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LAGOS (Reuters) - At least half of Nigerian government food aid sent northeast for hungry people driven from their homes by Boko Haram has been "diverted" and never reached them, a government official said.
Some 1.5 million people are on the brink of famine in the northeast, where the jihadist group has killed more than 20,000 people and forced 2.7 million to flee during its eight-year uprising to create an Islamic caliphate.
A programme was launched on June 8 by Yemi Osinbajo, acting president while President Muhammadu Buhari is in Britain on medical leave, to distribute grain to 1.8 million people still displaced by the insurgency, many of whom live in camps.
"Over 1,000 trucks of assorted grains are now on course, delivering the grains intact to beneficiaries since the commencement of the present programme as against the reported diversion of over 50 trucks in every 100 trucks sent to the northeast," said Osinbajo's spokesman Laolu Akande in an emailed statement late on Saturday.
"The issue of diversion of relief materials, including food and related matters, which has dogged food delivery to the IDPs [internally displaced people] would be significantly curbed under the new distribution matrix."
Akande said 1,376 military personnel and 656 armed police would guard the food as it was moved from warehouses and distributed to displaced people in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe - the three states worst hit by the insurgency.
Boko Haram controlled an area of the northeast around the size of Belgium in early 2015 but has since been pushed out of most of the territory by Nigeria's army and troops from neighbouring countries.
But the Islamists continue to carry out attacks in the northeast and neighbouring Cameroon and Niger.
Boko Haram killed 14 people in bombings and shootings in the northeastern city of Maiduguri on June 7, in a large-scale attack quelled by the army after several hours.
A U.N. official said this month the World Food Programme had scaled back its emergency plans in the northeast because of lack of funds, now aiming to supply food to 1.4 million people instead of the 1.8 million previously intended.
The U.N. says it needs $1.05 billion this year to deal with the crisis in northeast Nigeria - which, along with Somalia and South Sudan, is one of three humanitarian emergencies unfolding in Africa - but has only received about a quarter of that sum.
Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram; editing by Andrew Roche