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Day Edo IDPs Rejected Forced Repatriation


Governor Adams Oshiomhole when he visited the camp with some of the displaced children...recently

Governor Adams Oshiomhole when he visited the camp with some of the displaced children…recently

IT was a breezy Thursday morning at the camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) tucked in the forest of Uhogua in Ovia North East Local Government area of Edo State. Run by the International Christian Centre for Missions (ICCM), the facility is shelter to over 1,000 people who fled the bloody Boko Haram insurgency in the North of the country, and an additional 400 indigent persons.

Suddenly, there was a heavy presence of well armed and stern looking men, milling round the place, and talking to nobody. Over 38 buses and more than 70 security officials drawn from the police, DSS and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) stormed the camp. Their mission: relocate the IDPs to Kano or Jigawa State. Reason: allegedly some parents wanted to see their children and some children equally wanted to see their parents.

Contrary to reports that the Edo State government sanctioned the action, the Commissioner for Women Affairs, Mrs. Maimuna Momodu, said she was not aware of any plan to relocate the victims but was informed by the security officials that the instruction to move the displaced came from the Presidency.

An official at the centre told The Guardian he had heard about moves to relocate the victims but that no official communication had been given to that effect.

Many of the victims broke down in tears when they were informed of the plan, insisting they would go nowhere. Pandemonium broke out among them as they ran helter-skelter to avoid being whisked away.

Some of the security officials, eventually, could not hide their emotions, as they sobbed after listening to the stories of the victims and witnessing the chaos their presence had caused in the camp.

The victims said they had started a new life in the camp and rather than take them to any “unknown” place, they should be catered for where they presently are.

One of displaced said: “Let them help those that are still suffering; those that are still hiding in the mountains. We who have been rescued should be left here. They should bring help to us here instead.”

Manager of the camp, Pastor Folorunsho Solomon, told The Guardian, when news of the centre’s existence was first broken by the same newspaper, that he had been interrogated several times by the DSS, military, police and others, to verify the authenticity of the IDPs in the centre, which has been giving care to the needy over the years.

While the drama to relocate them was on, however, the state governor dashed to Abuja where he was said to have met with President Muhammadu Buhari and given assurance to the latter that the state government would be fully involved in upkeep of the children.

By Monday, there was still apprehension in the camp, as to what would happen next. In fact, when The Guardian visited the place, some of the still traumatised people refused to come out of their rooms, fearing the reporter had come to take them away.

By Tuesday, Governor Adams Oshiomhole, accompanied by his wife, Iara, and top government officials, visited the camp where he promised to build new schools, and hostel for the inmates.

Besides, he said two Commissioners and five Directors have been assigned to work with the management of the centre, just as he revealed that the Red Cross has been able to open a link with 112 families and would, at the expense of the state government, bring them to see their children, and decide whether to return with them or allow them to remain in the camp.

Oshiomhole said the state government did not have prior knowledge of any attempt to move the displaced persons. He also announced the donation of 500 bags of rice, five cows and other items.

He said: “I didn’t have any prior information and that was why I was angry with the kind of reports by some section of the media. And more painful, the media was doing that when I was doing everything possible to ensure that these kids are allowed to stay here. I didn’t have a hand in the decision but I think there was a miscommunication along the line, as you will imagine when you have this number of children. There were all kinds of stories; some wanted to leave, some parents said they want their children and all that. One thing is clear; nobody has any negative motive whether on moving them from or leaving them here. But if there were errors, they were errors of the head, not of the heart.

“My position is this: having lived in the North all my life, it is this job of governorship that brought me to Edo State. From age 15, I have been in the North. So, for me, anywhere any Nigerian finds himself or herself is his place. In this state, we don’t have indigenes and we don’t have settlers. If you live here, you are part of Edo. And that was why we abolished discriminatory fees in our schools. We abolished everything that smacks of indigenization.

“These children are no longer orphans; we will take care of them until they grow up and make their decisions. We have decided, through the effort of the Red Cross, which I believe has done a thorough job… About 112 of them have been able to establish contacts with their parents. And they (Red Cross) have been able to arrange for them to speak with their kids. And I have assured the President that we will, at the expense of the Edo State government, provide transportation. If they want to come and visit their children in this camp, they will be able to do so and spend some time with them. And if in the end they say they want to go back with them, they will be free. And if they want to leave them here, they will be leaving them in very good hands.

“Around the country, now, I think we have about 1.5 million internally displaced persons, of which we have about 1,000 here. So, it is a huge humanitarian challenge. And for all of us, as Nigerians, this is the time to love our neighbours as ourselves.”

On his part, the traditional ruler of the community, Enogie of Uhogua, Ekiroguaghen Eresoyen, said he was pleased that his community was able to provide shelter for the displaced.

“I appreciate the fact that this community is able to build a refuge for children displaced by Boko Haram insurgency. It is like the Scriptures say God told Moses to set aside some places to be called as Cities of Refuge. I count my community lucky to house these people. And for the governor’s wife to say they are now her children gives me confidence that these are no longer orphans. My heart is glad. To God be the glory.”

Explaining how the centre has fared over the years, manager of the facility, Pastor Solomon, noted: “At the beginning, it was challenging but with the efforts of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), churches, Muslims, non-governmental organisations and individuals, things have gone very well. We have persons mostly from Borno and Adamawa States. They started joining us from 2013, but this home has been in existence since 1992.

“We have trained many people. We have helped orphans and children from broken homes. We have produced graduates. At least, we have one lawyer. Another is in the law school. We have people who have learnt skills. We thank God that we have a father who came to our rescue. We have put that behind us and are moving

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