More information is gradually emerging of how a Boko Haram attack on Rann in Borno State virtually turned the town into a graveyard.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how Boko Haram attacked the Borno community on January 14. Following the attack, an estimated 76,000 displaced persons camped in Rann face starvation as agencies of the United Nations working there halted their operations due to insecurity.
A male nurse working for the Medicines Sans Frontier (MSF) in Borno State, Isa Bwala, who was in Rann a day after the Boko Haram attack, said the community, which used to be bubbling has been turned into what he described as a silent graveyard.
Mr Bwala, who was there to assess the medical needs of residents before aide workers were officially pulled out, said he met a town turned to a ghost of its former self.
“What struck me when we arrived was the silence,” he said in an article published on the MSF website.
“Many parts of the town have been burnt. There was still smoke drifting in the sky and the fires were still burning in places.
“I met a woman who was just back from the burial of her elderly mother, who had died inside her burning home. She burnt to death inside because she couldn’t escape the fire.
“MSF’s base, office and pharmacy have been burnt to the ground. All that’s left are piles of ashes.
“Luckily, all of our staff from Rann are safe. Several have fled to Cameroon, along with the majority of the population of Rann.
“I saw a long line of people leaving for Cameroon – women, children and men, of all ages. Some had donkeys but many were just carrying their belongings. The ones I spoke to said they were leaving because they were too afraid to stay.
“There is not much left for them to stay for anyway; their homes are gone and I don’t know what they would live on. The market was burnt and looted – food stores also. There is nowhere to get food from. People who don’t have any food at home will not be able to get any more.”
MSF mobilises support
Although the few people remainig in Rann are now on their own, officials of the MSF, otherwise known as doctors without borders, said they are mobilising both food and medical supplies to survivors who escaped to other communities.
The attack on Rann, headquarters of Kala Balge Local Government Area, forced some of the IDPs living there to flee Rann into border communities of Cameroon, a Central African country on the north-east of Nigeria. Some of them, according to Borno State officials, also fled to Ngala, a neighbouring border town of Borno.
According to MSF, an estimated 8,000 IDPs have been recorded to have moved into Cameroon, barely 72 hours after the attack, while more are expected to join them.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt from sources around Rann that the mass exodus of the IDPs into Cameroon has since ignited concerns of the government of the Central African country, which had allegedly ordered its security operatives to bar further influx of the dislodged Nigerians.
This development prompted the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Nigeria to issue a statement urging the Cameroonian government not to send the refugees back.
A statement made available to PREMIUM TIMES by the MSF’s Field Communication Officer, Abdulkareem Yakubu, said several thousand people who fled Rann, following the violent attack on the town on January 14, started arriving by foot in Bodo, a Cameroon border community, seven kilometres…from Rann.
“Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) staff have started providing assistance in Bodo,” he said.
“A team consisting of medical and logistical staff have been distributing food and water, and are providing emergency medical care.
The statement indicated that the IDPs, now refugees, who fled in condition of shock, are now camping in open spaces and under the trees.
MSF’s programme manager in Nigeria, Hugues Robert, was quoted in a news article published on the organisation’s website as saying that their staffers in Bodo, Cameroon, estimate “that some 8,000 people arrived yesterday and we expect several thousand more may come today.”
“We are preparing to assist 15,000 people with food, water and medical care over the coming days,” said Mr Robert.
The MSF team lead lamented that “many people were in a state of shock and were clearly distressed by what they had witnessed. Now they have lost all that they have and need absolutely everything.”
He said the people have spent nights outdoors as there are no shelters.
“There are children and many breastfeeding and pregnant women among them,” Mr Robert said.
The MSF officer said many parts of Rann town were burnt, including houses and shelters. The market and food stores were also destroyed.
“The MSF warehouse, office and pharmacy were looted and burnt to the ground. Empty boxes of medical supplies were lying scattered on the ground outside.
“MSF was able to evacuate one injured man on site, but most others fled to nearby Cameroon.
“This is truly devastating for the people in Rann. They suffer endless violence. And now they have to get back on their feet once more. How many more times is this possible?
“The people of Borno continue to pay the price for this merciless conflict. All the warring parties must respect the safety of civilians.”
Borno emergency agency stranded
The Borno State Emergency Management Agency (BOSEMA) said it is unable to move food and other relief items to the attacked people of Rann following the hostile security situation along the route to Ngala, a nearby town where some of the IDPs are also migrating to.
Ngala, the headquarters of Gamboru-Ngala Local Government Area of Borno State, is about 75km from Rann.
Speaking on phone with PREMIUM TIMES, Yabawa Kolo, the executive chairperson of BOSEMA, explained how the Borno State government is reacting to the situation.
Mrs Kolo said her agency’s personnel have been mobilised with relevant relief material which they could not take to the displaced population due to security concerns along the roads.
“For now we are doing our best to discourage the movement to Cameroon. Our officials in Rann have been encouraging them to move to Ngala, which is easier for us to take relief to them,” she said.
“Presently some officials of the UNOCHA have moved to Ngala and some of our personnel too, as well as the camp manager, are there doing their best to take care of the situation.
“For now we are trying to find new shelters for them, because that should be the number one priority.
“We have been able to mobilise about 300 bags of rice, 25 jars of oil and other related condiments which we wanted to move to Ngala. But our challenge now been able to secure clearance for those that will transport the items by road.”
She said they could not also secure the service of the humanitarian choppers normally used to transport relief supply as the UN said it has not lifted the ban on flying to the hinterlands since the Monday attack on Rann.
“So we are here a bit helpless because we have to wait until we are told the security situation has improved before embarking on the road trip,” she said.
Mrs Kolo said for now, the officials in Ngala are managing the situation of the arrivals with the little resources at their disposal pending when the military would give a green light to move the supplies by road to Ngala.
She added she has been in constant touch with the state governor, Kashim Shettima, who is due to return from his official trip outside Maiduguri.
“As soon as His Excellency, the governor arrives, the chairman of Kala Balge local government and I have secured appointment to meet him so that he can help us in fast-tracking the process of clearing the road, to enable us move the relief (items) to Ngala,” she said.
A history of Attack
Rann is the Borno village where a military fighter jet in 2017 mistakenly dropped bombs on innocent people in an IDP camp killing nearly 200 persons.
It was also in Rann that three female health workers working for UN agencies were abducted last year. Two of the abductees have so far been killed by the Boko Haram.