AN avowal by the Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum, last October that his administration would close all Internally Displaced Persons camps located within Maiduguri by December 31, 2021, seems to be generating concern in many quarters. The anxiety is understandable considering the unrelenting activities of Boko Haram/ISWAP Islamic terrorists, who have been killing, maiming victims, and destroying property amid the military’s continued counter-insurgency operations. The facts on the ground call for caution to avoid sending the traumatised victims into fresh horror.
The IDPs are victims of a dysfunctional, failed society, whose fate now rides on the risky action the Zulum administration is contemplating. They deserve maximum protection from state actors who swore to espouse quality governance and protect lives and property.
Zulum, during his interaction with journalists at the State House, Abuja, after a closed-door meeting with the President, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), claimed the decision to close IDP camps was informed by “the recent improvement in the security situation in the state.” He said the state government decided to close the camps for the displaced persons to return to their ancestral homes. He said that arrangements had also been concluded for the safe return of persons displaced and taking refuge in neighbouring Niger Republic and Cameroon, in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs. That is a weighty decision because it involves lives.
However, the reality on the ground does not bear out the governor’s assertion of safety. Islamic terrorism, which started at full throttle in 2009, still thrives in many parts of the North-East states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. For the past 12 years, Borno has been the epicentre with over 100,000 lives lost to the brutal insurgency. In the past few years, banditry has conflated with violent Islamist terrorism to aggravate an already chaotic situation. Reputed hitherto as a realist, Zulum appears to have joined the bandwagon of top officials living in denial in a nod to politics. This is sad.
Experience teaches that the war against insurgency should be separated from politics; living in denial as the Buhari regime does is also self-defeating. Recently, the United Nations Children Emergency Fund decried the serial mass abduction of children in 2021, classifying Nigeria, Somalia, Congo, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger Republic as the countries with the highest established cases of child abduction. Yet, Buhari, his senior officials and security chiefs continue to prematurely claim success against a resilient, adaptable enemy.
Indeed, many of the IDPs are shocked at the governor’s hasty intention to return them to their unsafe abodes. Zulum and other governors in the war-ravaged zones in the North-East should be reminded that governments globally confront terrorism through rigorous, sustained efforts with resolute support from the people. It is never conquered through random, ill-conceived action or refutation of reality. IDPs should not be returned to their homes until the federal and state governments, in collaboration with aid agencies, can reasonably certify that they have been cleared of terrorists and adequate security and social services are put in place.
While announcing the end of the 20-year-old war against the Taliban in Afghanistan last year, United States President, Joe Biden, noted that the August date was not an arbitrary deadline for the US troops’ pullout, but was designed to save American lives. The governor should take a cue from this concern for lives and quickly too. IDPs need long-lasting care to resettle after prolonged displacement to heal from psychological and physical trauma. The jihadist insurgency in the North-East has not ended and it is uncharitable to pretend otherwise.
The imprints of Boko Haram are still all too visible. Just in December in Borno, and just hours before Buhari’s visit to the state, the Islamic State of West Africa Province, a factional terrorist group, launched rockets on areas near the Maiduguri Airport, where the President was scheduled to address troops. This audacious act had previously been enacted in several parts of the state, including Malam Fatori in Abadam Local Government Area; one of the two LGAs where Zulum insisted that IDPs should return to. Why the hasty return in this atmosphere of insecurity? It smacks of dangerous politicking.
In truth, the war is far from being over. Attempts to whitewash this reality to suit political sentiments are needless, and unworkable. Human misery is involved. It is distasteful to hinge the closure on exaggerated notions of security improvement.
At another interaction with stakeholders, Zulum identified the horrible state of the IDP camps and challenges such as drug abuse, prostitution, and gender-based violence, increased risk of epidemics like COVID-19, cholera, and meningitis as a part of the reasons for the camps’ closure. This is totally incomprehensible. It is the duty of the state to protect the people and safeguard their property. If the camps are in a deplorable state, the buck stops at the governor’s table to complement efforts of the international aid agencies working to provide the victims with a meaningful existence.
The government should not set the stage for another disaster by exposing the IDPs to attacks by bloodthirsty insurgents. In Kenya, like in other countries battling social crises, efforts are constantly being made to ensure that IDPs enjoy enhanced protection under a national policy. This is what is expected in Borno and not a hurried return of IDPs to feign victory over terrorists.
The authorities should not be lulled into complacency; surrendering members of the terror groups are minions and not the real fighters committed to the violent ideology of Salafist jihadism. Zulum should reconsider this precipitate action.
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