A surge in attacks on farmers in the region is threatening the nation’s food reserves.
Government troops and hundreds of residents have been forced to flee after an armed group overran a town and captured a military base in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state in an attack claimed by the ISIL (ISIS) group, security sources said.
Machinegun-wielding fighters from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) attacked the base in the town of Marte in the Lake Chad area overnight on Friday into Saturday, two sources told AFP news agency.
“The priority now is to reclaim the base from the terrorists and an operation is under way,” one of the sources said on Saturday.
“We took a hit from ISWAP terrorists. They raided the base in Marte after a fierce battle.”
The second source said the army had “incurred losses” but it was not yet clear how many people had died or the level of destruction inflicted by the armed group.
An army statement said troops “tactically withdrew” to defend against an attack outside Marte. Troops had “effectively destroyed” seven gun trucks and “decimated” an unconfirmed number of attackers, it said.
The ISIL later posted a statement on its Amaq news channel on Telegram claiming responsibility for the attack.
Without giving further details, it said seven people had been killed, and one captured, and that its fighters had seized weapons, ammunition and six four-wheel-drive vehicles, as well as burning down the army barracks.
Marte remained under the control of the armed group on Saturday, security sources told Reuters news agency.
Friday’s assault came just two months after residents driven from their homes by the violence had returned to the town under a government programme.
It underscores the precarious security situation in northeast Nigeria, and the difficulties the government faces as it tries to return people displaced by the violence.
ISWAP, which split from Boko Haram in 2016, maintains camps on islands in Lake Chad – where Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad meet – and the area is known to be the group’s bastion.
Last week, the fighters attacked the Marte base but were repelled, prompting them to mobilise more fighters for the overnight raid, sources said.
The raid was seen as a “fightback” after recent losses – troops recently overran ISWAP’s second-largest camp in Talala village, according to sources.
The town, 130km (80 miles) from the regional capital Maiduguri, was once considered the breadbasket of the Lake Chad region.
At least 36,000 people have been killed in the armed conflict since 2009 and violence has spread into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon, prompting the formation of a regional military coalition.