Nigeria’s Breaking Point

Letter from Maiduguri

The Bakassi Camp for internally displace people in Maiduguri, Nigeria, March 8, 2016. Reuters

Over the last seven years, millions of weary travellers have arrived in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, fleeing war in Nigeria’s ravaged northeast. Bulama Gubio, the chairman of a task force set up to provide food to the internally displaced and a member of the Borno Elder’s Forum, told me point blank, “If you are not able to make it to Maiduguri, you are a dead person.” His warning is no exaggeration. Boko Haram’s campaign of terror has uprooted entire communities and claimed more than 50,000 lives. 

Until an attack by Boko Haram in early January, Maiduguri had seemed to be the only safe harbor in the entire region. And now, it too is showing cracks. Every spare building in the city has been reconstituted as a settlement for the displaced, yet space is hard to come by in the official camps, which are lined with canvas tents and teeming with people—the majority of whom are women and children. Food is scarcer by the day, with no relief in sight. Given the number of crises that have hit the region of late, the international community has been less than eager to provide support. If the city breaks under attacks by Boko Haram, though, more suffering and an even bigger disaster could be in store.

Many estimates suggest that the number of internally displaced has doubled the city in size from roughly two million before the crisis to four million now. Gubio believes that there could be as many as six million people, though, “since everyone in Borno state has come here now.” Those who lived in regions that had been under Boko Haram’s control but that the Nigerian military has won back are taken to formal camps for the displaced. These are managed by a confusing consortium of groups: the Nigerian military, the police, civilian vigilantes, government humanitarian agencies, and a handful of international NGOs.

Dalori, the largest of the dozens of camps in the city,

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