Edo IDPs And The Politics Of Boko Haram
IT was a stunned viewing public that confronted scary images of screaming and fainting children at an Internally Displaced Persons’ camp somewhere in Edo State, when a detachment of the Nigeria Police, Directorate of State Security (DSS) and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) came to forcefully evict and repatriate them to Kano and Jigawa States. That was on Thursday, August 13.
According to the story line, the relative peace at the camp, tucked in the cool forest of Uhogua, in Ovia Northeast Local Government Area of the state, was rudely violated that morning, when without prior discussion or notice some 38 buses and about 70 stern-looking security men surfaced at the camp. They neither spoke to anybody, nor responded to posers from a stunned crowd of predominantly children IDPs and their managers.
Then, the unexpected; they were to be moved back to the North, as ordered by The Presidency. Then the bedlam! The camp erupted in rancorous upheaval. Those who could cry wept profusely and those who did not, challenged their eviction in feeble tantrums. According to them, their state governments, or whoever wanted to evict them should send the resources to take care of them where they are in Edo State. Edo has given them peace, away from the nightmares of the Northeast, so, why take them back there? They were heard saying. One even asked whether Edo is not part of Nigeria and whether the Constitution no longer permits Nigerians to live in any part of the country?
It was a grim sight to behold young Nigerians seeming so helpless, but even the security men who were detailed for the assignment had a change of heart and left without accomplishing the mission. The entire episode left a trail of puzzles that are yet to be fixed and too many questions to answer.
The story of the camp and IDPs goes back to 2013, according to reports, when fellow pastors in the Northeast, as a result of the activities of Boko Haram linked the International Christian Centre for Missions (ICCM) for assistance. The place was originally meant for indigent persons, but it admitted the first set of ten IDPs in 2013. Thereafter, the Centre set up a committee to screen newcomers and ascertain their status. That was the process until it had taken in 1,000 persons who fled the troubled states of the North. According to reports, when it became public that the camp plays host to IDPs, Red Cross and the National Emergency Agency (NEMA) visited to interrogate and authenticate the facility. NEMA was said to have mounted four tents to shelter the crowd, while Red Cross did some investigations and background checks on the displaced persons.
That was the situation and all seemed well until that morning of August 13.
After the botched attempt to repatriate the IDPs, the Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole visited the camp on Tuesday, August 18, to encourage and show them love. But he made it clear that the state government was not involved in the repatriation attempt. He said: “I did not have any prior information…I was doing everything possible to ensure that these kids are allowed to stay here. I didn’t have a hand in the decision but I think there was miscommunication along the line..”
While it amounts to political correctness on the part of the governor to adduce miscommunication as reason for what played out, it was clear too that there was a deliberate attempt on the part of those who conspired to ferry the IDPs to be brazen and exhibit reckless disdain for due process.
In the first place, there ought to be established lines of communication between the DSS and their cohorts, and the camp managers, to have an understanding on when is the appropriate time to commence the return of IDPs to their homes. That ought to also depend on the amount of information available from NEMA and the Red Cross, on how suitable and safe the ravaged homes in the Northeast have become after the degrading of Boko Haram. We did not have all of that.
Courtesy also requires that the state government that had shown some interest in quartering the IDPs should be taken into confidence on what next now that the Army had sufficiently routed the insurgents. That also did not happen. Instead, we saw some mindless, commando show of strength and arrogance, which is typical of our coercive institutions of State. It amounts to an exemplification of military mentality to lay siege to the IDP camp in Edo, or any IDP camp for that matter, to attempt to forcefully relocate anybody outside due procedure.
There is yet no official explanation for what happened from the Presidency, where the repatriation order allegedly emanated. Apart from the ‘miscommunication’ theory offered by Oshiomhole, I think it is appropriate for those in charge to thoroughly investigate the blunder and report back to Nigerians and the international community. IDPs are a sensitive breed and the United Nations does not joke with their mistreatment.
I do not believe it is the host governor’s headache to explain the misbehaviour of the Federal Government. But in the spirit political party relationship, we are now seeing some deft management of that misadventure. There has since been a latter-day reunion of parents and some of the displaced children. Instead of the crude method that was ordered by Abuja, Oshiomhole organised a befitting ceremony at the Banquet Hall of the Edo Government House, on Sunday, August 16, where 142 children reunited with 55 parents. Out of the 142, 112, according to reports, went home (Northeast hopefully) with 49 parents, while the remainder returned to camp, after their parents had seen them, but could not take them because they are yet to rebuild their war-ravaged homes.
What Abuja attempted to do with brute force, Oshiomhole has managed far better, bringing some parents and children together in a respectable atmosphere and offering soothing words.
He said; “As they say, there is no place like home and the worth of a mother and a father cannot be replaced by any humanitarian gesture. We appreciate this reality and so regardless of whatever comfort anyone in Edo State would want to give to these children, it cannot be a substitute for the motherly care, particularly when you see children who are just two, three, five years old..”
There are still 800 plus displaced children in the Edo IDP camp as we speak. The Red Cross is still working to connect them with their parents and loved ones. But in case some cannot be connected, the Edo government has promised that they will remain part and parcel of the Edo community and that the state government will continue to provide their needs, in terms of materials for their physical and mental growth.
And I ask; where were the DSS and their collaborators going to carry these children, to yet some other IDP camps in Kano and Jigawa? Is it not better to leave them where they are while the process of reuniting them is perfected? What are they afraid of, that these children might be indoctrinated in the ways of Edo people? Do Edo people operate a different Constitution from that of Nigeria; or are they dreaming ahead of census 2016?
Before Boko Haram intensified their barrage on the Nigerian State, segments of the political class luxuriated in unbelief. They thought it was the headache of then Mr. President Jonathan and his party. He was called names and jeered at for what the opposition branded as cluelessness. As Nigeria exits this dark episode of mindless killings and political subterfuges, let the deceptions stop so that the country can move forward. Those who stoked the embers of Boko Haram know themselves and they are judged by their consciences. History will also unveil them. But for now, let these innocent children IDPs feel free and at home anywhere in Nigeria. The concern should be how to raise resources to give them good environment to live in and good education wherever they are.
The manager of the camp at Uhogua in Ovia North East, Edo State, Pastor Folorunsho Solomon deserves commendation for his good and noble deeds. If he had not opened the camp for these IDPs, no one can tell what would have happened to these hundreds of Nigerians. The Red Cross and others who ensured the safe arrival of these children in the various camps all deserve commendation and appreciation.
Going forward, we need a humble federal government to begin to learn serious and quick lessons from the Boko Haram nightmare. We need a government that will quickly part with old, unpopular ways. We need to deal fairly and justly with Nigeria, so that when another madness surfaces, there will be a collective will and resolve to deal with it.