It is no longer news that Borno state government has shut down all IDP camps in Maiduguri. Many of the IDPs bare their minds in an exclusive interview with SADIQ ABUBAKAR.
Borno state government started returning people to their villages in 2020 and announced in October 2021 that it plans to close all internally displaced camps within Maiduguri by 31 December 2021.
On December 6, the state governor banned all humanitarian organisations from distributing food and non-food items to newly resettled communities across the state, but he has failed to adequately provide the needed support to the people.
Most of the people resettled in host communities don’t have farms and have to beg the original inhabitants of the villages for portions of lands to farm. The returnees face food shortage which may last for months if help is not provided before the next farming season by July next year.
Osai Ojigho, the country director of Amnesty International Nigeria said, “Under the international humanitarian law, Nigerian authorities can only order the displacement of a civilian population if the security of the civilians involved or imperative military reasons so demand.”
Findings revealed that the 2012 national policy on IDPs in Nigeria recognises the IDPs’ right to be protected against forcible return to or resettlement in any place where their life, safety, liberty and/or health would be at risk. The IDPs also have a right to decide if they want to return to their homes or places of habitual residence.
However in August 2021, the federal government approved a new national policy for IDPs aimed at strengthening the institutional mechanism and frameworks for the realisation of the rights, dignity and well-being of IDPs, but the new policy has however not positively impacted on IDPs.
Effects of forceful resettlement
This resulted in multiple attacks in some towns and villages where, for instance, a woman whose 12-year-old daughter was shot when Boko Haram attacked their resettled shelter in Agiri village in Mafa LGA informed AI that, “Four days after we arrived Agirimafa village, we were attacked by Boko Haram. The military ran away during the attack and our husbands and other men also ran. Boko Haram announced during the attack that we should stay here that they would not touch us but after one month, they came again around 12am in the night.
“They opened fire on us. My daughter was shot on her leg three times. After the attack, we had to wait till morning before we took her to the hospital. We stayed in the hospital for 80 days and they conducted several surgeries on her but at the end she became paralyzed,” the woman said.
In another interview, a 55-year-old returnee IDP woman and mother of six children who resettled in New Marte town of Marte LGA of the state also witnessed multiple attacks. He disclosed that that they spent two days trekking to Dikwa town through the bushes after they were attacked few weeks after their return to New Marte.
“Few weeks after we arrived, Boko Haram attacked Marte town and the military ran and left us. The attack lasted till the next day but they said they won’t disturb us and that we can stay to continue with our farming.
“After they left, I told my husband that we needed to leave there. You can’t trust an insurgent even though they said they were not going to touch us. An insurgent would always change his mind,” a 30-year-old woman and mother of six children from New Marte said.
Continuing further she said, “After the attack, all the returnees left New Marte to Maiduguri, leaving behind two older people who were too ill and old to travel with them.
During the journey, four older people died of thirst and fatigue but on getting to Dikwa town, they were refused passage to Maiduguri by the military officers in charge. The military made them stay in Dikwa town for 25 days before taking them back to New Marte,” she said.Similarly, according to a 30-year-old farmer resettled at Agiri village of Mafa LGA said, “The chairman of Mafa LGA gathered us and said we are being given three days notice to vacate the IDP camp.
“He told us that people in Agiri would be returned, while others in surrounding villages would be returned to their ancestral homes.”He also said we must prepare ourselves and return to our villages. Everyone was confused with the three days notice and we were returned to Agiri on the expiration of the short notice.”
Another aged returnee IDP woman of about 60-year-old and mother of seven who was forced to resettle at Agiri village in Mafa LGA, after living in Muna IDPs camp for almost six years disclosed that they had no clue that government was planning to resettle them as there was no prior information from their ward head or government officials in advance to enable them prepare.
According to her, “When I heard we would be going back, I was so scared. I didn’t want to go because I knew the place was not safe. We have been hearing about the attacks, but they forced us to return.
“Taking people back in a rush is not good. People should be consulted and those who are happy to go and start farming should be allowed to go. Others who are not willing should not be forced. Forcing people to leave is a risk.A 36-year-old man and father of six whose 4-year-old son was shot on 30 August 2021 said, “My so was shot in the leg during the second attack because of this.
“Boko Haram did so many bad things to us, but I would never forget how I felt the day government officials came to the IDP camp on a Wednesday and informed us that by Friday at 4pm, they don’t want to see anyone in the IDP camp.
“We were given two days notice and I didn’t know where to go with my seven kids, “he said.
Another 58-year-old father of seven now living in Shewari camp in Jere LGA said inadequate housing and lack of job opportunities have further compounded the sufferings of the returnees.
“Thousands of the children are facing secondary displacements without humanitarian aid. The housing provided by government is grossly inadequate and not distributed fairly.
“When we got to Shuwari village, I was surprised to find out that there were no houses for us in spite of the governor’s promises. From the 10,000 naira left out of the 20,000 naira the governor gave us, I bought wood and constructed a makeshift home for my family.”
Another returnee IDP, a 48-year-old father of six children formerly living in Farm Centre IDPs camp, Kuna Garage area of Maiduguri metropolis but resettled at Shewari in Jere LGA of the state said, “The two-bedroom housing built by the government was given to the resettled original inhabitants of the villages whose houses were affected by insurgency while returnees from other villages faced secondary displacement as they were forced to stay in tents and alternatively built thatch houses.”
A 40-year-old woman with seven children who lived in Farm center IDPs camp also for seven years before being forcibly resettled at Shuwari, Jere LGA said, “When we arrived at Shuwari, they left us by the side of the road. We slept there and in the morning, we cooked the little food we had with us.
“Some government officials now came and asked us to go to the back of the village and that the government got a space for us where we could build our tents.”
The resettled IDPs further told newsmen that they have little access to essential services like drinking water, sanitation and healthcare. In Agiri, Mafa LGA, some IDPs disclosed that there don’t have operational healthcare services.
A woman whose four-year-old son was shot when Boko Haram attacked the resettled shelter informed Amnesty International that, “They built a hospital, but it has not started operating. If someone falls sick in Agiri, we take them to Mafa LGA. It is a 9km, 30 minute drive from Agiri to Mafa, but cars are not always available. There are always cars in the morning before 2:00pm, but after 2:00pm you won’t get a car to Mafa.
“People also have to travel long distances or wait for hours before they can get clean water which they have to pay for. People resettled in Agiri and Mafa depend on one borehole per village for water.”
A 55-year-old woman and mother of six said, “Water is the most difficult thing for us is that we have only one borehole. If you go to fetch water, you will find over four or 500 women at the borehole. If we want to perform other domestic chores like washing, we have to go to the river for that, but the water at the river is now dried because of the season. If you go and get water early in the morning, you would only come back after 2 or 3pm pm because of the crowd. Some people even go as far as Mafa LGA to get water.”
Investigation revealed also that in Shuwari of Jere LGA, many children and older people who were forcibly resettled suffered during the cholera outbreak in early October. At least 20 older persons and 21 children died during the cholera outbreak.
“They built 12 temporary toilet structures for us, but we are more than a thousand people. When the rain came, water flushed the toilets away,” said a 42-year-old woman and mother of four.
Some returnee IDP’s in Agiri and Shuwari villages face acute food shortages after being cut off from humanitarian aid for more than four months after their forced resettlement.
“Before leaving the IDPs camps, government promised to give each head of households N100,000 (242 USD) for foodstuff once they are resettled. Each man and woman head of household received N20,000 (48 USD) at the camps with the understanding that the balance would be given to them once they resettled.
“We are suffering, especially the older people in our midst. You can literally see the pains and hunger in them, but there is nothing you can do.”Another aged 55-year-old widow and mother of six in Agiri village of Mafa LGA told journalists that the last support they got from the government or NGOs was about four months ago and left to surviv e from hand to mouth.
“Four days after Boko Haram attacked us and many people were contemplating going back to the IDPs camps, they brought food for us in order to placate us. This was 10 days after arriving Agiri village.”