Elderly people are disproportionately killed in the Boko Haram conflict in northeastern Nigeria and are often treated as an “afterthought” by humanitarian agencies, Amnesty International said Tuesday.
Its report titled “My Heart is in Pain” comes a little over a week after the massacre of 76 farmers in Borno state, which set a new standard of brutality in Boko Haram’s 11-year-old jihadist insurgency.
Older people are subjected to atrocities both by Boko Haram insurgents as well as the Nigerian military, according to accounts collected by Amnesty.
These violations range from starving or slaughtering elderly people in their homes, to leaving them to languish and die in squalid conditions or subjecting them to unlawful military detention.
Many villages in areas under Boko Haram control are disproportionately populated by older people who are unable to flee or who choose to stay and continue working their land.
This leaves them particularly exposed to the armed group’s brutality, according to Joanne Mariner, Amnesty’s director of crisis response.
Older people are “forced to witness killings and abductions of their children, as well as looting resulting in extreme food insecurity,” she said.
A 65-year-old man who was captured during the farm attacks at the end of November told Amnesty that Boko Haram spared and released him but murdered two of his sons.
“Those boys, they’re the ones who help me stay alive,” he said. Boko Haram had also murdered another of his sons five years earlier, during an attack that forced his family to flee their village in Mafa.
Elderly people, considered by Amnesty to be aged 50 or older, make up around 150,000 of the 2.1 million people displaced by the conflict in northeastern Nigeria.
Some of them reported having to beg just to have enough food and medicine to survive.
Amnesty detailed how older people in camps for internally displaced people said they felt invisible or as if they were treated as a “burden”.
“Nobody is hearing us, nobody is seeing us,” one older woman told the organisation.
The report was conducted between October 2019 and November 2020 during which Amnesty interviewed over 200 people in Borno and Adamawa states.
The Boko Haram insurgency began in 2009 in northeastern Nigeria before spreading to neighbouring countries.
Since then, more than 36,000 people have been killed, mostly in Nigeria, and 3 million have been forced to flee their homes, according to the UN.