For nearly 13 years the brutal insurgency that has traumatised and impoverished northeast Nigeria has driven some 2.4 million people from their homes into internal exile, many of them starving in overcrowded and diseased refugee camps, and caused hundreds of thousands of deaths.
As Sally Hayden has reported in this newspaper, Maiduguri, capital of the Gwoza region, is now both a city under siege and a refuge from the Boko Haram Islamist militants. Its population has doubled.
Unable to take the war against Boko Haram into the countryside, the government has adopted a strategy of surrounding towns with military and local militia protection, abandoning the rural hinterland. Home remains unsafe for most refugees to return to. Internationally it is a forgotten war of attrition, almost stalemated, in which the gradual erosion of Boko Haram’s base through defections is doing little to end the sense of despair of the embattled population.
More than one million students have been forced out of education in the region, where only around half of children now attend school
The military says more than 24,000 “terrorists” have given themselves up since May, including more than 11,000 children and 7,550 women, but many are now confined in camps in the city without jobs, food or proper medical care. Their choices are desperate – fleeing to Lagos 1,700km away to find scarce work, or returning to the ranks of Boko Haram.
Children have borne the brunt. Since April 2014, when 276 schoolgirls were abducted from a boarding school in Chibok, 125km south of Maidugur, Unicef says at least 1,440 students have been abducted in Nigeria, with 25 attacks on schools in 2021 alone. More than one million students have been forced out of education in the region, where only around half of children now attend school. Only 100 of the Chibok girls have been freed.
At least 802 schools have been closed by the conflict, with 497 classrooms listed as destroyed. Since 2017, Unicef has been involved in the care of more than 5,000 unaccompanied children who lived with Boko Haram. Almost 99 per cent have never been to school.