By Ibrahim Uba Yusuf
In line with the Kampala convention, which Nigeria is a signatory, protection of people displaced by ‘armed conflict’, is sacrosanct.
It is no longer news, that Nigeria has a significant population displaced as a result of Boko Haram crisis. This made the country to be ranked, third after Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa. It is also no longer a news that Maiduguri, the Borno State capital has been overwhelmed by people displaced from their original places of abode to the extent that people now, go to neighbouring Chad and Niger to take refuge. This, therefore, made facilities to become overstretched. Hence, continuous call by stakeholders for the commencement of the return of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to their once ‘destroyed homes’, following the liberation by the Nigerian Army.
The return of the IDPs was perceived with mixed feelings. The Army for instance, saw it as a panacea towards affirming the liberation of the once terrorized communities. The erstwhile Theatre Commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, General Irabor, had in several fora declared the liberated communities ‘safe for return’. In fact, recently, the number one soldier of the Nigerian Army, General T.Y Buratai at a ‘Think-Tank Conference on the Humanitarian Crisis in the North East’ emphasized that, “closure of IDPs camps, would hasten the psychological defeat of Boko Haram”. By this, General Buratai simply means, closure of IDPs camp and their subsequent return to their communities will further reveal the defeat of the insurgents. Because, a town that has been successfully liberated, but yet to receive inhabitants, is like an invitation to the insurgents to re occupy the community.
Drawing examples from the Maiduguri-Damboa-Biu highway, which remained closed until February 2016, the absence of commuters on that road gave the insurgents an upper hand to operate at free will. Worst still, attacks on that axis didn’t seize, as they gathered momentum to move from one hamlet to the other.
Others on the other hand, saw the return of the IDPs as ‘liberation’. To them, living in camps within Maiduguri, despite the emancipation of their communities, is an infringement of their ‘fundamental human rights’. The hopes of these tired displaced persons was dashed when Governor Kashim Shettima announced at the inauguration of the projects constructed by the Borno State government but funded by Victims Support Fund that the May 29 deadline was no attainable owing to military operations along that axis.
However, it is not about the return but how safe are these liberated communities, is a question still begging for answer. The first thing that comes to my mind on hearing the release of 82 abducted Chibok school girls along the Banki junction in Bama local government, Borno State, how would our people in Bama cope when they finally return to start a new life? Are they really safe? Does that mean that remnants of Boko Haram still ply that route? Is the risk of returning them worth taking? How would life be in the absence of infrastructure like mobile network, electricity and health care?
While the IDPs are obviously tired of living in a ‘cage like’ environment, we must be mindful of the consequences of what the Hausa man would describe as “Gaggawa aikin Shedan”, meaning hastily is the work of the devil. Enough of lives lost during the crisis. If we can endure this moment, why not allow security operatives to finish mop up operations? Again why not endure until reconstruction work is 100% completed?
Most importantly, returning these IDPs, especially minors without subjecting them to intensive psychological and trauma counseling is work back to square zero. There is a sort of apprehension, that these minors have been indoctrinated and have vowed to revenge or rather join forces to continue in that direction. This must be seriously addressed; if at all our people should return.
Ibrahim Uba Yusuf writes from Maiduguri and can be reached on