•UN advises FG to delay return of IDPs to their homes
By Alvan Ewuzie
There are clear indications that in spite of the continued routing of insurgents in the North East and government’s willingness to send internally displaced Boko Haram victims back to their homes, the victims may not return home soon. This is so as the United Nations has advised the Federal Government to, first, effect the removal of unexploded bombs, land mines and other military ordinance from the affected places before the people are returned to their homes. The advice came in the heels of moves to return the people kept in different camps in Adamawa, Edo and other places.
Daily Sun learnt that President Muhammadu Buhari had instructed Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to facilitate the return of internally displaced people to their natural homes. Osinbajo visited Borno shortly after an attack at Gwoza. In the process of carrying out the assignment, the advice of the United Nations was brought to his attention. The vice president, it was gathered, had got in touch with UN officials, seeking to know how the unexploded bombs and land mines could be removed. Consequently, only firm engaged in such activities in West Africa, which is based in Nigeria, was contacted for the job of ridding North East of unexploded bombs and landmines.
The United Nations insistence that the unexploded ordinance be removed, Daily Sun learnt, is a direct outcome of the Otawa Convention of 1999, which banned the use of land mines during war situations. Mines are said to continue fighting, even after wars had ended, as innocent civilians, oblivious of where the mines have been laid, get killed as they step on them. The mines, some of which remain active, for as long as 200 years, explode killing or giving permanent harm to victims.
Since abandoned landmines decimated over 20,000 in several war zones across the world, 149 nations of the world (excluding United States of America) signed the Ottawa Convention on March 1, 1999 in Canada, where Nigeria was listed as a landmine affected nation. The treaty banned landmines as instruments of war.
When Nigeria signed the instrument of accession to the convention on July 2, 2001 and formally deposited same to the United Nations on September 27, 2001, it meant that landmines ought not to be seen anywhere in the country. By virtue of that convention, also known as Mine Ban Treaty (MBT), Nigeria got a deadline of March 1, 2012, to clear all landmines within its territory, especially those deployed during the three-year Nigerian civil war between 1967 and 1970. The late President Umaru Yar’Adua took the first step to actualise the treaty. He hired Professor Bala Yakubu, a seasoned expert in the rare field of delicate extraction of landmines and removal of explosive remnants of war.
It was leant that Yakubu’s firm had cleared the country of landmines but may not have done away with other war ordinance in the South East, where the civil war was fought. Now, with Boko Haram activities, the issue has come to the fore once again.
Credible sources revealed that during his visit to Nigeria, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban-ki Moon, told the authorities to do whatever that was necessary to reduce the 3.3 million internally displaced people in the country. Indeed, the 2014 report of the Internal Displaced Monitoring Committee Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) revealed that the number of internally displaced persons in Nigeria was approximately a third of the IDPs in Africa and 10 per cent in the world. The country has the third highest IDPs in the world, coming behind Syria, with 6.5 million and Colombia with 5.7 million.
In seeking the best way to go about the assignment of returning IDPs to their homes, Osinbajo is working out ways of ridding the North East of unexploded bombs and landmines. Revealing the VP’s contact, Professor Bala Yakubu, said: “We have given the office a proposal on how to carry out assessment and commence clearing, but we have not got any response. I tell you that it is very dangerous to take IDPs back to their original places of abode without clearing their farmlands where the insurgents must have left unexploded bombs and in some cases landmines, which have long been banned as an instrument of war.”
Yakubu, a former instructor in military school, said the insurgents used landmines, which put people at risk if they are not cleared.
Asked how much longer IDPs could wait for the landmines to be cleared, Yakubu said: “It takes a day to clear one square metre of land. After a survey, the authorities will have to decide the critical areas to start. It is important to start early because bombs have what we call ‘cooking time,’ which is why experts need to be involved so that when unexploded bombs are seen they will know if the cooking time is near and explode urgently or keep it. Some bombs have life span of 200 years but if they are touched in some places they will explode. The safest thing to do would be to remove them, examine and return same to the armory or destroy them.”