Home, sweet home: Joy, ecstasy as Plateau IDPs return

ISAAC SHOBAYO, who monitored the return of Internally Displaced Persons in Plateau State to their original homes, reports that for many of them, this would be the first time, in six years, that they would be spending Christmas at home despite security concerns in the affected villages.

For more than 15 years, Plateau State has been experiencing series of attacks and crises between indigenes and armed herdsmen. As a result, many people were displaced from their ancestral communities and forcing them to become squatters in different parts of the state.

In June this year, a midnight raid by gunmen suspected to be herdsmen in two local government areas of Barakin-Ladi and Riyom, left over two hundred people dead. Many communities in the affected council areas were sacked, houses were burnt and farm lands destroyed.

The survivors had to abandon their homes with many of them relocating and taking refuge either in Jos or at the headquarters of the affected local government areas. The state has no fewer than 10 IDPs camps with a total of 35,000 residents living in unhygienic conditions; the camps remain an eyesore despite interventions from various quarters to ease their sufferings.

The terrible condition of the camps, Sunday Tribune learnt, is one of the reasons many of the IDPs had expressed their preference to return to their homes, even in spite of reports that their some of their communities were still being occupied by suspected gunmen. To them, their homes, though with security issues to be resolved, are better than the living in squalid  condition of the IDPs camps.

Worried by the pathetic situation of the IDPs, the state government had set up a committee under the chairmanship of Air Vice-Marshal Bala Dababa (retd) to work out modalities for their return to their places of original abode, warning that government would not tolerate indiscriminate occupation of lands by any group under the guise of land-grabbing.

To fulfill the yearnings of the people to return to their homes, the government in conjunction with Operation Save Haven (OPSH), the security body set up in the state to combat the security crisis visited  the affected communities and reinforced security in the area, while construction and reconstructions of facilities were also carried out

The process of returning the IDPs to their homes began fully on Thursday, 20 December when 204 families displaced from Kurra Falls, Kuzen and Kakurak communities in Barakin-Ladi Local Government were escorted to their communities by officials of the state government and security men.

Right from the IDPs camp in Angludi where they boarded vehicles, it was songs of joy all thorough to their respective communities. To date, residents of three out of the 18 communities affected by series of crises have been relocated to their homes.

The resettled IDPs comprised not only victims of June 2018 crisis but those of earlier ones of 2010 and 2012. Residents of the remaining 15 communities, it was said, would have to wait for a while before they could return. Their homes, it was revealed, were completely destroyed in the conflict and had not been reconstructed by government.

Speaking before the IDPs left the camp, Commander, OPSH, Major-General Augustine Agundu, prayed that what brought them to the camp would never happen again, while assuring them of adequate security cover, saying that the homes and the villages of those returning homes had been properly secured by troops deployed to ensure safety of residents in the communities.

“We are more re-invigorated now to ensure that the security of their villages is assured and the security of their lives is also guaranteed. We can’t give them assurances as to the safety of their lives, but to some extent, they will be able to stay in their villages without any fear or apprehension.

“So, we are quite excited about this development. You can see on their faces, including the representatives of the state government, that they are happy to go home. So, it is a great day for us; it is a great day for Plateau indigenes and more so, the beneficiaries of the internally displaced persons who are all willing to go back to their homes,” the commander enthused.

securitySpeaking further, the Agundu said: “This is the first category; they are the categories of those who abandoned their villages out of fear. The homes are there. Nothing has happened to them. We had earlier on taken the men to their various homes to do some clean-up. My troops are there. My kitchen department is there. We are organising them so that they can start easing out those bad experiences that they had.”

Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mr. Richards Tokmanm, said that the people are happy and very enthusiastic about the whole exercise as they are eager to move on, adding that the governor was anxious to see to the return of the IDPs after the submission of the official report from the committee he set up over the issue.

“As a matter of fact, I know that he has to deploy the security operatives on the ground first, because if he has to look at the safety of the people, he cannot just relocate the people without having security on the ground.

“To me, I think what the government has done is to ensure that there is already security on the ground to ensure that when these people move they are comfortable; they are not harassed and that their security is guaranteed. That is the position at the moment,” he explained.

Though the former IDPs were happy to return to their abandoned communities amidst tight security, their happiness soon turned to sadness as most of their sources of livelihood had gone. Farms had been vandalised by the herdsmen who took advantage of their absence to wreak more havoc on the communities.

But despite this setback, those of them who spoke with Sunday Tribune, said they would have to forge ahead.

One of the returnees, Shedrach Daniel, who lost his wife in the attack that uprooted him and other residents from his village, declared that there was no place like home, adding that despite the calamity that befell him and others, it was good to return home and start afresh.

“I am a farmer and happy to return home. We thank the government and Operation Safe Haven for making our return possible. We are also appealing to the government to help us financially to make our efforts to restart our lives easy As you can see, we are starting all over again,” he said.

Another returnee, Mrs. Shim John, appealed to the security agencies to intensify patrol of all the villages to prevent their assailants from coming to attack them again, adding that it is also a thing of joy to be able to celebrate Christmas in their ancestral home again.

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