Nigerian soldiers have evacuated the entire population of a town in the north-eastern insurgency-hit state of Borno without warning.
The military said people were evacuated ahead of operations, but residents of Jakana said they were taken to a camp this week in the state capital Maiduguri to check whether they were members of the extremist group Boko Haram. Jakana is home to about 10,000 people.
The UN said residents were not allowed to collect any belongings, with some even arriving without shoes. It called for them to be given humanitarian aid immediately.
Nana Sanda, who lives in Maiduguri, was in Jakana visiting family. On Monday night, the military came and ordered everyone into their vehicles.
“I was thinking of nothing but death,” she said. “Where are they taking us to? Are they going to kill us without any reason? Is this how I am going to die without seeing my children and husband for the last time? I was pushed on to the vehicle and in the process, I fell down and injured my legs and back.
“Nobody was allowed to take anything along. People were crammed into the vehicles, one on top of the other and without food or water. Children were bundled into any available vehicle and this went on from 8pm on Monday until Tuesday evening.”
She said many parents had been separated from their children and had still not found them.
They were taken to Bakassi camp for internally displaced people in Maiduguri, where they had to queue to be screened and then sit in the sun with no shelter, food or water.
The conflict in north-eastern Nigeria is almost 10 years old, but shows no sign of being resolved. Boko Haram and its Isis-affiliated splinter group, Islamic State west Africa province (Iswap) continue to roam the countryside, while the military holds on to some garrison towns.
Civilians are caught in the crossfire, with many dead and disappeared. Thousands who have fled their homes are unable to return, with others newly displaced: sources in the north-east said residents of the towns of Kukawa and Gudumbali were also ordered to leave their homes.
The state authorities appear to have been unaware of the military’s planned operation in Jakana, and a high-level meeting was held with the Borno governor, army chiefs and defence minister on Wednesday. A military source said the people of Jakana were suspected of “conspiring with Boko Haram”, providing them with a safe haven and allowing them to buy food there.
Camp officials said they would be taken back to Jakana and several military vehicles full of civilians were seen in Maiduguri on Thursday heading in the direction of the town.
“The military is uncomfortable with the reaction of the state government and the UN, and there were no proper arrangements for such an exercise,” one said.
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