We are under attack from Boko Haram -- Bama returnees - SyCtRenDs



Tuesday, November 6, 2018

We are under attack from Boko Haram -- Bama returnees

We are under siege from Boko Haram insurgents — Bama returnees

Cross-section of the returnees at an interface with Centre for Democracy and Development

Like majority of returnee communities in Borno State, the about 30,000 Bama returnees complain of dreadful besiegement by Boko Haram insurgents who slit the throat of anyone straying outside town. They have returned home; they are not yet at home.

When, last May, Babakura jubilantly strode out of the 4-year displacement he was plunged into by Boko Haram insurgents who completely razed down his hometown, Bama, sacking all its residents into a traumatising displacement in various climes across the country in September, 2014, he was vibrating with life and ambitions of rebuilding his pre-insurgency prosperity.

As the caravan of large construction-site buses conveying him and hundreds of his fellow IDPs from Maiduguri camps cruised towards Bama, he was belching with hope.

The buses were hired by Borno State government to convey the first batch of returnees to a ‘reconstructed and rehabilitated’ Bama, undoubtedly the most Boko Haram-ravaged town in the entire Northeast.

Extremely eager to reach home, he was singing the mantra of home: “home, sweet home, here I come” in his mind.

He arrived home, to his barely reconstructed house, rebuilding high hopes of restoring prosperity as a proud indigene of one of the most-prosperous transborder commercial town of Northeastern Nigeria. He fervently prayed never in his lifetime to return to displacement and its attendant hardships, grief and trauma.

He nourished himself with the high hopes of resuscitating his farm, tilling the soil to grow what he would feed his family and traversing the terrain freely to augment the sustenance he could reap from his farm in the petty trading trips he used to take between Maiduguri and the Nigeria-Cameroon border town of Banki during the pre-Boko Haram times.

Now, five months on, Babakura is still languishing in virtually every trauma and hopelessness he initially thought he had broken free from.  He feels still a captive, not of the insurgents, but of insurgency.

Like a prison inmate confined within high walls with devices barring him from taking one step out of the prison yard, Babakura is confined within the town by the high walls of encirclement by the killer Boko Haram insurgents.

Babakura Bukar Iza is representative of the about 30,000 returnee IDPs to Bama and spoke on the debilitating situation of virtually all returnee communities across Borno State, which has created a persistent humanitarian crisis constituting a matter for grave concern to the United Nations (UN) and other stakeholders in humanitarian crisis management.

The Bama returnees complain that since their first batch came back home from IDP camps in Maiduguri, their high hopes of moving freely across the terrain they had mastered, an essential requirement for picking up the pieces, rebuilding their entire socioeconomic lives and pulling through life, seem still as unreachable as a precious item hidden somewhere in a distant planet.

Transported whether by the state government or by their own arrangements, they said they returned to Bama from their various places of displacement, mainly in Maiduguri, in droves,but now face various hardships ranging from shortage of food to inadequate medical care and education, according to the UN.

However, they complain much less of this situation than of their besiegement by the insurgents who kill or maim many of them while toiling  for a living just two kilometers out of town.

This depressing and distressing confinement bars them from fending for themselves rather than depend on the handouts from government and NGOs,  which they was unsustainable and destroys initiatives.

They are physically at home, but they are emotionally and socio-economically far from being at home, they complain.

“Go and ask everybody in Borno State; a Bama Kanuri man is not an indolent man. We are an industrious people. We don’t rely on anyone giving us anything for sustenance; we believe in toiling to earn a living,” Babakura Iza told Daily Trust in Bama.

“Let him toil, let him eat’ is our guiding philosophy in life”, the apparently well-educated man said.

“We believe in farming and trading; this is why we stand out in the entire Borno State as a commercially-inclined community, he said.

“This is why, even at the height of the insurgency we felt too uncomfortable in our various places of displacement.  We always yearned to be back home to fend for ourselves as a proud prosperous commercial community.”

Babakura noted: “That should sufficiently tell you that majority of us were vibrating with elation and hope on the day we started returning home.

“Alas! Here we are not feeling at home, because we cannot hazard anything required for us to begin rebuilding our once prosperous lives; we are under heavy siege by the Boko Haram insurgents who roam freely within a radius of just about two kilometers at the outskirts of the town.

“In the last three weeks alone nine people who went to the outskirts during their various toils were slain by the insurgents and these are the only ones we heard; many more may have been slain unknown to us.”

Babakura gave the breakdown of the slain nine: two farmers in their farms in the vicinity of Lawanti hamlet; one farmer in his farm near Umarari; two farmers also working in their farms in the vicinity of Korori hamlet; two people undertaking some toils near Kajuja hamlet; and a husband and wife trekking to their farm along Bama-Maiduguri road.

All the hamlets are within the radius of about three kilometers at the outskirts of Bama.

Babakura complained that their griefs and hardships are compounded by  the continuous depletion of supplies from the Borno State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) and other stakeholders in humanitarian crisis management.

He also alleged that majority of the

returnees are left out in the distribution of relief materials.

“Majority of the returnees reside in town, not in the camp; but when they (SEMA and other stakeholders) are distributing relief items, they only give those in the camp, leaving us, who form the majority, in the host community without anything. When we complain, they say our names are not on the list of beneficiaries.

“Majority of us go to the camp to buy goods and other necessary items from the returnees there. Many of us travel to Maiduguri to buy food and other necessities.

“However, our major concern is our besiegement by the insurgents. If we can cultivate our farms and loiter freely among communities around in utmost safety and security against being killed by the insurgents, none of us will grieve over being denied any relief item. It is not in our character to depend on charity; this is Bama,” he said proudly.

“Majority of us can only grow beans in farms very close to town, because we cannot grow other crops in our larger farms at the outskirts for fear of being ambushed and killed by the boys (insurgents) roaming freely there,” another returnee, Tela Aji, told Daily Trust.

He, however, said they were determined to go on with their lives within their community inspite of the dangers they are exposed to.

“Whatever happens, we will not flee from our community. But if this insecurity persists without government doing anything about it, we have to try our own way of securing ourselves,” Aji said.

The measure of security Bama returnees now enjoy is provided by the 21 Armoured Brigade of the Nigerian Army and the troops of the multinational joint taskforce comprising Nigerian, Chadian and Cameroonian troops.

Head of NEMA Emergency Food Intervention in Borno State, Commander Manga Salisu Danjuma,  however, denied the accusation of discrimination against the returnees.

He told Daily Trust that returnees were being taken care of by the World Food Programme through its Conditional Cash Transfer Programme, under which each one of them was made to open a bank account.

“Now in Bama there are 16 established vendors recognised by the WFP. These vendors have POS machines where the returnees go for their accounts to be verified, then they are served the commodities  they need equivalent of the cash in their accounts.

“The problem  is that due to their large population,  most stay in the queue for days before their account status is verified to enable them get the essential commodities. This means they stay for long without essential commodities like food.

“This is why when WFP is serving food and other items to those in the GGSS Bama camp,  they also go there for the food on the pretext that they have been abandoned.

“Everyday, there is an average  of 100 people returning to Bama,  comprising returnees from camps and escapees from Boko Haram den.

“The WFP has already made arrangements  for food for 3000 of them monthly.  And when the PCNI observed that this arrangement  was inadequate, it also supplied Bama a very large quantity of food items just last week,  which is distributed every day. So why are they complaining?  It is an unfair and baseless complaint.’’

He said returnees were also given startup items, including seeds to enable them settle down quickly.

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