In their struggle to earn a living, internally displaced persons (IDPs) in north-east Nigeria venture into unsafe territories and often find themselves at the mercy of landmine explosions.
Over 1,000 persons in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states have been reportedly killed or injured by explosives left behind during operations involving Boko Haram, other armed groups and security officers.
According to a report released on Monday by the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) titled ‘Hidden Scars – The Landmine Crisis in North-east Nigeria’, the country has one of the highest casualty figures worldwide.
“Explosive ordnance pose a dangerous threat to the many internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, and returnees transiting throughout the region. As IDPs and refugees migrate or return home – often through unfamiliar terrain – they are at significant risk of entering areas contaminated by landmines and other explosive ordnance,” the report reads.
“Likewise, returning to villages that are contaminated by explosive ordnance puts returnee communities at risk, as well as limiting the degree to which they can begin rebuilding homes and livelihoods.”
MAG, a global humanitarian and advocacy organisation that “finds, removes and destroys landmines, cluster munitions and unexploded bombs from places affected by conflict”, said Nigeria is among the top five countries in the world with the highest casualty rates from landmines.
The group also noted that Nigeria is the first country in Africa to have encountered new use of locally-manufactured landmines on this scale.
MAG explained that the situation is heightened by the insurgency in north-east Nigeria.
“Research by the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has uncovered 1,052 casualties from 697 accidents involving landmines and unexploded bombs between January 2016 and August 2020 – although this number is thought to be even higher due to underreporting,” the report reads.
“A staggering 1,052 people have been reported to be killed or injured by explosive ordnance since 2016 across the most afflicted north-eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.
“The crisis hit a peak of one casualty every day for the first 15 weeks of 2020 (113 casualties were recorded) – Casualty figures averaged one person per day in the first fifteen weeks of 2020, with Nigeria among the top five countries in the world with the highest casualty rates from landmines.
“The devastating impact of the conflict on the physical and mental wellbeing, living standards, and capacity for resilience and recovery of populations in north-east Nigeria is compounded by the dangers posed by landmines and other explosive ordnance.
“Intense fighting between Nigerian security forces and Boko Haram has left widespread contamination of explosive ordnance throughout the region. Locally-manufactured anti-personnel landmines have been deployed on roads, infields and also in urban areas.”
According to the report, children often mistake the devices for toys or metal scrap that they could sell, consequently falling prey to the explosions.
“These devices present a particularly lethal threat to girls and boys, who often mistake them as household items or toys while playing outside,” MAG noted.
“In an IDP camp in Borno, just a few months ago, nine-year-old Mustapha lost his life to an explosive after fleeing Boko Haram with his family. His fourteen-year-old uncle, Bakura, was also injured in the accident and rushed to hospital in a critical condition.
“The two boys had found a metal object. Oblivious to its danger and thinking they could sell it for scrap, they brought it into the camp where they lived with Falmata, Bakura’s mother. The explosion killed Mustapha instantly, and seriously injured Bakura, Falmata and a neighbour.
“According to MAG’s analysis of the available data, of the 412 civilians who were killed or injured, 72 were under the age of 18. However, limited and incomplete reporting mechanisms mean that the age of at least 222 casualties is not known. It is almost certain that the real number of girls, boys and teenagers killed or injured by landmines and unexploded bombs is higher.”
The report noted that in 2019, the Nigerian government acknowledged the existence of new landmines on its territory and committed to becoming mine-free by 2025.
However, according to MAG, “mine clearance is not yet an option in north-east Nigeria due to the ongoing conflict and insecurity.”