Returning for the first time since they were forced to flee their abodes by insurgents, for many of the returnees, it was an emotional homecoming.
Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
It was about midday and the radiance of the afternoon sky rendered a clear view of Gudumbali, a small community situated around the Lake Chad in Borno State. The buses meandered for about three hours, covering about 209 kilometers from Maiduguri to Gudumbali in Guzamala Local Government Area.
The buses were conveying home hundreds of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) returning for the first time since they were forced to flee their abodes by insurgents. For many of the returnees, it was an emotional homecoming.
A feeling of nostalgia ran through their minds. They had waited for this day like no other day and now the day has come to return to the land of their forebears. The walls of their dilapidated homes could barely recognize their worn-out faces as they laboued a gaze through the windows of their buses to catch a glimpse of their homes.
The walls were all fallen and had been reduced to rubble. And as they disembarked from the buses, they exclaimed:
“Alihamudullah!” They remembered their friends and relatives who did not survive the attacks.
“It was painful, the thought of our departed friends and brothers and sisters, but I am happy to be home at last. I never thought I would come back alive to this community,” said Hajia Amina Ahmed.
Ibrahim Gana, one of the returnees, told Daily Sun: “I fled to Monguno in 2015, it was a terrible journey. From there, I went to Maiduguri. Boko Haram forced me out after they attacked the military base there.”
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Between 2014 and 2015, the insurgents, thrice, launched attacks to capture Gudumbali, but were repelled by troops. They, however, succeeded on November 18, 2015, in a major offensive that led to the deaths of about 150 soldiers. That automatically signaled an end to normal life as they chased out the residents of the community. They ran to different neighboring towns while others eventually found their ways to the IDP camps in Maidiguri.
For nearly four years, Gudumbali was in ruins. The community was overtaken by the excesses of the rampaging insurgents, coupled with a regime of wild animals that took over hectares of its farmlands and bushes.
But lately, the community is back and has succeeded in reabsorbing some of its displaced members. While some returned through a transport arrangement by government in collaboration with the military, others are just moving in on their own, inspired by the positive tales of a renewed life in their home land.
A recent visit showed that the community has moved on in this regard. Life is returning in bits while the returnees are picking back the pieces of their broken lives. Yet, there are a few unresolved challenges. There remains a feeling of uncertainty, an eerie feeling that the insurgents might strike again someday. This has overwhelmed the feelings of excitement. There is also the issue of lack of food and other eatables as a result of a near absence of farming activities.
“We came here without food and as you can see there is no sufficient water too,” Fanna Modu, a returnee lamented. She said it has been generally tough resettling and resuming a new life after years of absence.
But she indicated her desire to soon engage in a petty trade to mitigate the hard times. She acknowledged that on her own, she could not afford to raise the money required to kick-start the proposed trade, hence her appeal for help and support.
“I returned home since July,” said farmer, Alhaji Ali Musa, aged 56. He wants to go back to farming: “The military said they would deploy soldiers in the farms to guard us against attacks by Boko Haram. I am ready to return to my farms because I can’t continue to rely on foods from government and NGOs.”
Aisha, a mother of three and a returnee, said she was yet to receive any support from the authorities despite the promises they made: “Foods have been very scarce here.” She returned with her husband in July, appealing to the authorities to support the returnees to restart their lives.
Military sources said the community has a role to play to overcome the challenges and quicken the resettlement process as well as end the atmosphere of insurgency.
Maria Gudde, another returnee, vowed not to leave Guzamala again, no matter the threat: “Where do we go to? We are going nowhere. This is where we will all stay by God’s grace, God help us.”