Governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima, said Thursday that internally displaced persons from Bama local government will be returned in batches to their rebuilt communities after assurance by the military of security of the area.
Mr. Shettima said he would adhere to global standard for returning displaced persons to their homes rather than bowing to mob pressure.
“We have to put in place all the necessary mechanism before they begin to return,” said Mr. Shettima.
“We can’t be intimidated to follow the mob, we have to do the right thing for the people to return to their homes”.
Mr. Shettima spoke upon his arrival in Bama on Thursday shortly after he was received by the military commander of the troops in the state’s second largest town that has become a ghostly community.
On Tuesday, the state government announced that IDPs will begin returning home from Monday April 2.
The decision was taken after the military opened the Bama-Maiduguri road than had not been used by civilians four years after Boko Haram captured it.
Mr. Shettima on Wednesday arrived Bama and stayed in the town for two days to personally inspect its rebuilding for the return of its displaced residents.
PREMIUM TIMES was also in the town for an assessment of the situation of the massively destroyed town.
It takes more than an hour to make a trip from Maiduguri to Bama due to serious damage to the 75km Trunk-A road that is dotted by gaping potholes once used to bury landmines.
The military had to clear all the road side bushes and trees to prevent Boko Haram hiding in them to carry out attacks.
More than a dozen villages and hamlets that used to be on both sides of the road between Konduga and Bama have been totally destroyed and deserted.
The military, PREMIUM TIMES learnt, had to use earth movers to grind down the remaining walls of the destroyed communities to deny Boko Haram using them as shield to stage attacks on travelers. It is doubtful if such annihilated communities would ever be occupied again.
The governor said he appreciated the itch of the people to return to their homes but would not allow any situation that would put them in harm’s way.
He, however, noted that the civil population must return for the efforts of the military in securing the communities to be consolidated.
In tears, Mr. Shettima bemoaned the fate that struck Bama about four years ago when Boko Haram attacked and left it in rubble.
“This is a town that used to be a vibrant town full of activities that was brought down to its knees by those demented monsters called Boko Haram,” he said.
“The second biggest town in Borno was turned into a ghost community where we have untold destruction and disharmony.
“But we want to commend the officers and men of the Nigerian armed forces for all the sacrifices made to ensure that we still have Bama and all the neighboring communities across the northeast. We prayed for the repose of all our gallant officers and men who paid the supreme sacrifices for our fatherland.
“We want to commend the resilience of the people of the northeast, for in spite of these challenges, our heads are still held high. It is a very moving moment and emotional moment for all of us and the time has come for our people to return to Bama.
“But we have to put in place all the mechanism; we can’t be intimidated to follow the mob, we have to do the right thing for the people to return to their homes. We want to avoid the situation whereby the remnant of Boko Haram may use the opportunity to infiltrate back to this town and cause further mayhem and destruction.
“We had extensive discussion with the stakeholders of Bama and we have done the road map of the return. Not all the people will come to Bama at once.
“Between now and Sunday, we will design the entire framework where wards within the township will start coming as from Monday. A form has been design for the returnees to fill; the ward heads, the village heads and the district heads will be actively involved in vetting the returnees. We want to have a full picture of everyone that is coming back to the town”.
Mr. Shettima said basic infrastructural facilities like water, hospitals, schools security must be functional before the IDPs returned.
“We have already procured all the necessary implement and tools for us to fix all the vandalized boreholes – about 12 of them – in Bama township”, he said.
“Some of the generating sets to power the boreholes are being brought to Bama, and some of the essential items needed in fixing the boreholes are equally on their way.
“The school system, the hospitals and most importantly, the security must be in their best shape before the return.
“Most importantly we bought four brand new excavators, specifically with the mission of digging trenches and creating sand hill around the entire townships especially the vulnerable areas in order to safeguard lives.
“We have come with the Deputy Commissioner of police specifically to cross pollinate ideas on how the officers and men of the Nigeria police, the Civil defense corps and other paramilitary organisations should come and support the Nigeria army to sustain the emerging peace in Bama.”
Governor Shettima said the Shehu of Bama, whose entire palace was destroyed but has been rebuilt and awaiting furnishing, would be the last person to return to the town.
“I want to put it on record that His Royal Highness will be the last to come back. Ordinarily, he is itching to go back to his community,” he said.
“It is the decision of the Borno state security council that he should stay in Maiduguri to supervise the coming of the people while we put in place the infrastructures necessary for him to return. Every single items in the palace was vandalized. The village heads, the wards heads and the district head will be among the first to return back while His Royal Highness will be the last.”
The Acting Brigade Commander of the 21 armored Brigade, Bama, Colonel Garba Nura, had earlier informed Mr. Shettima and other visiting dignitaries, including the Shehu of Bama, Kyari Ibn Elkanemi, that though Bama has since been secured, he still could not give 100 percent guarantee that Boko Haram has lost its attacking capacity.
The Brigade commander who assumed office about a month ago said “the general security situation in Bama is relatively calm but unpredictable, even though the second phase of Operation Deep Punch has commenced and still ongoing.”
He said the operations had degraded Boko Haram’s combat and fighting efficiency.
“On our own side, we are currently clearing the neighboring villages where Boko Haram are running and looking for safe haven.
“We are also engaged in demining of the roads and general areas with our explosive ordnance devices in order to ensure safety of the people and road users”.
On the return of the civil population to Bama, the Brigade commander said the government must be quick in providing key infrastructure that must precede the arrival of the people.
“First is the need for all the paramilitary outfits to come back to Bama; then the second one is to commence reconstruction of road to patch all potholes on the road that leads from Maiduguri to Bama and up to Banki, thereby reducing planting of improvised explosive devices.
“We also call for the clearing of road shoulders and also calling on the police bomb squad to clear the entire Bama township be the resettlement take place”, said Mr. Nura, a Colonel.
The UN rules stipulate that displaced persons must not be forced to return to their communities, and that if they must return, it should be on a voluntary, dignified and safe basis.