The United Nations has warned that northern Nigeria faces the “largest crisis in Africa” as the government’s war with Boko Haram has become increasingly bogged down
In northern Borno state, the epicentre of a conflict that has spread to three neighbouring countries – Chad, Cameroon and Niger – Nigeria’s army has unleashed a barrage of air and land assaults.
The counterinsurgency has clawed back some territory, but Boko Haram has responded by stepping up guerrilla tactics, ambushing troops and attacking civilians.
In late November, Major General Leo Irbor hailed his men’s success in freeing “more than 5,200 people” in a month.
But the high number of people freed highlighted Boko Haram’s capacity to capture and hold vast, heavily populated areas.
Villagers under siege are typically forced to abandon their crops, devastating local food supplies. Those who escape Boko Haram are generally transported by the army to camps where basic supplies are also desperately scarce.
The UN estimates that 14 million people will need outside help in 2017, particularly in Borno State, after seven years of conflict that has killed at least 20,000 people and left 2.6 million homeless.
While ISIL and Boko Haram fighters battle the Nigerian army, hunger is spreading among both villagers and the swelling ranks of displaced people in the ravaged northeast.
The UN has warned that 75,000 children in the region are at risk of death within “a few months”.
What the World Food Programme has called “famine-like” conditions have prompted experts to warn against seeking victory over the armed groups at all costs.
“The Nigerian army, which has adopted a purely military strategy for seven years, needs to change its approach if it wants to win this war,” said St-Pierre.