The Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Borno State, Kaka-Shehu Lawan, has said internally displaced persons (IDPs) recently returned to Baga town in Kukawa Local Government Area of the state are safer and unlikely to be attacked by armed insurgents.
Mr Lawan, who chairs the committee overseeing the return of IDPs to Baga, insisted that the recent attack on the convoys of the governor of Borno State, while driving to and from Baga last month, had nothing to do with the security situation in Baga.
The attorney-general, who was responding to a question by a PREMIUM TIMES’ reporter, in an exclusive interview about the safety of returnees in Baga, said the state’s largest fishing community has been fortified by soldiers of the Nigeria military and other armed security agencies.
He said his committee passed four nights in Baga while preparing for the official reopening of the border town for IDPs’ final return.
“Our committee spent four nights on different dates and I can assure you that Baga is well secured and we have a very robust presence of the military there,” he said.
“On the four days we spent in Baga, we have never had any security threat. We freely went round the entire community to inspect and assess the level of damages and works needed to be done, and then we would return to our lodge and pass the night. There was no single case of gunshot that was fired.
“Even when the governor was there, he passed the night in Baga and it was a peaceful time all through,” he added.
He said credit must be given to the Nigerian military, who he said had done so much to keep the area very safe.
“And we have to give it to the Nigerian military that is present in Baga. The soldiers are not only friendly with the civil populace, they are also very eager to see that the civilians return. When we took the first set of the returnees to Baga, the military did not only participate in profiling them, they also went further to help in sharing out the shelters to them.
He said to ensure adequate security of the returnees, “the committee has commenced the excavation of trenches around the entire town.”
The commissioner, however, clarified that all the IDPs returned to Baga were from Monguno camp and not Maiduguri, as wrongly reported.
Attack on governor’s convoy
Speaking on the attack that the governor’s convoy suffered along the way to Baga, Mr Lawan said “the attack you talk about is just like any other kind of insecurity we face on our highways all over Nigeria where criminals would assault travellers; it has nothing to do with the governor or with the relocation of IDPs back to their ancestral homes.”
“On the issue of attacks on the governor’s convoy, I have said it before and I would continue to say that it has nothing to do with the people in Baga; the town is safe and very secured,” he said.
“As far as I am concerned, judging by what I saw in Baga, the town has come to stay. However, it was unfortunate that we were attacked on the road; and what happened was a common phenomenon on the Nigerian highways. Our roads in Nigeria are vulnerable to these kinds of insecurity. So, the attack on our convoy cannot be treated as an isolated case; it can happen to anybody.
“Never the less, I want to commend our security forces who were on that trip for engaging those that attacked us. Even though those that ambushed us had detonated Command IEDs to cause explosions and then engaged in sporadic shootings, our gallant officers and soldiers engaged them and were to also make them record many casualties which they hurriedly dragged away corpses of their killed members.
“As believers, we can only say that incident was destined to happen, and it has happened; and God has helped us to manage the situation. Sadly, some of our gallant security personnel paid the supreme price defending us. We pray that may their souls rest in peace. Apart from that, we have not had any problem with the relocation of IDPs and as I said the military at the Theatre Command had also deployed various strategies to secure the communities.”
Why Relocating IDPs to Baga
The attorney-general explained that apart from the voluntary expression of will by the IDPs to return to their ancestral homes, the government was also conscious of how the people would leverage on the abundant natural resources for fishing and farming, to regain their economic self-reliance.
“In the last one month or thereabout, the Borno State government, under the leadership of Professor Babagana Umara Zulum, has been busy with the programme that has to do with the relation of IDPs back to their ancestral communities across the state,” he said.
“One of the communities chosen to flag off the relocation exercise was Baga, a town at the shores of Lake Chad, which has vast economic potential, especially in terms of fishing and other riparian agricultural potentials.
“Due to the importance of Baga and its strategic border location, the state government, had, after consultation with the military decided to look at what it takes to return the IDPs to the community to reintegrate and make them economically self-reliant as they used to be before their displacement.”
Safety of IDPs in Baga
Mr Lawan said efforts had been made by the military, with support from government, to remove mines from Baga, which was heavily mined by the insurgents.
“We all know Baga fell to the insurgents a couple of years back, which led to the total displacement of the residents,” he said.
“But after some years, the military, especially our gallant soldiers, reclaimed the town and thereafter embarked on safety measures by sweeping the entire towns of land mines and other deadly weaponry planted by the insurgents. It was after this exercise that the government and the military were able to declare the place safe for a return of civilians.”
He said after the military had completed the de-mining of Baga town, they gave the state government the go-ahead to commence the process of bringing back the willing IDPs who wanted to return home.
Mr Lawan said his committee was empowered to visit the town, take stock of all that needed to be put in place and submitted its report to the governor who approved a massive deployment of construction workers and equipment to fix the fishing community within a month.
“First, we visited Baga for a fact-finding and inspection mission during which we were able to identify critical infrastructural needs for the town to welcome the returnees, which include hospital, police station, offices of the DSS, Civil Defence, local government buildings, markets, worship centres, the District Head’s palace, residential homes, water points and healthcare facilities that needed to be fixed immediately.
“We have also restored health facilities and ensured that the primary health care workers have also returned to provide essential health services. We have just deployed drugs to Baga following a request from the healthcare providers.”
Life Springing back in Baga
“Right now, even before we departed Baga, business activities had taken off with the people doing the legitimate things they are used to.
“We have so far moved three batches of IDPs from Monguno to Baga, and so far over 2,000 people have been moved to Baga, and the batch movement continues as we screen the willing returnees. We are doing it in phases so that we don’t overstretch the facilities on the ground, while engineers and labourers still carry on with the reconstruction works; and also, we took caution of safety on the road to avoid overworking the drivers and the vehicles.”
He said the returnees got some life-saving palliatives like food, cooking oil, beddings, and some cash to stabilise them in their new homes.