ON October 22, Borno state governor Babangana Zulum reiterated his stance on closing camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the state by December 31.
After a meeting with Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari last Friday in Abuja, he told reporters that it was about returning displaced persons to their homes.
“I came to brief the president on efforts made by Borno State government in ensuring the return of internally-displaced persons to their homes.
“So far so good, Borno State government has started well and arrangements have been concluded to ensure the closure of all internally-displaced persons’ camps that are inside Maiduguri on or before December 31,” Zulum said.
However, his decision has raised concerns among some Nigerians regarding security concerns amid the relocation of displaced persons.
A security expert, Timothy Avele, said although complete information about the closure of the camps is sketchy, the resettlement is a wrong move.
He said the questions to be asked are whether the situation of Borno state has improved before the relocation.
“Can the State, Federal or security agencies and the military guarantee their safety should they return? Why the rush? If ‘no’ is the answer, then the move will definitely backfire.
“To resettle the IDPs there must be some level of peace in the areas and serious degrading of the insurgents. For now, those have not been achieved yet. The government should rethink, except he has sentenced the IDPs to firing squad,” Avele said.
There are currently 18 IDP camps officially recognised by the Borno state government.
The violent attacks by insurgent/terrorist groups in Northern Nigeria have led to the displacement of about 12 million persons, the majority of who are residents of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States.
Security situation in Borno in five months
Data available to The ICIR shows that the security situation has not improved as portrayed by the Borno State Government for the relocation of displaced persons in the state.
Although a few parts of the state have been relatively better, the security challenge is still present.
Data from the National Security Tracker (NST) shows that there have been 34 attacks in Borno state in the last five months.
In June, nine attacks were recorded; although there was no civilian death, five security operatives were killed, while 133 Boko Haram members got killed.
The following month, July, seven attacks were launched by terrorists and insurgents in the state, no civilian death was also recorded, three security operatives, 55 Boko Haram members were killed.
In August, a total of 22 civilians were killed in seven attacks while ten security operatives and 71 Boko Haram terrorists were killed.
More civilian deaths were recorded in September, 52 of them were killed in six attacks, four security operatives were killed, and 30 Boko Haram members were also killed.
So far in October, no civilian death has been recorded, 70 Boko Haram members have been killed but four security operatives lost their lives.
In the five months, there has been a total number of 74 civilian deaths and 70 security operatives in Borno state.
Although efforts by the Nigerian security operatives have yielded a significant increase in the death of terrorists and insurgents, like other northern states, violent attacks have not stopped in Borno.
In an interview with The ICIR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Spokesperson in Nigeria Roland Schoenbauer said it also agree that there are complicated situations in some of the IDP camps in Borno state.
On the timing of the relocation, Schoenbauer said it was not about the time; instead it was a question of safety.
“On the timing, this is not about date, if the conditions are conducive. UNHCR is neither promoting the return nor facilitating them to stay in the areas of urgent but wherever we have access we would try to assist them in the areas of protection and non-food items,” he said.
He said there was no general assessment of the security situation in Borno state and that there are some parts that ‘pockets’ of stability has been recorded.
Schoenbauer noted that one of essential parts of the relocation is the livelihood of the displaced persons.
“One of the important parts is in terms of livelihood so that people are able to get back on their feet by having some form of income.
“The fields where they use to work are not safe to go to, if they feel that they cannot go there anymore, that is not going to be sustainable, I am not giving any secrets here, I think anybody understands that and I am sure that the authorities are aware and are trying to address the insecurity,” Schoenbauer said.
It could be recalled that less than a year ago, 43 farmers were killed on rice fields at Zabarmari, in Jere Local Government of Borno State.
Spokesperson for the Borno state government Isa Gusau told The ICIR that the challenges of drug abuse, prostitution and other negative vices largely influenced the decision to close the IDP camps by December.
“When you sit down and look at the crisis in the camps, the problems are so enormous, there are some people who have turned the camp into prostitution rings, into drugs. There is a lot going on in the camp and the fact of the matter is that until measures are taken, unfortunately, we might end up creating a very serious problem,” Gusau said.
On the plan for relocation, he said there were houses in construction to facilitate the relocation of the displaced persons.
“In Maiduguri alone, there are close to two to three thousand houses that are being built for resettlement and then there are some communities that are quite safe, that have been rebuilt,” he said.
He also said that the Borno state government would continue to support them after the relocation through food distribution.
Gusau noted that the State government would continue consultations with stakeholders, Police, DSS and others before the closure.
Spokesperson for the Nigerian Army Onyeama Nwachukwu told The ICIR that he has not been briefed about the security situation by the Borno state government.
Nwachukwu said he would send a response when he receives a briefing on the matter.