MAIDUGURI (BLOOMBERG) - Suspected Boko Haram fighters attacked the Nigerian city of Maiduguri just hours before a visit by the Vice-Ppresident, the most serious assault by the Islamists on the hunger-stricken northeast in more than a year.
The militants tried to enter the capital of Borno state at dusk on Wednesday (June 7), spurring a gun battle with soldiers that raged for about two hours and sent people fleeing further into the city for safety, according to witnesses.
"There were bullets flying everywhere and all of us were in panic," said Ms Janet Ibrahim, a resident of the Jiddari Polo neighbourhood.
Army spokesman Kingsley Samuel said late Wednesday (June 7) the situation was under control and urged calm. His statement did not mention any causalities. Mr Yemi Osinbajo, the deputy leader who is in charge of the country while President Muhammadu Buhari is in Britain for medical treatment, is due to visit Maiduguri on Thursday (June 8), according to the local government.
Boko Haram has waged an eight-year war in a bid to impose its version of Islamic law in Africa's most populous country of more than 180 million people, leaving tens of thousands dead and forcing millions to flee their homes in Nigeria's northeast. Aid agencies estimate as many as 1.4 million people are now facing an emergency food shortage in the region, with 44,000 close to starvation.
Mr Osinbajo said in a statement before the attack that the government plans to distribute 40,000 metric tons of food including rice, corn, sorghum and soya beans to people who have fled their homes in the northeast. The government has said it plans to spend 8 billion naira (S$35.1 million) on the operation to feed 1.8 million people.
Nigerian troops have recovered territory from Boko Haram, reducing their ability to wage war mainly to sporadic suicide attacks. Wednesday's (June 7) attack was the first significant one involving government forces since a Boko Haram suicide bomber targeted Dalori village on the outskirts of Maiduguri in January 2016.