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Farmers’ killing: Borno IDPs fear return to communities

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[FILES] Women with food ration cards are seen in a queue at a food distribution centre at the Banki IDP camp in Borno, Nigeria April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

‘Our Lives More Precious Than Returning To Farmlands’
• Returning Households, Farmers Need Protection – Borno Chief
• CAN Urges Buhari To Tackle Worsening Security Decisively
• Says Sympathy Visits To Bereaved Families No Longer Acceptable

Plans by Borno State Governor, Babagana Zulum to return about 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), currently taking refuge in about 46 camps in and around Maiduguri, to liberated communities within the state may have been put in jeopardy. In fact, it may pit the governor against the IDPs.

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This is because elders, camp managers, and households in the IDP camps have expressed fears that the plan could turn out to be a double tragedy for them, going by fresh waves of attacks and killings by insurgents sweeping through the state.

Indeed, findings by The Guardian confirmed that anxiety and the fear of being returned to the communities have heightened at the Bakkasi, Dalori, Monguno Teachers’ Village, and Gubio road camps.

In an interview with The Guardian, one of the respondents, Hamidu Abdu, an IDP from Gwoza Council who had been taking refuge at Bakkasi for over six years, said: “I cannot return to Gwoza with 15 other family members. I’m scared of what has been happening to some of us while working on our farmlands along Maiduguri/Damboa Road.

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“Last month, about noon on a Monday, three IDP farmers were killed by terrorists riding on motorcycles. We had to flee by abandoning our harvested crops.”

Abdu said the terrorists had accused the farmers of depriving them of food while leaking information on their modus operandi in the Molai/Damboa axis.

The renewed apprehension comes against the backdrop of the killing of over 81 farmers by suspected Boko Haram insurgents in Koshebe village in Zabarmari while harvesting their rice fields last Saturday.

The over a decade-long insurgency has claimed over 36,000 lives, with property worth about N3.42trillion destroyed in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states.

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In separate interviews, some IDPs, along with their elders and camp managers, expressed fears of returning to the so-called liberated communities due to the deteriorating security situation in the state.

The Zanna Boguma of Borno, who serves as Chairman of Borno Emirates Concerned Citizens Forum (BECF), Hassan Zanna Boguma, declared: “Despite the redoubled efforts to return and resettle victims of terror attacks in liberated communities by the governor, rural communities in the state are still facing untold hardships.

“Helping them to return and tend their farmlands to rebuild their livelihoods are amongst the governor’s topmost priorities to avert looming hunger in the state and nation.

“Returning IDP household farmers and other returnees need to be protected and spared from any type of terrorists’ activities in the state.”

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It would be recalled that the Senior Special Adviser to the Governor on Publicity, Lanre Obadiah, recently said that the topmost priority of Governor Zulum was to return all IDPs to their communities and close the 46 camps in May next year.

He said the state government and international and local humanitarian agencies could no longer sustain the feeding of 1.7 million IDPs in camps and host communities.

Reacting to the latest carnage, the President and leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) condemned the killing of the rice farmers, describing the development as satanic and a national shame.

CAN President, Rev. Samson Ayokunle, who gave the condemnation in a statement yesterday in Abuja, charged security agencies to wake up from their prolonged slumber and save their image and asked the government to be more decisive in taking far-reaching security steps to address the worsening security situation in the country.

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He said the continuous sympathy through press statements or condolence visit after many souls have been wasted is not acceptable anymore, adding that what Nigerians need is adequate protection of their lives and property by those they have put in charge to do so.

The CAN president called on the government to think out of the box and take adequate steps to bring the terrorists to their knees, rather than finding excuses to justify the failure of governance, saying a situation where farmers are being taxed by the terrorists and bandits before they are allowed to work on their farms is unprecedented and must be stopped by the government before it is too late.

“We are in a recession in the country, yet criminals are still preventing farmers from going to the farm to harvest,” he lamented.

Ayokunle observed that the association was not aware of any country where similar lawlessness is taking place without being adequately checked, assuring that CAN would not give up praying for the country and giving advice to the government.

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He stated: “We are shocked, disturbed and saddened to learn that criminals suspected to be terrorists (but for which a terrorist group had claimed responsibilities) invaded the Garin Kwashebe community and murdered innocent farmers while harvesting their products.

“As usual, the number of the deceased gruesomely murdered remains disputed by the Federal Government. To us at CAN, 43 is not only frightening but also inexcusable by those who should have prevented it. The massacre was wicked and completely satanic.

“The mass burial without a full-scale war is unprecedented and unacceptable. We are pained to observe that killings and kidnapping of people are no longer news in the country and no one is immune from it.

“Why should we be waiting for a nation well situated by God to become a land that is swallowing its inhabitants? We call on the security agencies to stop the unending mass killings by the criminals who now operate with impunity all over the country, but more devastatingly in the Northeast and Northwest of the country.”

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While appreciating the efforts of Zulum to return the IDPs to their ancestral communities, despite seeming insecurity in the communities, Boguma said: “The President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces must do the needful in ending the wanton killings in the state and across the nation.”

He called for national prayers to end all sorts of violence against the citizens, urging President Muhammadu Buhari to summon an emergency meeting of serving and retired security experts, as well as traditional and religious leaders to discuss the current state of the nation.

Boguma tasked Buhari to visit Borno State on a fact-finding mission and practically assess the security situation in the state, insisting: “Sending high-powered delegations is not enough on issues related to life and death.”

He added that all the people of the state want is absolute proactive measures and not reactions and condemnations after attacks and killings.

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Speaking on the video clip of Boko Haram claims to have killed 103 farmers last Saturday and in October by a factional leader of the terrorist group, Abubakar Shekau, Boguma queried: “Who is funding his video? Why is it that in this information age, the security agencies could not find where the video was uploaded, by who and with whose IP address?”

He insisted that the location and producers of the video clips could be traced easily if the security agents were serious and up to date.

Speaking with The Guardian, an IDP, Hajiya Asta Musa, a mother of seven, said due to the attacks by insurgents last September, she would not go back to farm again, adding: “We cannot work on our guinea corn and groundnuts farmlands, as Boko Haram boys could strike with their shoulder strapped guns,” adding that the farmers only use their feet and in most cases, bicycles to escape the attack.

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Asked whether she was willing to return to Gwoza, she retorted: “Never at all. Our lives are more precious than to return and work on farmlands.”

She said it is when one is alive that he or she can work on farmlands to restore his or her means of livelihood destroyed by insurgents in 2014.

The widow listed three conditions that could make her and her children return to include clearing Mandara Hills and Sambisa Forest of all terrorists, while the Bama/Gwoza/Mubi road is secured and protected against any attack by insurgents, adding: “Our farmlands and fringes of the forest should also be cleared and secure from Boko Haram attacks.”

She stated that she would be willing to jump onto the bus that is going to return them to the communities once soldiers and other security agencies meet these conditions.

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The Bakkasi camp manager, Mallam Ibrahim, disclosed that over 70 per cent of IDPs in the camp were not willing to exit the camp due to fear of returning to the insecurity of lives and property in communities, farmlands, and roads.

He said with the exception of Maiduguri/Damaturu road, the roads leading to Monguno, Dikwa, Damasak, Gambouru, Gwoza, Damboa, Biu, and Banki, a border town with Cameroun were unsafe.

According to the State’s Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Boko Haram attacked and kidnapped over a dozen people, including five humanitarian aid workers and University of Maiduguri (UNIMAID) staff in earlier this year.

A member of one of the civil society organisation (CSOs) in the state living in Maiduguri, who did not want her name in print, claimed to have driven to Zabarmari last Sunday to speak with some of the families of the deceased. She said: “The farmers’ association decided that to protect themselves, it was better for them to go in groups to harvest their crops.

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“From my discoveries, child soldiers were used this time around to perpetrate this heinous act. So, saying a total of 67 persons were killed, while the United Nations (UN) coordinator is saying 110 is still cutting it short because so many people are still unaccounted for. So many women were kidnapped. We need better security here; it is getting worse by the day.”

Asked from where she got her facts, she responded: “I was told by one of the women who managed to escape. They keep reducing the numbers in the media, which is wrong. The Shekau faction doesn’t use adults anymore; they only kidnap kids.

“Over 50 women there said their husbands were missing and the government counted 67 bodies. We are not safe in Maiduguri town, as the insurgents are within the town. They use the same modus operandi as ISIS in Afghanistan. The use of child soldiers is now worse.”

Activist Aishatu Kabu Damboa said: “I am in Maiduguri as a result of displacement; this was formerly not my base. The security situation in Borno is very unfortunate, especially given that people we voted to protect our lives and properties no longer care about us.

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“It is only in Maiduguri that there is relative safety, in other parts, people can no longer live their lives and run their businesses like every other person in different parts of the country.

“In a state where over 60 people were killed just 20 kilometres away from the capital city, this is a sorry situation. Even when you talk, the government will say there is an improvement in the security of the state, which to us, is mere propaganda.

“It is very devastating that the federal government will be rehabilitating insurgents in the name of repented Boko Haram members when the victims of their evil acts are still living in the IDP camps and their houses are yet to be built.

“A government that does not take care of the women and children whose husbands’ lost their lives as a result of insurgency has the audacity to tell us that we are not cooperating with the military.

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“Remember, the federal government is not in charge of taking care of the civilian JTF in Borno, but the state government. Now that our youths have made sure the insurgency has left the state capital, the federal government and the military should follow them up and make sure they are eradicated from where they are. But a government without a political will would give excuses that citizens are not cooperating with the military. This is our current situation in Borno and I don’t think it is fair to be treated this way; we are citizens in the same country.

She added: “How dare a highly placed government official say the farmers did not get clearance to farm, this is an inhumane statement. This is because the Presidency is not coming to the reality of what is going on here; that is why such statements will be made. What do they want us to do? We stay at home, with hunger and starvation; we go to the farm and they will not guarantee our safety.

“It is high time Nigerians said no to insecurity or Buhari resigned, just like he asked former President Goodluck Jonathan to resign some years ago.”

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On the possible return of IDPs to their homes, Damboa said staying under the custody of donor funds to decide what they eat or drink, even their movements restricted, is frustrating; hence she supports their return to their ancestral communities, saying: “We only seek that the President be responsible for what happens under his watch.”

To Lucy Yunana, a member of Borno Network of Women Civil Society (BONWOC) and Executive Director of Women in the New Nigeria and Youth Empowerment Initiative (WINN): “Just today, as the government went out to the villages to disburse N25million relief fund to families of victims, there was an attempt by the Boko Haram sect to attack the villagers again.

“Before Buhari came into power, the level of insecurity was high and he made a commitment to citizens that when he comes, he will see that insurgency is a thing of the past. But then, we are experiencing a far worse state of insecurity than Jonathan’s time in the northeast.

“This is a national issue; the federal government should come to our aid. If they all stay in IDPs, they will die of hunger, and going to the farm means insecurity, so we are all in a state of dilemma. Even the IDPs, when you speak to them, they tell you they want to go home, so we want the military and the federal government to bring an end to this insurgency.”

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