SUSPECTED Boko Haram suicide bombings caused a massive increase in the number of civilian deaths and injuries in Nigeria last year, according to a new report published Wednesday.
Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) said the number of fatalities and injuries rose 190% in 2015 from the previous year, while the use of human bombs rose 167% in the same period.
The London-based non-profit group said the increase was part of a global trend that had seen a rise in civilian casualties from “explosive weapons” for the fourth consecutive year.
“Explosive weapons” include artillery shells, landmines, air strikes, improvised explosive devices, car bombs and suicide attacks.
The figures coincided with a warning from Nigeria’s military that Boko Haram had sabotaged farmers’ fields in the mainly rural northeast with landmines.
Of the 3,048 deaths recorded in 84 incidents in Nigeria in 2015, 2,920 were civilian casualties or 96% of the total, AOAV said in “Unacceptable Harm—Monitoring Explosive Violence in 2015”.
That made Nigeria the fourth worst-hit country in the world for deaths and injuries from conflict in 2015 behind Syria, Yemen and Iraq, with Afghanistan in fifth.
Boko Haram only rarely claims responsibility for attacks but no other group in the country is known to employ suicide bombers as a tactic.
Boko Haram “most prolific”
Assuming the Islamists were behind the attacks, “then it would make them the most prolific user of suicide bombings recorded by the AOAV in 2015”, the report said.
Boko Haram has increasingly used suicide bombing in the insurgency, which began in 2009 and has claimed some 20,000 lives, since the military pushed it out of captured territory.
Young women and girls in particular have become a favoured method of inflicting maximum civilian casualties in northeast Nigeria and neighbouring countries.
AOAV said 923 civilians were killed or injured in Cameroon and Chad in 18 incidents in 2015.
Boko Haram’s use of guerrilla-style tactics has long made it difficult to combat, even though President Muhammadu Buhari maintains the group is “technically” defeated.
On Tuesday evening, the military warned the public in a statement that “fleeing remnant terrorists have laid landmines on stretches of farmland”.
“These latest tactics of the terrorists is a grand design to cause fear and panic among the farmers as well as the local populace,” it said.
Efforts were under way to “neutralise” the mines, it added, and advised people to be wary of “strange or suspicious objects” in the soil.
The warning risks complicating further the return of many of the over 2.6 million people displaced by the violence, amid concern about food shortages and post-conflict reconstruction costs.
According to the AOAV report, a total of 43,786 deaths and injuries were reported worldwide in 2015 as a result of the use of explosive weapons—up two percent from 2014.
Civilian deaths accounted for 33,307 or 76% of these deaths, it added. In the past five years, it has recorded a total of 188,331 deaths and injuries across the world.