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Bama: A bumpy ride back home

The return of IDPs to Bama in Borno State was plagued with difficulties as many not in the phased movement found their way back putting…

The return of IDPs to Bama in Borno State was plagued with difficulties as many not in the phased movement found their way back putting government in dire situation.  

 

It only takes only the bold-hearted to return to a place that was a nightmare without being nostalgic. A place that used to be home and community that relished in unity and peace but completely ravaged by hostilities not the fault of the inhabitants.

But the love for one’s ancestral home is usually tough to forego with the sweet memories of the past. 

That was the fate of Falmata Alhaji Mustapha and thousands of other returnees to Bama years after it was sacked by Boko Haram insurgents. Whatever the temptation to flee from the trials she had plunged into, she had resolved that her return home was final. Falmata is one of other “returnees” who have not been official scheduled to go back to Bama but found their way.

Official returnees from IDP camps and host communities in Maiduguri went back when the Borno State Government launched their return after the completion of the “reconstruction” of 11,000 of their homes, hospital, schools and a few other essential utilities.

The phased return commenced on March 31, 2018. The Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Usman Jidda Shuwa, had told a news conference on March 27, 2018 that the Presidential Committee on North East Initiative (PCNI) in conjunction with the Borno State Ministry for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement, had reconstructed the facilities.

Phase one of the return was launched with transporting IDPs at Dalori 1, Kofa, Farm Centre and NYSC camps. All IDPs shortlisted were accompanied by their respective district and ward heads, as the state government promised that adequate security while they settled at home.

Resettlement package given to a returnee-family through its Bulama [Ward Head] comprised a bag of rice and maize flour or maize grits, a 25-litre gallon of cooking oil, a blanket, mat or 10-feet mattress, a pair of slippers, a 10-yard bundle of guinea brocade for the husband, a 6-yard bundle of wrapper for the wife, a small bottle of petroleum jelly, a tablet of bathing soap, a small container of germicide, a sanitary pad for the wife and N10,000 cash.

Those not married are, according to the plan, are entitled to half of the package.

However, while only a small population of the returnees admitted receiving N10, 000 along with whatever size of package they got, contents and sizes of the package seem to differ from ward to ward for reasons neither the Bulamas nor government official divulged.

Immediately after the first set of hundreds were transported in buses from Maiduguri to Bama, several hundred others slipped out to Bama. They boarded vehicles at a rate of N500 in trucks and N1000 in any other smaller vehicles for the 71-kilometre distance.

However, it was alleged that a large population of these returnees were not genuine as they were either not Bama indigenes and, therefore obtained the indigenes forms, went to Bama to collect whatever provisions served them and return to Maiduguri and sell.

The Commissioner of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement, Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, discovered  the trend when a “returnee” was accosted at the Bama motor park boarding a vehicle to Maiduguri with the bag of rice and other items he had just received from a Bulama.

However, a sizeable population of the returnees not enlisted and went to Bama have returned to Maiduguri after they were not provided for.

But Falmata, whose husband was slain by the insurgents, has vowed to stay put in Bama. “I have resolved to wade through whatever hardships and remain at home than return to Maiduguri,” she stated in a tone expressive of profound courage and protest against the process of return and resettlement.

“I transported myself and the children to Bama three weeks ago when I heard that food rations and other resettlement items were being provided; but on arrival, the Bulama of my ward told me there was no ration for me. Since then, I have been spending the little savings I came with from Maiduguri on buying food,” she explained.

The widow was however pleased that their house had been rebuilt. “…if no one gives me money because I have exhausted the little I came with from Maiduguri, we have where we can lay our heads, in a house we can proudly call our own. So, I will stay put here to wade through whatever hardships than going back to Maiduguri, where it used to be extremely difficult for me to pay rent,” she said pathetically.

She is not alone in this resolve. Mamma Alhaji Gana also vowed to stay put to endure whatever hardships. She returned a few days after the government launched the first phase of the return.

She said: “I do petty trading and this was why I can afford a meal daily. So, I will stay at home as the situation gradually improves.”

Also, Kyari Ibrahim returned home, met a reconstructed home and arranging it to his comfort, before going to Maiduguri to transport his family of five members – a wife and four children. He is a resident of the ward behind the Shehu’s palace.

“I must say that I am grateful to Allah and to Governor Kashim Shettima for rebuilding my home and providing items for the initial resettlement of my family before we adjust to situations and begin to fend for ourselves.

“My only problem is that the house is not well reconstructed. I am afraid, during the rainy season majority of us in the reconstructed houses will definitely be displaced, not by insurgents this time, but by blown or leaking roofs or crumbling walls.

“But even if you complain now, officials would argue that even the original house you built could be blown off or crumble during the rainy season, so one should be grateful and be prepared to do little repairs regularly, government has basically rebuilt it for you,” he said.

Mohammed Umar Mohammed, married with two children, is one of the Bama returnees who had to return to Maiduguri after a forthnight of stay at Bama. He sojourns at Bulumkutu of Maiduguri metropolis.

“When I went to Bama, I met my 4-room house reconstructed,” he said.  Recalling further, he explained that: “We received indigene form from Maiduguri, because you cannot be served anything without it; but our Bulama was allocated provisions for only 100 returnees. The 87 of us left out were consoled with the promise that our provisions would soon arrive. They never arrived. We stayed without provisions for two weeks. We concluded that we had cunningly been abandoned, so we were hopeless. That is how I packed my family and returned to Maiduguri.”

According to him, he cannot tell when to return to Bama. “I operate a tricycle to fend for my family. I cannot return to Bama without any guarantee for food and any employment,” Mohammed said.

On the whole, Bama looks adequately secured, with the troops of the multinational joint military taskforce, comprising Nigerian, Cameroonian and Chadian troops, constantly patrolling major streets and the road leading from a bridge where insurgents were said to have slain over 200 people and dumped the bodies into the river.

Though most houses behind the Shehu’s palace and a few other wards look majorly reconstructed with those in other wards look still unvisited by the reconstruction contractors.   Generally, commercial activities are coming up at a snail’s speed as Bama is slowly regaining its past glory.

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