The governor of Bornu State, Babagana Zulum recently made headline news as he does quite often when he hinted unequivocally on plans to return the 1.86m Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Refugees to 19 communities in the state.
He stated with certainty that the 300,000 refugees taking solace in refugee camps in Cameroon and Niger Republic will soon be repatriated in consonance with the extant international laws governing such exercises.
The governor in an address during a courtesy visit by the deputy humanitarian coordinator for United Nation, Mr. Alexander Shadrack revealed that the state government has decided to take the bull by the horn in returning the IDPs to their various localities in the next two weeks.
Gov. Zulum pointed out that, a adhoc committee established for the purpose tagged the Return Task Force (RTF) has concluded arrangements to work with other critical stakeholders such as the State Emergency Mananagement Agency (SEMA) and the Ministry of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement to ensure a a hitch free exercise. The three organisations have been given the matching order to effect the successful evacuation of the IDPs after ten years of indolence, depravation and incapacitation.
He observed that the IDPs have consistently depended on handouts from government and donor agencies and this has physical and psychological effect on the people because it has deprived them of their self esteem. Much more, it has also denied them the ability of self- actualisation as human beings.
The purpose of resttling the IDPs in their ancestral homes, the governor offered was to avoid donor fatigue. He went further to add that the exercise will enable the IDPs fend for themselves in the nearest future. In addition it will ensure that they become more productive in the years ahead.
What Zulum however did not tell his guest was that the state is in dire economic straits, like every other state in the country. The implication is that it is no longer sustainable to address the needs of the IDPS in the light of competing demands on the government’s lean purse. Proving lifeline to the displaced is no longer feasible.
On the face of it, one is tempted to say, the evacuation of the displaced persons is a welcome development given the sub-human conditions of the IDP camps. What passes for a camp is nothing but a sham. At least for once, these displaced persons who are largely women and children (since many of the virile and productive young men have been killed by the insurgents) can again live like human beings in their natural habitats. Why?
Because the living conditions of these camps are better imagined than experienced. They are far removed from civilization. For instance the modern amenities, other citizens take for granted is no more than a luxury in almost all the camps.
Not only are the people subjected to vagaries of an inclement weather, they are also exposed to the danger of attack by faceless bandits. From time to time they are fleeced of their food and medicaments and other sources of livelihood by corrupt social welfare workers. The women and girls are so vulnerable that they are often raped and abused by miscreants and their care givers. They swing between life and death. Howbeit, some security personnel attached to the camps have been fingered in the past for their involvement in sexual violence in the camps.
It is an understatement to assert that these camps lack basic facilities such water, toilets, electricity, food, adequate accommodation etc. Little wonder why we have lost thousands of children due to malnutrition and childhood diseases. Basic education is a luxury. All the children have been out of school for ages. Hence, illiteracy is the order of the day.
It is quite disturbing and unfortunate too that the IDPs are made to undergo the most inhuman treatments due to circumstances beyond their control.
Be that as it may, one may ask, is it right and proper to return the displaced persons to their ancestral homes at this material time when the war against insurgents is far from being over. It is an open secret that several communities are still being occupied by the militia.
How then do you return the IDPs to these same war zones?
At no point did Gov, Zulum mention the need to provide the people with adequate security as they make their way back to their communities. The humanitarian coordinator only promised to assist the state government in returning the IDPs to their homes. He tell us what sort of assistance he is referring to here. That was a blanket statement that holds no water.
Gov. Zulum’s initiative is at best a silent prologue to anarchy unless concerted effort is made by all concerned to ensure the safety of the people. They have been traumatised already, why must must we add to their very many troubles.
I have always been a secret admirer of Gov. Zulum because of his pragmatic leadership and forthrightness and resources fulness but in this instant matter he really missed the mark. I hope and pray that he would have a rethink and rescind on this unwholesome step until the coast is clear. Government must rid the enviroment of land mines before the people are fully resettled. These displaced persons who are victims of circumstance should not be allowed to suffer more hardship. No Nigerian should be exposed to unnecessary danger as in this instant case. Life is more precious than material possessions.
This is my stand.