Reuters International

By Lanre Ola

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - Hundreds of people displaced by a Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria's northeast staged a protest in the region's main city on Thursday to demand more aid, accusing officials of stealing food rations, witnesses said.

They left their camps in Maiduguri, capital of the northeastern Borno state, and blocked the highway to Kano, another big city, for five hours, demanding that distribution by feeding committees be ended.

The U.N. food program WFP last week warned that up to 5.5 million people in the volatile northeast might need food aid by next month as soaring inflation was pushing up food prices.

The Nigerian army, backed by its neighbours, has retaken most territory previously lost to Boko Haram jihadists, which have been staging a seven-year insurgency in the northeast. But most who have fled fighting are afraid to go back and harvest their fields as the security situation remains volatile.

"They don't give us good food. The quality is bad. Most of the foodstuffs are being diverted by the officials, selling them to make quick money," said Aisha Ali, one of the protesters.

"We're hungry and we don't want any feeding committee again because they aren't giving us quality food. Give us our food directly," said Halima Mustapha, referring to a state body distributing aid.

Borno's deputy state governor Usman Durkwa said he had suspended the feeding committee to investigate the accusations and ordered two trucks to deliver food directly to the needy.

"Each family will now get its food stuffs and cook," he told reporters.

On Friday, the WFP said there were "catastrophic levels" of suffering in the northeast, warning of a "regional crisis".

The Boko Haram insurgency has displaced some 2.3 million people, who mostly live in camps in and near Maiduguri.

The jihadist group, which has been trying to set up an Islamic state in the north, still stages regularly suicide bombings, despite having to retreat to the Sambisa forest south of Maiduguri, its main stronghold.

(Reporting by Lanre Ola; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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