Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State in northern Nigeria, is home to over two million displaced persons. The past few years in northern Nigeria have been plagued with violence and uncertainty as Boko Haram waged war against the state and federal governments and all civilians who don’t belong to their exclusive group.
The rural areas surrounding Maiduguri have been left desolate, as the city has doubled in size due to displaced peoples. Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari has declared the war with Boko Haram over; however; deadly attacks have still persisted in rural areas, along major highways, and within Maiduguri itself. As the war has been declared over, many are now moving back home, meanwhile many are still flooding into the Maiduguri camp.
This crisis has received major news headlines in the past including the abduction of the 200 schoolgirls from Chibok. This issue, according to Irish ambassador to Nigeria, Sean Hoy, has been largely simplified into one hashtag: Bring Back Our Girls. Yet the conflict between the terrorist group, Nigerian government, and the millions of displaced civilians is far more complicated.
Many attempting to return home are travelling on roads that are frequented by insurgents and risk being massacred before they even reach their abandoned homes and towns. And despite the fact that many are still flowing into the displaced persons camps, the Borno State government has announced its plans to shut down the camps in Maiduguri by the end of May. This has caused the mass exodus of over one million Nigerians to largely uncertain and most likely unsafe territory. A food truck bringing needed aid to these displacement camps was fire bombed in mid-January along a reopened road in Maiduguri and other aid groups bring supplies via helicopter to safer areas, but are forced to fly at very high altitudes to avoid missile range.
The Nigerian military has also refused to build up food supplies in these destitute and hungry camps out of fear that militants will steal the food and strengthen their ranks. Phone networks are down and fuel sales have been banned in many areas to prevent similar threats from Boko Haram.
The disarray has reached far outside the city and displacement camps and into the once abandoned villages and towns in surrounding areas. Families returning home have found squatters who have similarly fled violence now staying in their homes. This has created a large problem in relocating both squatters and those returning from the Maiduguri camps. The Borno State government is working hard alongside the UN to provide resources and development aid to rebuild homes, villages, and agriculture. Some areas have been given irrigation kits, chickens, and goats to stimulate the renewing economies. Women are receiving first choices of homes in these areas due to their loss of sons and husbands.
All in all, the Nigerian and the Borno State governments have been hard at work to eradicate Boko Haram, return civilians safely home, and revitalize the struggling rural economies. However, their eagerness to claim the situation under control is extremely concerning when it means returning 2 million displaced persons to areas that could still be vulnerable to insurgent attacks and terror. The governments must continue to actively pursue insurgents throughout the region and protect its returning civilians who are attempting to rebuild their lives.
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