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The Guardian (London) reminds its readers that it has been one year since Boko Haram massacred an estimated 2,000 people and, in effect, destroyed Baga, a city of 300,000 in northern Nigeria. Its correspondent, Eromo Egbejule reports that the city remains virtually empty, with less than one thousand people still living there. The Guardian reports that the Buhari administration has not commented on the Baga anniversary, and there are no plans to commemorate what up to now is the largest Boko Haram massacre. Local people report that Boko Haram no longer occupies major towns, but are ambushing travelers and attacking villages.
Abubakar Shekau, the “face” of Boko Haram, has not been heard from for months. His last video was dated February 2015, and in August 2015 there was an audio tape, ostensibly made by him. The Nigerian authorities have long claimed that he is dead, but they have never provided convincing evidence.
The Guardian now estimates that the number of internally displaced by Boko Haram is more than three million. The Buhari administration is committed to the return to their homes of the internally displaced, and there is a victims’ support fund. But, in the area around Baga, there are media reports of Boko Haram killing former residents who try to return home. There are numerous anecdotes about people returning home but fleeing again because of the lack of security. Evidence is slim that significant numbers have been able to return home permanently.
Baga’s anniversary is a reminder of the huge costs of the Boko Haram insurrection and the ongoing humanitarian challenges. It is hard to see how the specific needs of more than three million internally displaced can be met short of an international effort.
Note: Baga is also a reminder of the consequences of desertification and climate change in northern Nigeria. It was once a fishing town on the shores of Lake Chad. But, as the lake has dried up, the former city is now inland. Before Boko Haram, the fishermen had departed, though a major fish market remained.