Some villagers forced out of their homes last week by Nigerian soldiers said they lost at least 11 persons, mostly children, between Saturday and Sunday in their makeshift homes in Damboa village of Borno State.
Last week, the Nigerian military ordered the residents of Sabongari, a community 150km west of Maiduguri, to evacuate the agrarian village ahead of “a special military” operation.
The army said the operation was targeted at Boko Haram insurgents in the neighbourhood.
The evacuation led to an outcry by the residents who complained that they were not given time to gather their belongings and prepare for life in an IDP camp in Damboa, their local government headquarters.
According to the accounts of many evacuated residents, they were taken in 15 buses to Damboa and dumped them in an abandoned primary school.
The residents said they have been left hungry and without shelter.
“Since they brought us here and dumped us in this place, no government official has come to attend to us, except one NGO and some youth from Damboa Youth Development Association (DYDA) who came to offer food and water,” said one of the evacuated villagers who asked not to be named for security reasons.
Many of the displaced residents of Sabongari, a predominantly Muslim community, said they had given up their fasting due to the lack of food.
They said Saturday was their worst day as they recorded the death of 10 children to injuries caused by heavy rainfall.
“Yesterday, at about 5.30 p.m., there was rainstorm and most us in the primary school camp remained under the heavy rain all through,” said Muhammad Ali, a local farmer.
The rainstorm reportedly pulled down some walls of the dilapidated primary school, which fell on some children.
“We have buried 10 children from the age of eight years downwards, including newly born infants who died as a result of hunger and by being beaten by the rain.
“Nine of them died yesterday and then one died this Sunday morning,” Mr Ali said.
PREMIUM TIMES was unable to verify the claims at the time of this report.
Mr Ali also said that a child was killed while a woman got injured in her leg after they were hit by stray bullets allegedly fired by soldiers during the rain.
“When it was seriously raining we started hearing the sounds of gunshots from the soldiers at the outskirts of the town. A woman was hit by a bullet in the leg and a ten years old boy got killed,” he said.
“We never knew why they were shooting but our people have fallen victims of the shots fired by the soldiers.”
Modu Bashir, a local commercial driver, said the soldiers were shooting in celebration of arresting two Boko Haram fighters, one of whom was an amir (commander).
“There was an ambush on soldiers near Azir village, which later resulted in an exchange of gunfire,” said Mr Bashir.
“Some Boko Haram fighters were killed and two of them were arrested. But we saw four soldiers that were killed and three others injured and they were taken to Damboa General Hospital. That is what I can confirm as an eyewitness.”
No Support From Government
The displaced persons said neither the Borno State Government nor their local government council had offered any assistance since their arrival.
PREMIUM TIMES asked the Executive Chairperson of Borno state emergency management agency (SEMA), Yabawa Kolo, whether the government was aware of the situation in Damboa.
“Yes, we are aware of the situation concerning the people from Sabongari,” she said.
“There was an arrangement that the chairman of the local government will lead a team of officials to go and deliver rice and sugar for them, which I believe they have done as at Friday.”
But the displaced residents said they were yet to receive any assistance as of Sunday morning.
They said the caretaker chairman of Damboa local government, Muhammadu Danladi, brought a small quantity of sugar to Damboa for distribution to those who were fasting, but the item was only shared to party supporters within the town.
“Though many of us could not observe the fasting due to lack of food and water, the few who managed to go on with the fasting depend on the handouts of donations put together by traders in the market.”
The villagers said the soldiers had put them in a very difficult situation. They said they believe the evacuation had nothing to do with Boko Haram.
“We have been living peacefully in Sabongari until the soldiers came with this unfounded story of Boko Haram plotting to attack Sabongari.
All efforts to get a response from the military failed as the army spokesperson at the 7 Division, Ado Isa, did not reply text messages and calls put across to his phone line.