The government must tread with caution
Governor Babagana Zulum is convinced that Borno State, the foremost outpost of insurgency in the North-east, is now safe for him to close the camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Maiduguri. By Zulum’s assessment, “a reasonable degree of peace” has come to his state and that it is unnecessary to keep the internally displaced persons in the camps. He reasons that the threat posed to the people in many of the communities by Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) terrorists has abated. Thrown into his plan is the repatriation of IDPs taking refuge in neighbouring Niger Republic by 27th November.
While Zulum’s statement is enough for every IDP in Maiduguri camps to weep for joy that their nightmare is over and that they can now reset their lives to normal mode, there are still unanswered questions about what influenced the governor’s optimism and resolve to disband the camps. There are reports that terrorists still roam freely in most of the communities the governor is talking about. Indeed, there are insinuations that the governor may be under some sort of political pressure to return the IDPs to their ‘ancestral homes’ after his recent meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari.
It is particularly curious that Zulum is heeding the call to send back IDP residents based on a newfound trust in the Nigerian Army that he once lamented “does not have the lethal weapons, fighter helicopter and numerical strength to fight aggressors.” So, the question that remains to be answered is whether the governor intends to close the IDP camps in Maiduguri and repatriate displaced Nigerians in Niger Republic just to prove the point that peace has returned to his state.
Instructively, Mallam Fatori, where Zulum plans to repatriate IDPs in different provinces of Niger Republic to, is a local government headquarters in the northern part of Borno where a “growing number of ISWAP” operates. The governor said, “But somehow, we don’t have human population in this local government area because of the insurgency. Now that we have achieved a reasonable degree of peace, government decided to resettle Mallam Fatori communities.”
We understand the position of Zulum who said recently that it is no longer sustainable for people living in IDP camps and host communities to receive food and non-food items from donor partners. “People must earn their livelihood if we want this insurgency to come to an end,” he said recently while urging the military to create the enabling environment for farmers to go and cultivate their lands.
We align with the call on federal authorities to realise that a government that cannot guarantee the security of life and property for citizens and residents in a country has failed. With the maimed, the orphans, the widows, widowers, and the tides of refugees in IDPs camps practically left to their own devices, we also understand why Zulum may want the people back to their communities so they could engage in productive activities and fend for themselves. However, he should not gamble with innocent lives.
The governor must consult with the military, village and town heads and other stakeholders before sending the residents of displaced persons’ camps back to the unknown. Only people that are alive can farm.