It took nine months of hunger, selling most of the food rations they received at their refugee camp in Cameroon, to save up for the cost of a two-day journey in a lorry container back across the border into northern Nigeria.
Instead of returning to till the familiar fields of home, they came back to a desolate wasteland littered with the rubble of destroyed buildings and burnt cars, where they were herded into a crowded camp by soldiers.
Some 4.7 million people in northeast Nigeria depend on food aid, some of which is blocked by militant attacks, some held up by a lack of funding and some, diplomats say, stolen before it can reach those in need.
Millions of Nigerians may soon be in peril if the situation deteriorates, as authorities expect, when the five-month rainy season begins in May and makes farming impossible in areas that are now accessible.
The United Nations believes as many as 20 million people are in danger in what could become the world’s worst famine for decades.
Thousands of others are arriving in camps daily from parts of the northeast where the army, aided by troops from neighboring countries, has pushed the Islamist militants out of most of the territory they controlled until early 2015.
Cesar Tishilombo, who heads the sub-office of the U.N. refugee agency in Maiduguri, a state capital, said up to three million people were at risk of famine in areas recently recaptured from Boko Haram.
Aid agencies working in Nigeria faced a funding crisis, he said.
“The pledge has been $1 billion plus. People have pledged but the promises are not translating into cash,” he said, adding that his agency had received just $11 million of the $70 million it had requested.
A spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari declined to comment on the assertions of corruption in aid deliveries, but the president has acknowledged that graft is a serious problem hindering recovery in areas recaptured from the militants.