It was a joyous moment for the residents of Maiduguri and Bama towns of Borno state as the military officially reopened the major road that links the two local government headquarters, four years after it was seized by Boko Haram.
Over 100 cars, trucks and other vehicles filled with travellers and goods, lined up along the Maiduguri-Bama highway as they awaited the official cutting of tape to declare the once most dangerous route open.
The opening of the 75km trunk-A lane came amidst serious concerns of how safe the military had cleared the landmine infested route.
But spirited returnees, mostly businessmen and travellers, said said their nostalgia for their ancestral home overwhelmed the fear of the unknown.
Laminu Ambama, a displaced person from Bama, said the opening of the road did not only bring joy to him and his people, but has also restored their hopes for survival.
“We thank our leaders and the security for making this dream of four years come true,” he said.
“This is the fourth year since I was forced by Boko Haram to flee my hometown, Bama.
“I am a commercial truck driver plying the Bama-Banki Road, helping farmers and traders in that axis to convey their goods.
“We put our trust in God for our lives as we ply the road. But no amount of fear will equate our nostalgia for home.”
The theatre commander, Operation Lafiya Dole, Nicholas Rogers, a Major General, who organised the opening of the road, said enough had been done by the military to reduce the activities of the terrorists to the barest level in that axis.
He said while the military will continue to provide escort for road users, a few challenges like occasional encounter with landmines may not be ruled out.
He however said those challenges may be overcome if the civilian road users adhere to stipulated rules of the road usage.
“I will recall that on the 1st September 2014, the Maiduguri-Bama-Banki was closed due to the activity of the insurgency which affected the economy of the area.
“And in the course of the insurgency, together with our Cameroonian counterparts, we have been able to clear the road up to Sambisa forest. So it is time our people should start thinking of going to Bama.
“I am happy that these roads have been opened in the first phase of our operation, and that also gives our people the leverage of resuming their commercial activities along that axis and also giving them confidence and hope.
“We implore the commercial road users to kindly abide by the code of conduct that we have given them, so that we can ply the road with some level of safety.
“That does not mean that we are not going to have some challenges. We envisaged that the miscreants may want to lay one or two mines on the road. But we must developed the courage and confidence to use this road until they are worn out,” he said.
Speaking before cutting the tape to reopen the road, the deputy governor of Borno state, Usman Durkwa, said the event signified a major milestone in the collective fight against terrorism.
He said the reopened road will enable the people to pick up the pieces of their past lives.
“We thank President Muhammadu Buhari and the military leaders for standing by the people of Borno state. May God continue to assist us to see that we return Borno state to return to its former status as the home of peace,” he said.
“The Borno state government will continue to provide you with all the necessary machinery to succeed until we got a lasting solution.
“We will also provide all the support to ensure that all displaced communities return to their original homes.”
The deputy governor called on all the Boko Haram terrorists to lay down their arms and embrace the federal government’s offer of amnesty.
“Secretary of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Ahmadu Musa, said the opened road is one of the most economically viable roads in the state.
“This road links three African countries with Nigeria,” he said.
“It is very crucial to the economic development of Borno state. And we have nothing to say than to thank President Muhammadu Buhari for sending us the chief of army staff, General Tukur Buratai, and his gallant soldiers who have been doing good job in Borno state”.
Hundreds of returnees joined a military convoy to travel to Bama for the first time in four years.
Baba Banki said he lived in Banki all his life until Boko Haram attacked four years ago.
“Going back to Banki for the first time after such a long time of being away, is a major development to us,” he said.
“I lost three houses, two business premises, money and even some some livestock,” said Mr. Banki. “But that does not mean I should give up. I was a livestock merchant, with this road opening there is hope that we shall bounce back.”
Bama, the headquarters of one of the Borno local government areas with the same name, is the second largest town in Borno state, after Maiduguri.
It also has a major border town, Banki, which is also another international commercial hub. The local government is ranked as one of the major revenue earners for the state.
But when Boko Haram visited, four years ago, they left the entire communities and their neighbouring villages in ruin.
It is believed that Bama local government has one of the largest membership of the Boko Haram.