UN Fret over Conditions in Former Boko Haram Stronghold as IDPs Return

  •  As MNJTF strikes 12 terrorist camps, kill 4 insurgents, lose 2 personnel

Abimbola Akosile and Senator Iroegbuin Abuja

The UN refugee agency has expressed concern over basic services and security in a territory formerly controlled by Boko Haram insurgents, as hundreds of internally displaced people are returning to their devastated villages and towns in the north-eastern state of Borno – only recently liberated by the Nigerian armed forces.

Speaking to journalists at a press briefing in Geneva Friday, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Mr. Leo Dobbs, said “Comprehensive figures are not available but our field staff and partners are reporting both government-facilitated and spontaneous return in recent days of hundreds of people to places such as Mafa, Konduga, Benisheikh and Dikwa,”

UNHCR expects the number to grow in the coming weeks, while noting that government and aid agency assistance has been stepped up in Borno’s 16 newly accessible districts.

“UNHCR and its partners have restricted access to 10 of these districts, where some 800,000 people need urgent help,” Dobbs elaborated. “Some of those now returning to their homes in the liberated areas from places like the Borno capital, Maiduguri, appear to be happy to go back, citing dire conditions in the places where they have been living, including camps for the internally displaced.”

However, UNHCR is concerned about the welfare of the people, who are returning to areas that have been devastated under Boko Haram rule.

“Many of the internally displaced will be going back to destroyed homes and infrastructure, and areas lacking health care and other services,” said the refugee agency’s spokesperson. “The returns should be voluntary, dignified and safe – people should be informed about conditions in their home areas.

In regular contact with state officials, UNHCR has raised its concerns and offered to work closely with them to help ensure that the reinstatements are conducted safely, with dignity and in accordance with international standards.
Dobbs pledged that the UN agency would continue to monitor the situation of returnees, especially the most vulnerable.

“Meanwhile,” he said, “as we and partners scale up our operations in the north-east, security and access to the needy, especially those in the newly accessible areas, remain major challenges. A greater humanitarian response and presence on the ground is urgently needed, aid efforts must be better coordinated, and data collection improved.”
In the past week, UNHCR began to deploy a 14-strong emergency response team, including experienced senior emergency coordinators and several protection officers.

Most of the displaced are women, children and the elderly. Priority issues include shelter, food, potable water and health concerns, including acute malnutrition and cholera prevention.

In concrete terms, UNHCR continues to work through local partners to carry out vital protection monitoring in Bama, Monguno, Damboa, Konduga, Mafa, Dikwa and including Biu, Bayo, Hawul, Shani and Kwaya Kusar districts in southern Borno.

Over the past two weeks in Bama, the UN refugee agency provided 200 shelters for 1,000 people and distributed non-food items to 16,000 people, while in the Cameroon-Nigeria border town of Banki, it handed out aid items to 10,000 people. In Maiduguri, UNHCR constructed almost 2,000 semi-permanent shelters for around 10,000 people, and is building emergency shelters for 5,000 people in Dikwa.

The UN refugee agency also warned that Boko Haram continues to pose a real threat, despite the recent setbacks suffered by insurgents during joint regional military operations.

“Although the government has rolled back Boko Haram gains since last year, the insurgency has switched to terror attacks and remains a potent threat,” said Dobbs.

The insurgency in the north-east of Nigeria has forcibly displaced more than 2.25 million people since 2014, including 2.066 million internally displaced people, and almost 190,000 refugees in neighbouring Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

Meanwhile the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) in Operation Gama Aiki has braved the challenging difficult terrains and unpredictable weather conditions to conduct an aerial bombardment of 12 Boko Haram terrorist Camps in northern part of Borno.

The Chief Military Public Information Officer of MNJT, Col. Muhammad Dole, in a statement yesterday, said the troops killed four terrorists and lost two personnel in one of the operations.

Dole said “despite these limitations for the ground forces, the Air component of the operation, through successful combined air operations continue to deny the terrorists freedom of action and movement within the battle fields. Recent air strikes and simultaneous clearing operations on 12 identified terrorist camps and hideouts have greatly shattered their cohesion.”

He noted that the continuous blockade of the terrorists main supply routes and arrest of their logistics suppliers caused serious economic hardship and led to the surrender of many terrorists in different locations in the Area of Operation (AOO) of MNJTF.

“Additionally, the troops of Sector 4 in Diffa Niger Republic tracked and neutralised four terrorists suspected to have attacked the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp and Two others were arrested at Tumoua village,” he stated.

Dole stated that in another development, the troops of Sector 4 while on clearing operation after successful air strikes at Baroua village, encountered an Improvised Explosives Devices (IED) explosion.

The incident, he said, led to the death of two personnel including an officer and a soldier, while six other soldiers were wounded. He said the deceased personnel were given befitting burial in Diffa while the injured soldiers were evacuated to Niamey, Niger Republic for medical treatment.

The MNJTF Spokesman however, assured that in spite of this unfortunate event, the morale and fighting spirit of the troops remain very high.

In a related development, the Director of Army Public Relations (DAPR), said a fighting patrol team of 33 Brigade Nigerian Army following a tip off on September 9, 2016, had contact with suspected kidnappers at Lame Burra forest near Dutsen Ganye, Gunduru and Kati Layin villages, Bauchi State.

Usman said during a heavy exchange of fire, troops killed seven of the kidnappers and destroyed their camps. He said the troops also recovered two AK-47 rifles and three Dane guns at the camp.

The Army Spokesman stressed that troops are still combing the general area to further track down other fleeing members of the criminal gang.

He said: “It is important to state that the Brigade after the initial successes of its Operation Forest Kunama, which was aimed at clearing all livestock rustlers and armed bandits camps in Bauchi and Gombe States general area, the Chief of Army Staff (CoAS), Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, directed them to maintain continued presence at the Lame-Burra forest. This is to prevent the criminal elements that fled from returning.”

Subsequently, Usman said, two Forward Operation Bases (FOBs) were established at Lame and Jimi to cover the Lame and Burra axis of the forest respectively. He noted that the troops usually carry out periodic fighting patrols into the forest from the FOBs.

In the same vein, he said the troops on Operation Lafiya Dole deployed at Forward Operation Base (FOB) Buratai in conjunction with local vigilante arrested a suspected Boko Haram terrorist named Adamu Damuna. He is currently being interrogated.