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As rainy season begins, Niger IDPs want to return home

As the rainy season begins in parts of Niger State, internally displaced persons (IDPs) from communities affected by various attacks are anxious to return to…

As the rainy season begins in parts of Niger State, internally displaced persons (IDPs) from communities affected by various attacks are anxious to return to their homes to engage in farming, which have been their means of livelihood. Daily Trust reports that aside from the challenge of physical development in the state, the security situation in some local government areas has worsened the poverty situation in many communities.

Many farming communities in Shiroro, Munya, Rafi, Mariga, Mashegu, Rijau, Lavun, Wushishi, Kontagora, Paikoro, Bosso and Magama local government areas have been displaced by banditry and insurgency in the last eight years.

The displaced persons said that while they were worried over the hardship they faced in various camps, coupled with the loss of their farm produce, they were equally concerned about the possibility of returning to their communities to begin a new life and prepare for the rainy season. 

They said some of them had lived for many months in a pair of clothes they fled their homes in. 

They also said their animals, especially goats, still roamed around their communities, adding that some men who were brave enough sneaked in from time to time to get some of them and sell to get money to buy food.  

Jibrin Abdullahi Allawa, the president, Lakpma Youth Assembly, a youth association of the heavily hit eight political wards in Shiroro Local Government, said his people were desperate to return home, lamenting that some of them had resorted to begging in the streets of Zumba and Gwada to feed. 

Bitrus Yerima from Gbagugu village, Munya Local Government Area, who appeared in a torn t-shirt at a displaced persons’ camp in Mutun-Daya village, about 16km from Minna, the state capital, said, as he struggled to control his emotion, that, “If we are not able to farm this year, there is going to be a very serious problem. Bandits have burnt the foods we stored in our homes. We don’t have anything at home now. How do we continue to survive?” 

Yahaya Dogo also said, “I have farms but I have been denied access to them. We now live in poverty and people now feed us. We can no longer engage in farming as we used to. We want to return home and engage in farming. 

During his recent visit to one of the displaced persons’ camps at Gwada, Shiroro Local Government for the first time since they were opened eight years ago, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello promised to assist the victims return to their homes in few weeks to enable them engage in farming activities, while acknowledging the level of damage done to the communities.

The governor said, “Most of the people of Niger State are farmers. Unfortunately, most of their villages have been burnt down. So, even if they go back now, they have nowhere to stay. This is where the problem is. But within our limited resources, we must support these people to get back their lives and go back to farm because if they don’t go back, it won’t be a problem for Niger State alone but Nigeria as a whole. We will see what can be done to see that the displaced persons return to their homes.  

Unfortunately, even when government intends to assist, some people among us would sabotage it by giving an outrageous number of victims. The government is struggling to pay salaries; so which one will it face?” 

The Niger State Emergency Management Agency (NSEMA), however, said that following the current onslaught on bandits and terrorists in the state, relative peace had returned to some of the affected communities. He also said, “The desperation by displaced persons to return home is high, but this can only be achievable when they are assisted with building materials to rebuild or effect repairs in their destroyed houses. There is also the need for agricultural intervention, such as provision of fertilizers, sprayers, seedlings, herbicides, livestock and other farm implement.”

The agency also suggested skills acquisition training for women in various trades and the provision of equipment to help them recover as they return to their communities.

Ayuba Dakko, one of the displaced persons said, “We, the Gbagyi, are not used to exposing ourselves to this type of life. We want to go and face the farming we are known for, but we cannot return without security presence.”

When our correspondent visited displaced persons camps in Gwada and Zumba, all in Shiroro Local Government Area, victims lamented lack of food and money and reiterated the need to return home. They recalled how their farm produce, such as beans, guinea corn and maize were set ablaze during the series of attacks by bandits, who also stole some of their food items.

The district head of Galadima-Kogo, Alhaji Umar Aliyu said, “We are not saying the government is not making an effort, but much still needs to be done. Please, they should help us. We want to go back home and continue farming, which is our means of livelihood.”

Similarly, the district head of Manta in Shiroro Local Government, Alhaji Muhamamdu Labaran said, “My people are in hardship; we are not used to living this type of life.”

Furthermore, a 65-year-old Abubakar Aliyu said, “We need a security presence in our communities because the rainy season has started. We want to go back home to prepare for farming. But we cannot go back without security presence. The government should help us. We are not happy being here as displaced persons. If the government will provide us with security, we are ready to return home. 

Also, Saidu Mohammed, who hails from Galadima-Kogo said, “After taking foodstuff and other valuables that were of interest to them, they set other things ablaze. 

“Our major challenge now is that we have lost our homes and belongings and cannot get them back. We want the government to station security personnel in our communities so that we can go back home and prepare for the rainy season. Even if we are going to take loans to buy seeds and other inputs, we are ready. All we want is to return to our communities.” 

Rabi Musa, the woman leader in Galadima-Kogo, said women were also pressed to return home if the government would support security agents. She noted, “We want to return home because the rainy season is already around the corner. If we are left here, how would pregnant women among us, and the children cope? Some people couldn’t even take a spoon. We need to go back home and start fixing our houses and building new ones.” 

Again, Joseph Mai-Unguwa from Kahure village, Munya Local Government, said they had spent three years without access to their farms, and appealed to the government to help them return home.

A nursing mother, Blessing Joshua also said, “We are already used to farming. We are completely living a strange life here because we are not used to begging. As farmers, we feed from what we produce, but now, we beg to eat. The hardship we are going through is much. Even to buy soaps to wash our cloths is a problem.”

Sa’adatu Ahmad, a displaced person from Kuchi, Munya Local Government, told our correspondent that her husband’s business had collapsed, noting, “He now engages in menial jobs in Gwada for us to eat.”

Shehu Kamaye, a farmer in Kontagora Local Government said security challenges in the area posed a serious threat to farming as many people were forced to abandon their farms.

“The way we are seeing things now, if the government doesn’t do anything reasonable about this insecurity, it will lead to a lot of problems,” he said.

A resident of Kagara in Rafi Local Government Area, Shetimma Hassan said, “Banditry has degraded every aspect of our existence, economically, socially and psychologically especially. 

“For many years now, we cannot conveniently engage in farming. Our communities have been destabilised by banditry, a situation that has affected our capacity and productivity.” 

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