Babakura Lawan sat under a tree and unbuttoned his shirt to show a host of scars on his shoulder, arm and back.
Lawan, who is part of a militia helping the Nigerian army in its fight against Boko Haram, the armed group that has pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).
In July, as Lawan and his fellow militiamen provided cover for oil exploration workers, Boko Haram fighters launched an attack against them near Maiduguri, located in the country’s northeast.
“It was an ambush,” he told Al Jazeera, explaining that they were caught off guard due to the calmness of the area.
One of his fellow militiamen is now hospitalised and in critical condition, after a rocket tore through the patrol car he was in.
“We spent days working there,” Lawan recalled. “The attack happened on our last day.”
When the dust settled, more than 50 people had been killed. It was the deadliest Boko Haram attack so far in 2017 and came at a time of increased suicide bombings and abductions in the region.
In response, the Nigerian army deployed additional personnel and equipment, where locals say a climate of fear now prevails.
The Nigerian military declined requests for comment on the ongoing offensive against Boko Haram.
In early September, Amnesty International published a report that said Boko Haram was responsible for at least 400 deaths since April.
‘No end in sight’
Boko Haram was established in 2009, and the group boasts of several thousand fighters. Throughout the last year, fighting between the armed organisation and the Nigerian military has left at least 20,000 people dead and more than 2.6 million displaced in northeastern Nigeria.
Last month, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that fighting between the government and Boko Haram resulted in the closure of more than half of all the schools in the country’s northeastern state of Borno.
The report found that an estimated three million children are in emergency need of education. It added that nearly 100 children have also been used as “human bombs” since the beginning of the year.
That bloodshed has also devastated farmers and resulted in chronic food shortages that have left hundreds of thousands of people in the region dependent on aid agencies for help and teetering on the brink of starvation.
Sadeeq Garba Shehu, a retired army captain and security expert, explained that Boko Haram’s recent loss of territory to the Nigerian army has led to the group striking back with more suicide bombings and kidnappings.
“Holding ground also makes you weaker because … it means the opposing force has something to hit,” he told Al Jazeera. “But when you attack and run, you kind of dilute all the advantages in numbers, in equipment, in training.”
The Nigerian military, which has increased its campaigns in the last two years, has claimed that Boko Haram is weakened and near defeat.
Yet, Shehu fears there is no end in sight.
“The notion of complete victory may be very difficult to obtain, but maybe we could have sufficient victory,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris reports from northeast Nigeria.