No less than 43 farmers killed by suspected Boko Haram terrorists on Borno rice fields were buried on Sunday.
But the United Nations, echoing claims made by the villagers who survived the deadly attacks, said the actual death toll is, at least, 110.
“I am outraged and horrified by the gruesome attack against civilians carried out by non-state armed groups in villages near Borno State capital Maiduguri,” the UN resident coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, said on Sunday.
“At least 110 civilians were ruthlessly killed and many others were wounded in this attack,” Kallon said.
Suspected Boko Haram terrorists had, on Saturday, launched an assault on villagers who were residents of Zabarmari, a rice-farming community in Jere Local Government Area.
They were, according to official sources, attacked at Koshebe village, a place in Mafa Local Government Area.
An unammed villager who spoke at the burial told Governor Babagana Zulum that the exact number of those killed was yet to be ascertained, raising fears that the death toll could rise.
That claim is now being echoed by the UN’s comment about a higher death toll.
“In early afternoon of 28 November, armed men on motorcycles led a brutal attack on civilian men and women who were harvesting their fields in Koshobe and other rural communities,” Kallon said.
“I extend my sincere condolences to the families of the civilians who lost their lives in this atrocious attack. I also wish a speedy recovery to those who were wounded in the incident,” he said.
Mr Kallon also said many women may have been kidnapped by the terrorists during the attack, something President Muhammadu Buhari, who called the killing “insane”, kept quiet about. The government is also yet to acknowledge any official death count.
“We have also received reports that several women may have been kidnapped,” he said, calling for “their immediate release and return to safety.”
“My thoughts are also with the rural communities in the area, who are shocked by the brutality of yesterday’s attack and fear for their safety.
“The entire UN system and the humanitarian community working to provide life-saving and development assistance to the most vulnerable in Borno State is outraged by the incident.”
The UN official lamented that Saturday’s attack was the worst of such incidents this year in the troubled northeast that has suffered from Boko Haram attacks since 2009.
“The incident is the most violent direct attack against innocent civilians this year. I call for the perpetrators of this heinous and senseless act to be brought to justice,” Kallon said.
“It is unfortunately one of too many such attacks targeting farmers, fishermen and families who are trying to recover some livelihood opportunity after over a decade of conflict.
“I strongly condemn this attack and any act of violence against innocent civilians and I firmly urge all actors on the ground to respect international laws and humanity.
“Rural communities in Borno State are facing untold hardships. Helping them to farmland and rebuild livelihoods are amongst our priorities and the only way to avoid the looming food crisis in Borno State. They and all other civilians need to be protected and spared from any kind of violence.
“Innocent women, children and men desperately need food and other support and assistance, particularly at a time when we are recording some of the highest levels of food insecurity in Borno State. We owe to do our utmost to help them survive these difficult times.”
Mr Kallon’s statement highlights the difficulty in getting accurate data about casualties of Boko Haram attacks in Borno as several parts of the state are not easily accessible and the government deliberately downplays both civilian and military casualty.
At least 30,000 people have been killed in the Boko Haram insurgency, mainly in the North-east, since 2009 with millions of others displaced.
The terrorists have since spread their activities to neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroon.