Boko Haram drives 19 000 farmers from land in Nigeria

The evictions and military crackdown has raised fears of imminent food shortages, officials warned on Tuesday. Food shortages would add immeasurably to the misery in northeast Nigeria.

The area abandoned by farmers is a fertile one in the semi-arid Sahel, a regional bread basket created by the receding waters of Lake Chad.

"We anticipate general hunger this year because all roads linking the cities to the farming hinterlands have been closed down," the agriculture commissioner for Borno state, Usman Zannah, told the Associated Press in an interview on Tuesday.

"Farmers have been locked out of their farm lands while those in the hinterland cannot come to the city for tractors or laborers to get their farms tilled for the next cropping."

The violence continued with the military reporting that 13 people, including high school students and teachers, were killed when extremists attacked a boarding school in Damataru, state capital of Yobe state, during a five-hour shootout on Sunday night.

School pupils and teachers shot
A student who survived by hiding under a dormitory bed said dozens of fighters who identified themselves as Boko Haram – which means "Western education is sacrilege" – ordered students to take them to the teachers' quarters, where they opened fire on teachers and students.

The student spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Military spokesperson Leutenant Eli Lazarus said seven students, two teachers, two soldiers and two militants were killed in the attack and three soldiers were critically injured.

He said several militants were captured.

Chad basin development authority director Garba Iliya said last week that 10 000 hectares of rice paddies were abandoned by some 19 000 farmers at the peak of the harvesting season.

He said 3 500 hectares of wheat ready to harvest was also lost as farmers fled in terror.

"Only 1 500 hectares of wheat have been harvested before the terrorists came to chase the farmers and our workers away," Iliya said.

The UN high commissioner for refugees reported last week that more than 6 000 Nigerians, mainly women, children and the elderly, have fled to the neighbouring country of Niger in recent weeks.

Fighters from Boko Haram and breakaway groups took control of large tracts of land and some villages and towns when Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency May 14, banned Boko Haram and ordered a joint task force of soldiers and police to break an insurgency that poses the greatest risk in years to stability in Nigeria.

Christian south, Muslim north
Africa's most populous nation of 160-million and the continent's biggest oil producer is divided between the mainly Christian south and predominantly Muslim north.

Last week, Nigeria's military claimed to be in control of the area under emergency, the states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe covering some 155 000 square kilometres bordering Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

Military officials said they killed and arrested dozens of militants in attacks using fighter jets and helicopter gunships, but they acknowledged many fighters likely fled with heavy weaponry including anti-aircraft guns.

The military offered amnesty to any fighters who surrendered.

In that spirit, officials last week released the wife and children of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau along with seven other wives and an unknown number of children who were detained without charge for 10 months.

Nigeria's authorities routinely arrest the wives and children of suspects.

Despite the massive military presence and a shutdown on communications that includes cell phones and internet service, there are daily unconfirmed reports of attacks that are terrorising the population of northeast Nigeria.

Massive death count
On Saturday, an AP reporter in Potiskum, a market town of Yobe state, watched police taking away the corpses of five traders they said were executed by suspected Boko Haram militants.

An officer said the fighters targeted the traders for unknown reasons, dragging them from their homes on Friday night, forcing them to lie down in the street and shooting them in the head.

Islamic militants have killed more than 1 600 civilians in suicide bombings and other attacks since 2010, according to an AP count.

Dozens of civilians have also been killed by soldiers according to human rights groups – a charge the military denies. – Sapa-AP

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Sapa Ap
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