Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
Dozens of woman and children with their luggage on their heads filed into the Bakassi internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp located at the outskirts of Maiduguri, Borno State capital as early as 7:30am. They were not displaced by Boko Haram attacks but “forced out” of their town nearly two years after they had resettled. They were residents of Jankana, a serene town in Borno, located off the Maiduguri-Damaturu road, who were evacuated by the military last Monday.
At the middle of the camp, near a school for IDPs, is a huge crowd of people. There was lamentation in every direction. A woman with her child strapped on her back burst into tears. “It is unfair. Why should the military treat us like this?” Aisha Bukar said, amid tears.
The mass evacuation of residents of Jankana by the military early this week has triggered sharp reactions. Residents said they were not informed earlier by the military on why they were being evacuated. “I was taking my breakfast. The military came about 7am and told us to vacate our homes. They said we shouldn’t waste time as anybody that stayed behind may get killed,” Bura Usman, one of the residents evacuated from Jankana told Sunday Sun.
He said soldiers ordered them into waiting vehicles on the road unsure of the destination until they arrived at Maiduguri IDP camp.
Some of the people berated the military for forcing them out of their houses when there was no threat to their lives. “Is this how soldiers will be treating us? Do we deserve this? Why couldn’t they explain to us what the problem was and where we were going? Why would they just come and pack us like goats without our consent or is it not same way Boko Haram has been kidnapping people?” 52-year-old Fatima Bukar queried, as she spoke with Sunday Sun.
She said the military decision to evacuate was not well-thought out as no provision was made for their welfare after the evacuation. She added that they were dumped at the Bakassi camp without provision of food, water or shelter. “Nobody cares about what we will eat, where we will sleep or water to drink,” she disclosed.
Some officials of the camp said that they were taken aback when they saw a crowd of women, children and men brought to the camp on Monday morning. “We were not told ahead of the evacuation by the military. We were shocked when we saw the arrivals, we didn’t know where to start intervention because there was no contingency plan for such situation,” a relief official not authorized to speak on the matter told Sunday Sun.
A senior government official also condemned the military’s handling of the evacuation exercise, wondering why soldiers would force people out of their houses without government knowledge. “One would have even expected them to seek for a separate place from the state government to put the people but they didn’t even contact the emergency agencies,” the official said.
United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, while commenting on it expressed concern over such evacuation, calling on the government to ensure adequate support such as food and non-food items, and shelter are provided whenever such evacuation takes place.
“The United Nations and its humanitarian partners called on the government of Nigeria to take all possible practical measures to ensure the protection of civilians and full respect of the rights of individuals in accordance with its obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law as well as other guiding principle on internal displacement,” Kallon said in a statement.
When contacted, General Officer Commanding (GOC), 7 Division Nigerian Army, Brigadier Gen Bulama Biu, insisted the evacuation was done in good faith. He said the military took the decision to safeguard the people of Jankana following an ongoing operation by troops in the area.
“It is in military tradition that if you want to conduct an operation of such you will have to take necessary steps and that was what we did,” Gen Biu said, describing the criticism against the military as unfortunate.
Meanwhile, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said the evacuated residents, totalling 4,927, had been relocated to Jankana on Thursday. “The process of returning the 4,927 evacuated residents of Jankana has been concluded. The exercise in Bakassi camp was done today (Thursday) in collaboration with the military, BOSEMA and other humanitarian stakeholders,” NEMA spokesman Abdulkadir Ibrahim said in a statement.