Militants kill dozens of farmers in northeast Nigeria

Locals describe Boko Haram fighters killing civilians in Rann in Borno State

Dozens of people have been killed by armed militants in the town of Rann in northeast Nigeria, close to the border with Cameroon.

Local residents described the aftermath of Sunday's attack to Reuters news agency. "We are all in pain over the killing of our innocent people who were working on their farmland . . . We buried 50 people . . . They were clearing their farmlands ahead of the rainy season, while others went for firewood," said farmer Harun Tom.

Agid Muhammad, who had only recently returned to the town from a camp for displaced people, described Boko Haram fighters armed with guns and machetes surrounding civilians who had been working on farms and killing them one by one.

“They were tied with rope and slaughtered,” he said. “Many people aren’t accounted for.”

Rann previously came to international attention in 2017, when a Nigerian military jet bombed a camp for displaced people there, killing at least 90 people and injuring hundreds more. A spokesman later said they had been given the wrong co-ordinates.

About 2.5 million people have been displaced by the insurgency in northeast Nigeria, which began in 2009. The total number of dead is unknown, though it has been put at more than 40,000 by some estimates, and more than 100,000 by others.

Last year, a study by the UN Development Programme found that when indirect deaths were included, nearly 350,000 people had died – the vast majority of them children under the age of five. “With another decade of conflict, that could grow to more than 1.1 million,” the report said.

United Nations secretary general António Guterres visited the area this month, encouraging authorities to "try to find a solution for people . . . creat[ing] the conditions, security conditions, development conditions for [the displaced] to be able to go back home in safety and dignity".

Nigerian authorities have been widely criticised for pushing for the closure of displacement camps in Borno State capital Maiduguri and encouraging people who have lived inside them for years to return to the areas they fled from, despite insecurity continuing. They say they want to help people support themselves through farming, instead of being reliant on the limited humanitarian aid.

Boko Haram has waged war for 13 years with the expressed aim of creating an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria’s northeast. Tens of thousands of people have been kidnapped – particularly children, who are trained as fighters or suicide bombers – and women, who are forcibly married to members of the group.