Modu Zarami* recently leased a farm in the villages surrounding Gajiram, a town in Borno state, northeastern Nigeria. Earlier this year, he and his brothers began preparing the farm for the rainy season. But, no thanks to lingering insecurity in the area, he would not be able to do this in his hometown of Guzamala, where he has been displaced as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency.
Zarami currently stays in the capital city of Maiduguri. He is one of over 2 million people in the region displaced due to the ongoing conflict. But as the insurgency enters its 13th year, peace has still not returned to a lot of places.
From Maiduguri, Zarami can engage in farming to support himself, some of his siblings, and even extended family members. He has family members and relations who reside in Gajiram and Monguno. Though these places share borders with Guzamala, they cannot venture into their original Local Government Area (LGA) to engage in agricultural activities.
Guzamala is in the northern part of Borno and about 123 kilometres from Maiduguri. The Gajiram Nganzai LGA borders it to the South, Monguno to the East, and Kukawa to the North.
Mairari, one of the three accessible areas of the LGA, is littered with uncompleted reconstruction housing projects. It remains a ghost town.
In 2019, the Borno state government budgeted money for the reconstruction of housing projects in Mairari, which will host resettled IDPs. Funds were released to that effect during the first quarter of the year. According to a budget implementation report by HumAngle, about ₦133.1 million ($313,000) out of the total approved amount of ₦532.4 million ($1.25 million) has been released.
This reporter visited the nearly-deserted community during the second week of July and met a few people. Asked about the project’s status, residents replied that some workers came and commenced the reconstruction about a year and a half ago. But one day, they gathered their materials and hurriedly left. They haven’t seen them since.
On the security front, locals said that they don’t have any security formations close to them, whether in terms of the military, police, or even civilian volunteers such as the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF) or vigilante groups. This reporter observed abandoned sandbags along the road.
Commenting on the housing project, Alhaji Bukar Kuru, a resident of Mairari, said not only were a vast majority of the houses not completed, but those that were completed were not done very well.
“Most houses are uncompleted, and even the ones with zinc and yellow paint had their roofs blown away by the wind. Others have their walls collapsed.”
Another local, Kalla Bura, confirmed that most houses remain uncompleted.
Metele, where in Nov. 2020, about 200 Nigerian soldiers were killed by terrorists, is also in Guzamala. As recently as Feb. 2021, speaker of the Borno State House of Assembly, Rt Hon Abdulkarim Lawan, faulted a claim made by federal information minister Lai Mohammed and former Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Gabriel Olonisakin that all 27 LGAs of the state are in the control of the Nigerian military.
“There is no single existence of civil life in Guzamala, not to even talk of military presence in the council headquarters and its surrounding communities that are not dominated by armed opposition group fighters,” he said.
The lack of security in these areas is a problem. But so is the fact that the housing units project has been left abandoned, because residents remain displaced and therefore unable to farm. It puts the town in a precarious position in the hands of non-state actors. It is also affecting livelihood opportunities for residents.
Zarami told this reporter how they find it difficult to farm every rainy season.
“If we can return to our own local government area, at least the money we are using to hire farms will have been used to either purchase food or other things before harvest time,” he lamented.
HumAngle had in June this year reported that the Guzamala area of northern Borno remains an ungoverned territory, and the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) continues to wield control there. Earlier in the year, the report pointed out, “the government deployed officials of the ministry of reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement (RRR) with two excavators and several trucks to dig parapets around Mailari village to enable IDPs from Guzamala in Monguno and Nganzai to return there.”
This reporter understands that, presently, not more than 10 people live in the village as most people found during the day are farmers who meet in the village during the day. They sometimes transact businesses amongst themselves or with motorists and passengers passing through the village, before moving back to the bushes in the evening.
The security threat in the area continues to be a source of worry to residents and displaced members. People who travel to Baga or Monguno town weekly told us that sometimes children under the age of 16 move in groups of six or more, stop motorists, and dispose them of their money or other valuables. Others recounted how the cars they were travelling in were fired at by some armed groups lurking in the bushes.
*Name has been changed to protect the source’s identity
This report was produced under the HumAngle Accountability Fellowship, with the support of the MacArthur Foundation.
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