By Chikezie Omeje
Maimuna Ali, 19, displaced from Gwoza, Borno State, sat on a blue plastic chair with her elbow on the sewing machine as she propped up her chin with her palm, thinking out a response to the question put to her.
This reporter had asked her whether she and other IDPs living in the informal IDPs camp in Abuja were ready to return home.
“No, we will not go back,” she blurted and shook her head repeatedly. “Boko Haram are still in Gwoza”.
Icirnigeria.org met Ali last week after she returned from a trip to Gwoza, one of the towns overran by Boko Haram in Borno State.
She brought back bad news for members of the Gwoza and Bama IDPs in Durumi, Abuja that Boko Haram was still active and that the town they used to live was no longer conducive for them.
She had gone back to Gwoza to see her grandfather who they left behind after they fled the town three years ago. When her father was killed by the Boko Haram in 2014, her uncle, his father’s younger brother who lives in Suleja in Niger State helped her mother to bring her 8 siblings to Abuja where they have been living in a makeshift informal settlement in Durumi, Abuja.
Ali insisted that Boko Haram members were still active in Gwoza and despite the fact that she stayed up to three weeks in the town without any incident, she still believes Gwoza is not as safe as the makeshift settlement they are living in Abuja.
“Gwoza no good, small people, small soldiers,” Ali said as she again shook off the suggestion of returning home with her mother and eight siblings.
The journey to Gwoza was too expensive for Ali as she spent N25,000 on transportation, the money she saved from her sewing business in the IDPs settlement in Durumi.
Unlike the Gwoza she grew up and attended school, the Gwoza she visited was deserted as she saw only a handful of people. But the few people she saw in Gwoza during her visit was a significant shift from the situation one year ago.
A relentless military onslaught against Boko Haram insurgents by Nigerian troops has cleared many communities of terrorists and made them safe for residents to return, including Gwoza once held by Boko Haram.
The International Organisation for Migration, IOM, through its Displacement Tracking Matrix, DTM, registered the movements of more than 15,000 individuals in seven locations of Pulka, Bama, Gwoza, Monguno, Dikwa, Mafa, and Chibok between January and February 2017.
The Emergency Tracking Tool, ETT, released on March 9 by IOM, showed that only 13,579 IDPs have returned to Gwoza while 57,097 other registered IDPs from the town are still in camps.
IOM in a report said, “As of 25 January, nearly 1.9 million IDPs have been identified across six states. Biometric registration continued in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe, where 505,431 individuals—456,947 IDPs and 48,484 returnees– have been registered.”
While a large number of those displaced in Yobe and Adamawa States are believed to have returned, IDPs from Borno State are still sceptical of return as insurgents continue to strike.
Borno towns such as Gwoza, Bama, Damboa and others have witnessed only a trickle of returnees. The number of returnees to Gwoza is even higher than Bama where only 1,328 IDPs have returned so far.
Other local government areas in Borno where IDP returnees have remained low are Kala/Balge with only eight returnees and Damboa where there is no record of returnees while 800 IDPs have returned in Mafa.
However, other local government areas have witnessed a high number of returnees. Monguno has the highest number of returnees with 31,504, followed by Mobbar with 25,885 and Chibok with 22,036 returnees.
The IDPs in Durumi, Abuja believed strongly that Boko Haram members could still cause harm to them if they return to Bama or Gwoza.
Maimuna Musa, mother of five who sells charcoal at the Durumi informal camp said they had been getting reports from their relatives that Boko Haram members were still in Gwoza and the visit of Maimuna Ali who just returned confirmed the presence of Boko Haram in the town.
She, however, said she knew four persons who have left their settlement in Abuja to Gwoza but the rest of them are scared of returning home.
Musa said she would not like to return to Gwoza as three of her kids have been put to school in Abuja by philanthropists and she had nothing else to return to in Gwoza as their house was destroyed by Boko Haram.
Although IOM confirmed that Gwoza has now installed the needed security measures and the Swedish Contingency Agency, MSB, is currently installing accommodation tents, office tents, a meeting tent, and kitchen. The site became operational by the end of February.
“If we say we want go now, we no even get transport money. I get five children and e go cost us N50,000 to reach Gwoza from Abuja,” Musa said.
Musa, however, said she would go back whenever others start going. “We no go be alone here. If everybody go, we go go too. This place no be our land”.
This website counted more than 70 makeshift houses, made of cement bags and zinc in the Gwoza and Bama informal IDP settlement in Durumi, Abuja with an estimated population of 1,700.
A volunteer teacher at the IDP settlement in Durumi, Success Success, whose service is being supported by the Redeemed Christian Church of God Province 4, told icirnigeria.org that he has more than 200 IDP children who come to the learning centre to play as there are no teachers to teach them.
This reporter observed that only about 13 older children were in Success’ class while the rest of the children played in the sheds provided by the Nigerian Army Officers’ Wives Association, Coalition of Nigeria Muslim Women and the Redeemed Christian Church of God.
Meanwhile, the echo of Boko Haram presence in their communities has deterred most of the IDPs from returning home despite repeated assurances by the military and the federal government that Boko Haram has been defeated and IDPs could now return home.
Responding to a question by icirnigeria.org at a press briefing on March 6, Ambassador Matthew Rycroft of the United Kingdom, who led the UN Security Council visit to Nigeria as President of the 15-nation body for the month of March, said Boko Haram had not been defeated.
He, however, said that “there are many successes militarily against Boko Haram and we commend the military of this country and the neighbours for these successes.”
Rycroft pointed out the need for a broader response to the crisis to tackle the issues that created the terrorism.
“What is needed in the end is a long-term development,” he said, stressing the need for jobs, education, human rights, services for displaced people and refugees, and solutions for coping with drought and other environmental challenges.
“Those are multifaceted, complex set of problems and require a holistic set of solutions,” Rycroft said.
A statement by UN Office for Humanitarian Coordination, UNOCHA, said about 14 million people are affected by the Boko Haram violence, with 8.5 million people in urgent need of humanitarian aid.