The security agencies should ensure that the communities are safe and secure

The Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai last week added his voice to the growing calls on many of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Northeast to return to their communities. Specifically, Buratai directed that displaced persons from eight local councils in the north of Borno should feel free to return home because their communities were now safe and secure. The army had reportedly cleared the farmlands and Lake Chad Islands, hitherto battleground of terrorists. “All roads linking communities within these areas have been cleared of insurgent activities,” said Buratai.

Ordinarily, this should be heartening news. Indeed, some internally displaced persons were more than delighted. Only last Friday, some 2000 displaced persons in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja said they were getting set to return to their communities in the Northeast. Mrs Maryam Nuhu, leader of the IDPs made up of mostly women and children, at the Unity Fountain in Abuja, thanked President Muhammadu Buhari for making their return possible: “Our towns and villages have been cleared of these terrorists. We can now confidently return home and pick up our lives from the points where we meet them,” she said.

For almost a decade, many families and communities particularly in the Northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa had been ravaged by the brutal insurgency of the Islamic militant group, Boko Haram. Many communities were laid waste and many members of same family separated from one another. The body count of the dead is in excess of 20,000. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) about two million Nigerians are displaced, with about 80 per cent of them from Borno, the birthplace of the insurgency. Nigeria, at present, holds the sixth largest IDPs population in the world and that has created emergencies for people to be heavily dependent on humanitarian aid for survival.

In the camps hurriedly created to accommodate the displaced, everyone is living in squalor. Suffering is unconscionable. Basic needs and amenities are overstretched. This is made worse by many officials who further exploit the conditions of the internal refugees by pinching on whatever is supplied to the camps. As a result, essential household items including food are in short supply. Access to water, sanitation and good hygiene, health care is perpetually a struggle. Outbreaks of diseases are commonplace. Many children are dying off as a result of malnutrition. Education for the children is a luxury.

The needs are particularly acute in remote camps. And even though the government and other humanitarian agencies try as much to lessen their burden by the provision of some assistance, they are evidently not enough. Some criminals reportedly worsen these conditions by exploiting the inadequate security in the camps by raping some women and girls.

Under these appalling conditions, it is natural to expect many of the displaced to feel ill at ease and nostalgic about their homes and communities. But hundreds of thousands of the displaced are still wary of returning to their homes despite the claims by the military that their communities had been “liberated.” The emergency is not over. Part of the hesitancy is as a result of the fact that many communities are still volatile and could be exposed to lawlessness as many members of the insurgent group could still strike at will, causing enormous damage to human and material property. Can the returnees turf it out?

Only last week, a massive explosion triggered off by the rebels killed 32 people and many more wounded in Abbachari Damboa Local Government Area of Borno State. Suicide bombers are still on a free reign. Either way, some communities look increasingly likely to fall prey to the violent criminal gang. Thus in addition to the assurance by government of assisting in rebuilding their homes and livelihoods, it should also do more to ensure safety and security of the returnees.