicating 43 and then at least 70 dead. The killings took place in the early afternoon of Saturday in the village of Koshobe and other rural communities in the Jere local government area near Maiduguri, the capital of the conflict-hit Borno state. The assailants tied up the agricultural workers and slit their throats, according to a pro-government anti-jihadist militia. The victims were labourers from Sokoto state in north-west Nigeria, roughly 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) away, who had travelled to the north-east to find work.

“Armed men on motorcycles led a brutal attack on civilian men and women who were harvesting their fields,” Edward Kallon, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, said in a statement on Sunday. “At least 110 civilians were ruthlessly killed and many others were wounded in this attack,” he added, noting that several women are believed to have been kidnapped.

“The incident is the most violent direct attack against innocent civilians this year. I call for the perpetrators of this heinous and senseless act to be brought to justice,” Kallon said. There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, but the armed group Boko Haram and its splinter faction, the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), have carried out a series of deadly assaults in the area in recent years.

Both groups are active in the region, where fighters have killed more than 30,000 people in the past decade during an armed campaign that has displaced some two million and has spread to neighbouring countries including Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who took office in 2015 promising to fix the security crisis, denounced the latest massacre. “I condemn the killing of our hard-working farmers by terrorists in Borno state, the entire country is hurt by these senseless killings”. The president said via his spokesman. But security analyst Sulaiman Aledeh said many in the country are growing frustrated with the authorities’ inability to contain the conflict.

Nigerian government officials have long insisted that jihadists were “technically defeated” and reduced to sporadic attacks. Refugees across the north-east have been urged to return home to a region the government has said is now safe.

But beyond major cities and garrison towns where military presence is strong, significant parts of north-east Nigeria remain acutely vulnerable, with people effectively occupied and governed by roaming jihadists groups. Attacks in the north-east – particularly targeting farmers, security forces and aid workers – have increased in recent years.

Last month Boko Haram militants slaughtered 22 farmers working on their irrigation fields near Maiduguri in two separate attacks. Boko Haram and ISWAP, its IS-linked rival, have increasingly targeted loggers, herders and fishermen in their violent campaign, accusing them of spying and passing information to the military and the local militia fighting them. At least 36,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which has displaced about two million since 2009.

Borno state governor Babagana Zulum, speaking at the burials, called on the federal government to recruit more soldiers, Civilian Joint Task Force members, and civil defence fighters to protect farmers in the region. He described desperate choices facing people.” 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,” he said. Food prices in Nigeria have risen dramatically over the past year, driven by flooding, border closures, and insecurity in some food-producing areas.

By Jumana Jabeer

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