Last September, MAG launched the #SpeakUp4Nigeria campaign to highlight the landmine crisis in northeast Nigeria – a result of the conflict involving Boko Haram – and to call for Nigeria to be included as a humanitarian response priority by the international community. MAG has been delivering life-saving risk education sessions in the region since 2016, showing people how to stay safe by avoiding landmines and other explosive devices. 

MAG’s Global Security Advisor, Javier Teofilo-Sanchez, recently visited our programme. This is his first-hand account of the vital work our teams are doing on the ground.

This week I spent time in Bama in Borno state, northeast Nigeria, observing our teams delivering vital mine risk education to the most affected communities.

The security situation in northeast Nigeria is complex and the conflict between government security forces and the now multiple splinter factions of Boko Haram is still very much ongoing. Ultimately, the insurgency has precipitated a humanitarian crisis in one of Africa’s wealthiest nations. 

Javier with a MAG Community Liaison team in northeast Nigeria

Bama was among the towns captured by one of the factions of Boko Haram. The people of Bama suffered violent occupation, summary executions, abduction, forced marriage, sexual abuse, being drugged and coerced to conduct suicide attacks against other communities, among many other atrocities.

Families were destroyed and displaced, escaping on foot to neighbouring towns, where they were further attacked. Some found shelter in one of the many camps for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in the state, thousands fled across the border into northern Cameroon where they continue to live in overcrowded refugee camps, relying on aid for food, water and shelter.

During the military operation to recover Bama, civilians were detained, injured and killed and almost the entire town and its infrastructure was destroyed. Due to the insecurity, access for humanitarian actors to the town and to most of the state is severely constrained—drastically impacting the effectiveness of the humanitarian response. 

IDP camp gates are secured at 6:30 pm, everyone has to be back inside by then. The evenings are busy with processions of people returning with animals, water and firewood.

Travelling to most locations requires a UN helicopter chaperone to protect against ambush and avoid the improvised landmines laid on the roads. The mines were laid to frustrate Nigerian security forces and to attack civilian convoys. 

Arriving into Bama by air gives a stark, aerial perspective on the extent of the damage, nearly every building was razed to the ground, the walls that remain bare the signs of the violence which ensued in the battle to recover the town. Fires, small arms fire and shrapnel has left the urban landscape covered with potholes and the scorch marks.

Despite the passage of years, there is no sign of normality returning for the communities that have come back home. They live in incredibly bleak conditions in IDP camps or host communities, inside garrison towns which are subject to sporadic attacks by Boko Haram—who continue to use weapons designed to kill indiscriminately. When civilians leave the town to collect firewood, or tend to their land they are at risk of abduction, being killed or injured in the ongoing fighting or by the unmarked explosive remnants of war. 

“I am so happy to be working with MAG. We know that the villages and the towns are contaminated and we must help," Sherriff Gana Bama is a MAG Community Liaison team leader

MAG’s community liaison teams in the northeast are diverse, with a 50:50 male to female ratio. They deliver mine risk education in multiple languages dependent on the audience and have worked in 21 of the 27 local government areas of Borno state. This work gives women, men and children vital safety messages, helping them to identify possible dangerous devices, teaching them about the effects of the weapons, how to minimise the likelihood of detonating them, how to reduce the impact if someone is injured and what to do if one is found—as well as promoting the sharing of these messages.

The work our teams are doing in northeast Nigeria immediately and drastically mitigates the very real risk posed to communities by improvised landmines, explosive remnants of war and unexploded bombs. It is lifesaving work, delivered by passionate staff, all from Borno state and all heavily invested in MAG’s mission to save lives and build safer futures.