Hundreds of people from four villages near the devastated Nigerian town of Baga have been forced to flee after a warning from Boko Haram militants, witnesses and community leaders said yesterday.
News of the exodus from Kekenu, Budur, Yoyo and Mile 90 villages came as Niger hosted a meeting on how to fight the rebels as concern mounted at the threat to regional security.
Boko Haram fighters attacked Baga on Jan 3, looting and burning down homes and businesses in the town and at least 16 surrounding villages on the shores of Lake Chad.
Hundreds of people, if not more, are feared to have been killed, although there is no official confirmation of the toll as the town is still in rebel hands.
Security analysts said the attack, in which a regional military base was captured, potentially puts the group in a strong strategic position to strike southwards and launch cross-border attacks.
Mr Abubakar Gamandi, head of the Borno State fishermen's union, said residents from the affected villages told him Boko Haram fighters had visited "and asked people to leave, or else".
One woman who fled Baga to the Borno State capital Maiduguri on Monday confirmed that she joined the crowds fleeing the four villages.
"When we came to Mile 90 we found it almost empty, with some residents staying behind to pick up personal belongings," said Ms Ma'agana Butari, 32.
"We also found Budur, Kekenu and Yoyo deserted, and caught up with residents moving towards Monguno."
The villages lie some 40km south of Baga and although there was no confirmation that Boko Haram had moved in, it will likely raise fears that the group plans to push south, AFP reported.
Boko Haram, which is fighting for a hardline Islamic state in north-east Nigeria, was founded in Maiduguri in 2002 but was driven out in 2013 after a state of emergency was declared.
The city has in recent weeks been hit by a wave of suicide bombings.
Ms Butari and another woman, Ms Aisa Aribe, who arrived in Maiduguri from Baga on Monday, said Boko Haram was still in control of the town and the streets were strewn with the dead.
"Dead bodies are all over the town and surrounding villages. They are decomposing and there is no one to bury them," said Ms Aribe.
The pair said they were among hundreds of women held by the group, initially in a girls' boarding school and at the home of a local senator.
"They later separated the young women and beautiful ones and took them to a different location," said Ms Butari.
"They told the rest of us that we had the choice to either stay or leave and join 'infidels' in Monguno (65km away, where many Baga residents fled) and Maiduguri.
"They derisively told us we better stay with them because we have nowhere to go since they killed all our husbands."
This article was first published on January 21, 2015.
Get The New Paper for more stories.