North-East: Displaced Persons Seek Return Home, But Still Too Scared

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”. 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.

Maimuna Ali leans on her sewing machine at the Durumi IDP camp


“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.

Durumi IDP Camp
Part of the Durumi IDP camp

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 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 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.

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