In recent months the extreme Islamist group has taken over swathes of north-east Nigeria. It controls at least two dozen towns in Borno state and parts of the neighbouring states of Adamawa and Yobe. Gwoza, a hill town of almost half a million people, is the capital of its self-declared caliphate. Few outsiders dare to visit. A trader who recently returned after making a delivery approved by the militants described it as an abattoir after hours: “cold, calm and full of blood”.
The group routinely slaughters unbelievers as well as Muslims, establishing its writ through fear. In September a horde of insurgents fell on the verdant villages of Kubi and Watu in Adamawa state and torched more than 500 houses. Arriving in the early morning they spent the day looting and killing among scorched corrugated-iron roofs. Bodies were dismembered and left for vultures. The security forces never turned up. “We have not seen them in a long time,” says a surviving villager, Ahmed Huda. “We are alone.”
The insurgency has driven about a million people from their homes and may have killed 13,000 in the past five years. At a newly erected refugee camp in Yola, Adamawa’s capital, hundreds of children wait for food. Many have seen parents or siblings killed. “My mother was burned in our house,” says eight-year-old Ramin. “My brother tried to run but they forced him back inside.”It seems to me that when horror of this magnitude is taking place in the 7th most populous nation in the world--projected to be the 3rd most populous by 2015--the world should be paying more attention. The only reason why it is apparently not a real civil war is that the government of Nigeria is not very serious about fighting back. While it is true that a million internally displaced people represent a small fraction of the country's estimated 183 million people, this is still a serious situation, with long-term demographic consequences that the rest of us are going to be dealing with.