After surviving Boko Haram, returnees face hunger in Nigerian towns

Internally displaced people in Nigeria’s northeast have started returning home since the army began clearing large areas from Boko Haram, but thousands could face severe food shortages.

YOLA, NIGERIA (MAY 10, 2015) (REUTERS) – Since Nigeria’s army began clearing large areas of the country’s northeast from Boko Haram, some of the 1.5 million internally displaced people have started returning home. But thousands could now face severe food shortages as reconstruction lags behind.

Along the main roads heading north from Adamawa’s state capital Yola, some trade has resumed in the towns but ghostly pockets and haunting reminders of the insurgent takeover are evident.

Islamist militant group Boko Haram grabbed swathes of Nigeria’s northeast last year, killing thousands in an unprecedented land grab. It took over most of Borno state, the birthplace of the group, and parts of Adamawa and Yobe while increasing incursions on neighbouring countries.

In the town of Michika, which saw some of the fiercest fighting, residents are too afraid and lack the equipment and manpower to farm, and at least for the moment they will not be able to live off the land.

Naomi Gago is among those who have returned, along with her four children and a grand child. She used to sell grains before she fled, but now has just enough money to trade in fire wood and a few loaves of bread, but is unable to sell much.

“Normalcy has not returned yet, things are difficult. There was peace and road, but now there is no road. The bridges have been destroyed. Yesterday the traders brought goods to the market, so even if you buy there isn’t road to bring it in because the bridges are broken and there aren’t people to buy the goods, rather the goods are taken to Mubi now,” Naomi Gago told Reuters.

Some three months after the fighting ended, the smell of rotting corpses still clings to the air by the headquarters of the Church of the Brethren near Mararaba.

The army began pushing back when Boko Haram was about 100 km (60 miles) from Adamawa’s state capital. In the last few months, many people have returned to Adamawa but health clinics, banks and schools are still lacking, especially in the northernmost areas, and vast stretches of farmland between towns stand barren.

Meanwhile there is no sign of government aid.

Yaku Rume and his family have just been able to buy two tins of grains, just enough to feed his kids and nothing for the parents.

“We are just struggling to feed. You can see we could only buy two tins of grains only to feed the children. There isn’t anything, there is no food, there is just nothing, We are just hoping to see what Allah will do,” Rume said.

People will drive to Mubi, a city about an hour’s drive south, to get goods but thi‎s vital route will be blocked once the rainy season comes into full swing next month.

Many bridges were blown up by Boko Haram, including the important link to Mubi, to try to stop the offensive by Nigerian troops. The river is already starting to fill up with early rains and men have to push cars through the muddy waters while women sell mangoes to passers-by.

Madagali, the northernmost major town in the state and the last to be liberated in Adamawa in February, also depends on this route.

Mubi itself was a Boko Haram stronghold at one point. Life is bustling again but its banks are still closed and in ruin.

Furniture maker Abdullahi Bashir said his business has taken a hit as has to trek to the town to make bank deposits, a journey fraught with risks.

“It has really affected my business because now after sales we have to walk to Yola, and taking cash to banks in Yola is a risk because you might run into armed robbers or be attacked by Boko Haram on the road,” Bashir said.

Rusting tanks with Arabic writing, burnt cars and military equipment litter the main roads in northern Adamawa. Boko Haram writings cover the beige outdoor walls of buildings, roofs are collapsed and gutted churches stand charred.

Some landmines are still dotted around Michika and the main farming areas are far away from military checkpoints.

Boko Haram militants liberally employed landmines, often handmade in their bomb factories, to protect their strongholds.

The military said this strategy was slowing their offensive into the Sambisa forest reserve, which is the militants’ last bastion and where hundreds of abducted women and children have been found.