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General News of Sunday, 15 February 2015

Source: leadership.ng

We don’t feel safe to return home now - IDPs

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Weeks after troops from Chad and Cameroon reclaimed Nigerian border towns of Gamboru-Ngala, Malumfatori and Dikwa (few days ago), from Boko Haram terrorists, normalcy is yet to return to the towns as displaced residents still find it unsafe to return home, LEADERSHIP Weekend reports.

Though most of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the reclaimed border towns who are currently in various IDPs camps in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital have continued to commend the Chadian forces’ courage, many still consider it suicidal to go back home immediately.

One of the IDPs who spoke with LEADERSHIP Weekend in Maiduguri, said their displacement by the Boko Haram terrorists might be the defining event in their lives because, “so many of us may never return to the villages again even if all the Boko Haram terrorists are wiped out. This is because we have a lot of women, children and even men who have lost their entire families and all that they have in those villages.”

The local government information officer, Algoni Lawan, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that for now, it might be very dangerous for the IDPs to start returning back to Gamboru-Ngala, because the roads leading to the town are still unsafe.

“Of course we are happy that the Chadian and Cameroonian soldiers have helped us to reclaim our towns but the soldiers are only based inside the town and we understand that some of the Boko Haram terrorists that were pushed out are still lurking in the bushes around the towns and are still maiming and killing civilians that would want to escape from the town to Maiduguri through the bushes,” he said.

The information officer recalled the very recent attack and killing of his camera man on Thursday afternoon, while he was trying to escape from Ngala town through the bush after being helped to hide in the house for months by his aged mother.

“To emphasise how dangerous it is for us to start going back home, it was only yesterday (Thursday 12th February) that we received the shocking news that my own camera man, Babagana Kachalla, got killed while he was making attempts to escape from Ngala to Maiduguri.

He had been in Ngala all this while hiding under the bed or on the roof tops as his aged mother gave him the cover and watched over him. But when he was informed that the Chadian soldiers had chased out Boko Haram, he decided to come to Maiduguri to get some money in order to buy food and drugs for his mother.

He and some other young men decided to take the bush path after they were warned of the possible dangers should they take the main route to Maiduguri. It was on their way that they came in contact with the Boko Haram terrorists who opened fire on them as they began to flee.

My camera man, according to those who were with him, was caught by the gunmen and when they found his identity card, they accused him of being the one ferrying information about them to the security. They shot him dead at the spot. One of his colleagues who was able to hide in the shrubs nearby saw what happened and was lucky to escape at night,” he narrated.

According to a source who spoke with LEADERSHIP Weekend on phone from Kinjayindi town in Niger Republic, going back to the reclaimed town of Malumfatori is highly suicidal because soldiers have warned that any civilian seen moving around Malumfatori would be shot at sight.

The source who identified himself as Najib Alibe and spoke through an interpreter in Maiduguri said, “the foreign soldiers have succeeded in dislodging most of the Boko Haram camps around Malumfatori while the Nigerien government has declared a state of emergency in Diffa Province.

There is tight security around Malumfatori and even those of us in refugee camps in Bosso town which shares boundary with Malumfatori have recently been moved into Kinjayindi town which is a bit safer, while the soldiers, according to the information we get, have been given an order to shoot at sight anybody they see going into Malumfatori or around the villages. They said they want to be 100 per cent sure that Boko Haram terrorists have been wiped out completely.”

“So we cannot go back now. In fact, we are safer here; at least we move about freely and even spend late nights outside unlike what the situation was like back at home.”

The Chadian soldiers showed gallantry with the reclamation of the territories, considering the sad experiences of Nigerian troops who were forced by the insurgents to flee the communities in question alongside the civilian populace they were meant to protect.

When Boko Haram attacked Gamboru-Ngala and Malumfatori late last year, thousands of residents of the two border communities were forced to flee – some to Maiduguri and others to Fotokol, a border community in Marwa state of Cameroon.

Those in Malumfatori had to flee to Bosso another border town in Diffa Province of Niger Republic. The Boko Haram terrorists, who assumed ownership of the towns in their conquest, took over virtually everything in the towns as they settled in and continued to launch attacks on other villages and hamlets around the areas.

While the men and able-bodied youths who were primary targets of the Boko Haram gunmen, had to flee, the women – mostly housewives and aged women – who were left behind became part of the insurgents war booty.

“They took over everything that we owned or possessed – even our wives were forcefully married and made to become the wives of the Boko Haram members,” said Alhaji Algoni Lawan, the local government information officer of Gamboru-Ngala.

Several attempts by Nigerian soldiers to reclaim the towns were met with stiff and bloody resistance from the insurgents.

But with the recent resolution of the African Union (AU) which sanctioned regional collaboration and synergy to combat the Boko Haram terrorism in the sub-region, Chad immediately took the lead by taking the war to the insurgents in Malumfatori, the headquarters of Abadam local government area of Borno state.

In a single encounter, the Chadian soldiers were able to dislodge the Boko Haram terrorists there, brought down their flags and helped to hoist back Nigeria’s flags at the various designated spots.

Chadian troops, in another joint operation with Cameroonian soldiers based in Fotokol, were able to reclaim Gamboru-Ngala town and liberated the women and children there two weeks ago.

In a TV broadcast monitored via Tele-Tchad, the Chadian national TV station, commanders of the Chadian forces that led the offensive against the Boko Haram in Gamboru town said hundreds of the insurgents had been killed and the town had been liberated.

Two days later, the angry Boko Haram gunmen invaded Fotokol town of Cameroon at dawn and attacked worshippers in a mosque killing about 70 persons. But most of the attackers could not make it back to their hideout as the Cameroonian soldiers decimated almost all of them.

These positive developments in the Nigerian border towns have since turned the Chadian forces into the idol of displaced Nigerians in camps within Borno state as well as those that have become refugees in Chad and Cameroon.

Most of the IDPs from Malumfatori and Gamboru-Ngala local government are wishing the foreign forces remain in their communities long enough so that they can go back when Boko Haram may have been wiped out completely.

“The Chadian and Cameroonian soldiers are our heroes,” said Ashe’ Ba’bukar, a mother of three, who said she managed to escape in the night when Boko Haram came attacking on August 26, last year.

“When Gamboru came under attack, we all ran out together with the soldiers who said their bullets had finished. We felt very unsafe because the uniform officers that were supposed to protect us were fleeing with us. I wept everyday for my aged mother and other relations that were unable to escape before the Boko Haram assumed control of Gamboru-Ngala. But I am happy to hear that our town had been liberated, though I still have not heard a word from my mother and other siblings there,” said Ashe.

LEADERSHIP Weekend gathered that between Sunday and Monday, the Chadian soldiers who were conducting house to house search for Boko Haram terrorists were able to fish out about 20 of the insurgents who had threatened their forcefully acquired ‘wives’ not to expose them.

“We have received pleasing information that the 20 of them had been taken to Fotokol in Cameroon, and the women had regained their freedom”, said another Gamboru-Ngala IDP, who identified himself as Alhaji Ibrahim.

“But the damage has been done to their pride and probably their health as well because these were people’s wives whom they forced into some crazy marriage and had to force them to function as wives to terrorists who claim they are fighting God’s war,” said Ibrahim.

Though returning back to the reclaimed towns and villages is for now an adventure none of the displaced persons would want to embark upon immediately, the Chadian and Cameroonian soldiers are still carrying on with their raids of Boko Haram territories within the shores of Nigeria.

The foreign forces had on Tuesday and Wednesday moved some 50km into Nigeria from Gamboru-Ngala border to reclaim Dikwa town, 86km away from Maiduguri and liberated the town from the grip of Boko Haram. Dikwa fell to Boko Haram in September last year.

A resident of Dikwa town, Muhammed Abba, told LEADERSHIP Weekend that, “the Chadian soldiers came to Dikwa two days ago and were able to reclaim the town. I don’t have details of how many Boko Haram members were killed during the shootout, but some of our people that were able to leave the town yesterday said they saw the Chadian soldiers mounting Nigerian flags in front of the secretariat before they later returned back to Gamboru-Ngala.”

The source said he and some of the people in the town had to quickly leave since the Chadian soldiers were not staying behind to secure them.

“There were no soldiers there so when we saw the Chadian soldiers leaving after dislodging the Boko Haram, we advised ourselves to leave immediately to avoid being attacked by the insurgents who could return to vent their anger on us,” he added.

FG Panel To Investigate Sale of IDP’s children

Meanwhile, following an article published by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) alleging that hundreds of Nigerian children are being trafficked from some of the IDPs camps set up to cater for people displaced as a result of the insurgency in the Northeast geo-political zone, the federal government said it has set up a panel to investigate the claims.

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, in a statement issued in Abuja, yesterday, noted that the Federal Government views the allegations with serious concern as it places a high premium on the welfare and well being of her citizens.

“Consequently, an inter-ministerial committee comprising of relevant agencies and security personnel has been set up to among other things, investigate the matter with a view to holding accountable all those found culpable in these nefarious acts and recommend appropriate measures to forestall future occurrence. Government has also taken steps to strengthen security around all registered IDP Camps,” the statement said.

It went on to note that as an interim measure, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP) had been directed to conduct enlightenment campaigns for care-givers in the camps, adding that government is determined to prevent acts that will further traumatise citizens who have found themselves in these camps due to circumstances beyond their control.

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