A Boko Haram attack on a convoy of vehicles carrying the governor of Borno state, Kashim Shettima, has left four people dead and an unknown number of others kidnapped, sources said on Wednesday.
A civilian militia member travelling with the governor said jihadist fighters staged an ambush near the town of Dikwa at 6:30 pm on Tuesday.
The area, near the town of Gamboru and the border with Cameroon, is a known area of activity of the Boko Haram faction loyal to long-time leader Abubakar Shekau.
Shettima, who is stepping down as governor after a maximum of two four-year terms, has been campaigning for a seat in the Senate in elections on Saturday.
He was travelling with the governorship candidate for the All Progressives Congress party (APC), Babagana Umaru.
Both escaped unhurt and were able to continue to Gamboru, where they spent the night before returning to the state capital, Maiduguri, on Wednesday.
There was no immediate comment from either but a member of the Civilian Joint Task Force said the attack targeted the tail end of the convoy after Shettima had passed.
“There was heavy fighting between the attackers and the soldiers and CJTF,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
“Many vehicles managed to turn back, however, two soldiers were killed and two other civilians. An unknown number of party supporters were kidnapped along with their vehicle.
“The bus they were travelling in got stuck in the sand while the driver was trying to manoeuvre and turn back towards Dikwa.
“All the people in the bus were rounded up and taken into the bush. Another truck belonging to CJTF, which also got stuck, was taken away but the occupants were able to flee.”
Ngari Kalla, an APC supporter who was also part of the convoy, corroborated the account and said the victims’ bodies were taken to Maiduguri.
“We still don’t know the fate of several of our supporters who were abducted during the fight,” he added.
“Their vehicle was stuck and before they could get out the gunmen surrounded them and took them away. This is a major concern to us.”
Borno state has been the epicentre of the nearly 10-year conflict, which has killed more than 27,000 and left some 1.8 million others homeless.
President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in 2015 on a promise to defeat the Islamist militants but despite initial gains attacks persist.
In recent months, soldiers have come under increasing attack from the self-styled Islamic State West Africa Province of Boko Haram, prompting fears of a resurgence.
The group, which is backed by the Islamic State, split from the Shekau faction over objections to his indiscriminate targeting of civilians.
Shekau has used kidnapping as a weapon of war and thousands of people have been abducted during the conflict, many of them women and young girls.
Ambushes of traffic escorted by the military in rural areas have also been common.