Much ado about closure of IDP camps in Maiduguri

The closure of IDP camps in Maiduguri by Governor Babagana Zulum could endanger the lives of the IDPs with the unending and continuous attacks by ISWAP and Boko Haram members that spread across the state and Lake Chad Basin of the North-eastern part of the country. SADIQ ABUBAKAR reports.

It is already on record that more than 10,000 households are believed to be at risk if Borno state government closes all Internally Displaced Camps (IDPs), a move that some people in certain quarters are of the views that it was forced on the vulnerable persons.

They assumed that government was in a hurry and not fully prepared with the required amenities needed to cater for the returnees, apart from attacks by armed groups where at least scores of people are still being killed, others injured with property destroyed by the terrorists groups in many parts of the state and some resettled villages and camps.

One of the strong critics of the rushed resettlement is Amnesty International which has severally expressed its concern about the safety of the thousands of IDPs in the state.

The organisation has many times claimed that the process is too hasty as the lives of returnee are at risk, this is as Governor Zulum moves to close all existing IDPs camps within Maiduguri city by December 31 2021, despite continued attacks by Boko Haram and ISWAP members and human rights violations by the military.

IDPs’ complain

In a statement released recently which was based on 38 interviews with former IDP returnees and individuals currently living in IDPs camps within Maiduguri, survivors informed Amnesty International that they fear for their lives as they are being forced to leave the IDP camps under short notice. A 28-year-old house wife, Hassana formerly living in Bakassi IDP Camp said, “The conflict that made us to flee our homes out of fear is what the government is forcing us to go back and face. We fear the attacks may happen again. I am so scared of going back home after what I faced in the hands of Boko Haram and while in detention in Giwa Barracks. I was arrested by the military for not escaping from our village on time. What if it happens a second time”?

Human rights abuse?

It is also a general opinion that forcing displaced persons into returning to their villages that are not safe would be in violation of the Nigerian government’s responsibility of protecting the right to life of civilians.

Most of the displaced persons escaped from Boko Haram’s killings, abductions, looting and torture. Some from extra-judicial killings or torture in unlawful detention camps by the military which they have endured in the past years of gross human rights violations and abuses.

Osai Ojigho, the country director, Amnesty International Nigeria said at least six people were killed and 14 injured in Agiri, Mafa local government area on August 30, 2021 a month after they were resettled. Also, returnees in New Marte, Agiri and Shuwari have experienced multiple attacks from Boko Haram since their resettlement.

“It is absolutely shocking that people who already suffered so much in the conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian military would further be exposed to horrendous possible violations and abuses, instead of receiving protection from the authorities,” says Ojigho.

According to him, most of the resettled IDPs that Amnesty spoke to have little or no access to essential services like drinking water, healthcare, sanitation and live in extreme poverty. Also, inadequate housing and lack of job opportunities in resettled villages have further compounded their sufferings.

He added that at least 41 people died in early October 2021 during a cholera outbreak in the resettled camp in Shuwari, Jere local government area while 20 older people and 21 children were killed by the disease.

Investigation shows that more than 10,000 households still living in Internally Displaced People’s camps within Maiduguri are at risk of forced resettlement at the end of 2021 as the the state government plans to continue their resettlement programme at all cost.

This made amnesty International to call on the state government to abide by its obligations to IDPs under international law to ensure all resettled individuals and people living in IDP camps have access to adequate housing, food, water, sanitation and healthcare. Also that government should also ensure that all children are able to continue their education.

Economic consideration drives resettlement

Some people are in support of the action of the state government in relocating or returning the IDPs to their ancestral homes on the argument that the camps are highly congested and over stretched. Its a place where many inmates are hungry, starved, idle, jobless, sick and traumatised due to lack of proper and adequate humanitarian needs as the UN humanitarian coordinator for Nigeria, Mr Edward Kallon stated recently in Maiduguri at a security stakeholders forum on acceptance and reintegration of surrendered Boko Haram terrorists.

This is coming with the ban on distribution of food and non food items to IDPs at the camps and host communities by Governor Zulum following alleged scarcity of farm produces and hike in prices of food items in the markets. It is on record that large quantities of food items are purchased and contracts awarded on food items by NGOs in the state are also large.

This increases the hardships and sufferings of the IDPs and citizens of the state in host communities apart from the issue of having access to healthcare facilities and adequate drugs especially for children and pregnant women who are more vulnerable in the camps and host communities.

Happy and willing returnees

One of the community leaders of the IDPs from Baka, Maina Goni Modu said, “The resettlement of the IDPs back to their ancestral homes is a welcome development to me and my people as it would go a long way in relieving us from our sufferings, staying idle doing nothing in the camps thereby making us lazy and turning us into beggars.

“We would now go back and continue with our farming activities. Even the governor mentioned this to us when he was addressing us before he later came back and disbursed cash of N100,000 each, some N50,000 and some food and non food items in the form of livelihoods support from Borno SEMA.

“Only those who are not willing to return to their communities for now decided to stay behind in the town to rent houses and engage in petty activities with their families. Others decided to stay behind with their relations and family members with whom they have been staying together,” Maina said.

Another community leader from Banki, Bulama Adam Ari said, “As for us, we are happy and accepted willingly to return back to Banki after some years of missing our environment, trading, businesses, farming and livestock business.

“In the camps, we have been idle doing nothing, only collecting food and non-food items in the name of support and assistance from the governments, NGOs and philanthropists within and outside the state and country. No adequate school, health and water facilities, among others.

“In fact, we are highly grateful to Governor Babagana Umara Zulum and all those that assisted us in the camp and resettled us for their patience, endurance, sacrifice, efforts, assistance and support to us while at the camp and back in the community now,” Bulama said.

While Musa Adamu of Kukawa IDPs Camp was of the opinion that the continuous distribution of food and non-food items as well as disbursement of cash to the IDPs by government, corporate organisations, individuals and development partners have rendered majority of the displaced persons lazy and turned them into street beggars in the name of insurgency, it is in good fate and good development that Zulum is now returning the IDPs back to their ancestral homes for live a better life instead of a life of hunger, prostitution, fornication, stealing, ill- health and idleness that they were exposed to at the camps despite the humanitarian supports they get including criticisms.

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