Refugees at home

February 23, 2015

LAGOS

Since 2011 when the activities of the dreaded terrorist group, Boko Haram, assumed a frightening dimension, the loss of properties with commercial value and forfeiture of local and foreign investments have been a song of Nunc Dimittis for the states where incidences of terror have been reported consistently.

Aside human lives lost, mass exodus of non-indigenes, whose contributions to the economy of the troubled states, is not only worrisome, but devastating to their economies.

Indigenes from South Eastern Nigeria, by far, constitute majority of those who have fled the north owing to the growing insurgency.

For those who have fled the region, it was a decision they never envisaged, but the fear of becoming victims of bomb blasts sent shivers to their spines.

December 2014 witnessed mass exodus of Igbo indigenes from the north. Not only did they flee because of the insurgency, the forthcoming general elections and its uncertainties were enough reasons to force them to migrate.

In 2011, Kano, Bauchi and Kaduna states witnessed post-election violence and some non-indigenes had to bear the brunt as they became easy targets of disgruntled elements who were bent on venting their anger over the results of the elections.

ENUGU

Stuck between family, business concerns

Granted that predominantly indigenes from the South East constitute the greater number of people relocating from the north, either for the fear of being victims of insurgency or possible pre and post elections violence, they are however doing so, unwillingly, and with regrets.

Scene of an electoral violence

Most of them who spoke to Sunday Independent said they were ready to risk remaining in the North but for distress calls from their parents and kinsmen warning them that should they be killed their corpses would not be welcomed home.

Okechukwu Ifeanyi, a title chief in his native town, who had found home in one of the Northern states, is at a crossroad with his mother.

He told Sunday Independent that his mother called to warn that if she failed to see him at home before the elections begin, he should be sure to hear of her death, warning that even when he hears of her death, he should not see her corpse.

Ifeanyi said that though had relocated his wife and three children, his mother reminded him that he was her only remaining male child and should not risk staying in the North in the face of fears and suspicion that there could be violence against non-indigenes in the area.

“That is the extent of the worries. I had to leave the North, looking back, watching the house I built there, the farms I have laboured to plough, worried and wondered what could become of these harvests of my laboor in a place I saw as my country, my home”, he stated.

He said he had spent the greater part of his lifetime there, so had become used to the community and her people, noting that though he was at home, he was in a fix of how to register his children in new schools, and know how to start life afresh.

A fleeing resident, Mrs. Angela Nwosu, said her husband who owns a paint factory in the North brought them back home and left back to the North as to ensure that they sell off the drums of paints they have in the factory.

She said that they had barely started building a house in the village since the only two-room accommodation in their compound in the village was occupied by her mother in-law and the wife of her husband’s brother and children, hence there is hardly place to lay their heads.

To worsen her plight, the husband has refused to return as they had agreed that he would come back last week.

“The situation is getting more worrisome, and my husband insisted that I should remain in his father’s compound, if not I would have taken my children to my own father’s place, but I know him, it will cause quarrel if I disobey him, I am in a sort of dilemma and he has since yesterday not picked my telephone calls, it is just like the war we were afraid of has already come upon me”.

Another returnee, Mrs. Chinwe Anazodo, resided in Maiduguri, Borno State, with her husband, Emeka Anazodo, and their four children until about three years ago.

She told Sunday Independent that following the escalation of insurgency, her husband relocated her and the children to Enugu in 2012.

She said her husband stayed back in Maiduguri, but when the situation got out of hand, he relocated to Abuja.

Mrs. Anazodo, who hails from Nnobi in Anambra State, painfully recalled the experience with our correspondent at her shop in Abakpa Market, Enugu, where she sells foodstuffs and provisions.

“I got married to my husband in 2000 and joined him in Maiduguri the same year. About two years after I joined her, we moved into our own house in that city. We were living there peacefully until this insurgency thing started sometime in 2009.

“We thought the government will arrest the situation, but it persisted. It was a horrible experience. Every morning you wake up, you live in fear. You hear that they bombed this place or that place. When the situation got out of hand, my husband relocated the children and I to Enugu here and stayed back in Maiduguri.

“Last year, he relocated from Maiduguri to Abuja, where he lives now and visits us at least once every month”.

She explained that life has not been easy since they returned to Enugu where they live in a rented apartment unlike in Maiduguri where they owned their own house.

She said her husband handed over their house in Maiduguri to an estate agent, but they have not even received a dime as rent from the property since they returned home.

Life, according to her has not been easy for them since they returned to the East and hopes that someday the insurgency would end and they could return to Maiduguri.

She said her children were used to life in the North and now they are finding it hard to adapt to the new environment they found themselves.

“Things are very expensive here. But if you go to the North, things are cheap. Cost of living is higher in the East here than the North”, she said.

Narrating his own experience, Udoka Okoh said he returned to Enugu last year from Kano where he operated a motor spare parts shop.

“When this Boko Haram thing persisted, my people called me and said if I fail to return home and anything happens to me or any member of my family, I should count them out.

“So, I sold up everything and returned to my home Enugu State. When I could not find anything to so, I bought a Keke NAPEP and rented a shop for my wife where she does tailoring”, Okoh said.

Okoh said they have been finding it hard to make ends meet since they returned to Enugu, but hope that one day, things would get better.

KADUNA

Abandoning thriving businesses for safety

For Mike Eromosele who left Kaduna and relocated to Benin due to fear of the 2015 elections, life has been tough for him and his family as he had stayed in Kaduna all his life and had even established a lucrative business.

The proximity of Kaduna to Abuja has also helped him in securing patronage from the federal capital, but all these had to be left behind while running away to where he feels is safer.

“Life has been tough, no business in Benin at all. In fact, I regret coming to Benin. I really regret it”.

The story is not the same with Nnamdi Okonkwo, who had to leave Kano to Port Harcourt. He was a printer in Kano and according to him, he fled Kano when the insurgents started attacking the area, and found solace in the Rivers State capital.

He had to leave some of his belongings behind, while he sold off his properties he had laboured hard to acquire at ridiculous prices.

“I left my interior decorations and furniture behind and begged a friend to find buyers and sell them off as I could not start transporting them from Kano to Port Harcourt. Though I am from Anambra State, but I prefer to go to Port (Harcout).

“We have to start afresh here, make new friends and new business contacts. I believe it will be well here, my children are yet to get schools here to attend as we need to make sure it is a school where they can fit in well. You know, children do not like moving from place to place.

“In Kano, my wife had a private nursery and primary school. We had to leave that behind, though she put her head teacher who is from Adamawa State in charge. But, it is not like when you manage your business yourself.

“This insurgency has ruined so many people. May God help us put a stop to it”, a bewildered Okonkwo narrated.

Mrs Ebun Owolabi, who relocated to Lagos from Kaduna for fear of insurgency and the uncertainties of the 2015 general elections are now heaving a sigh of relief.

Though she now has to contend with the hustle and bustling nature of the commercial city, its serenity and peaceful co-existence among various tribes that have made a home in the state compensates for the losses departing Kaduna came with.

 

BAUCHI

Decades of happiness ends in sour exit

Mrs. Margaret Amadi (not real name) is still full of regrets. For two hour, she engaged this reporter, reeling out fond memories of Wunti area, a suburb in Bauchi State and the shadow of what it has become, caused by the Boko Haram insurgency.

Relics of a bombed market in Bauchi

Margaret, a native of Abia State, got married in Bauchi in 1977, where she and her late husband raised six children in a three-bedroom apartment they owned.

She had shunned several entreaties from her children to relocate to Lagos after the death of her husband in 2008, since they all had thriving jobs and living comfortably in the city.

She was comfortable with life in Bauchi and her thriving cloth business, which was enough to complement the monthly allowance her children sent to her to keep body and soul alive.

Not even the breakout of the insurgency in 2009 could convince her otherwise. Like many Nigerians, she had hoped that the terror attacks would wane each year, hence the thought of relocating did not seem like an instant decision to take.

But, a bomb blast at a popular market in the heart of Bauchi in December 2014 finally gave her a strong conviction to leave Bauchi. She had visited the market few minutes before the blast on Monday, December 22, to purchase a few items for Christmas and had just got home only to receive a call from one of her daughters, who had just heard about the blast on the news.

“It was God who saved me because the man who I bought vegetables for salad was one of those who died in the blast”, she recounted.

On Friday, January 16, she was flown to Lagos in company of her eldest son.

Relocating, however, has come with a price. Her three-bedroom apartment and her business centre, which she had to put up for sale, had attracted several buyers, albeit for ridiculous price.

“How can I sell that property for N3 million? It is in the heart of the town. If it was Lagos, it cannot be less than N30 million? She stressed.

For Eric Joseph, life could not be the same again as he sold all his properties in Bauchi and relocated to Ibadan, Oyo State, to start a new life due to the ongoing insurgency, which has claimed the lives of thousands of people and rendered many homeless.

Sunday Independent gathered that some of the non-indigenes that left had come back because they could not cope with the environment they found themselves. Some, however, are hopeful of returning if the military succeeds in flushing out the insurgents before the elections.

Eric, who had lived in Bauchi for over 20 years with a thriving business, however, in 2013, decided to relocate with his family due to the insecurity in the state.

“I sold all my properties and goods, including my house which I built years ago, but unfortunately, life in Ibadan was very difficult because my business was not going the way I expected. So, I decided to relocate my wife and children to Uyo, Akwa Ibom State. So, I came back to Bauchi.

“I don’t have plan of bringing my family back so soon, I am still watching the situation to know what will happen after elections. If the insurgency did not end after election, I will join my family in Uyo and manage whatever we get because with the insecurity, we are not safe in the North”.

Also, Chuks Igwe, who lost his brother in one of the bomb blast in Bauchi, said he has left the state and will never come back again.

Speaking to Sunday Independent on phone, he said: “I relocated back to my village because it seems the insurgency may not end in the North. While I was in Bauchi, we lived in fear due to the activities of the sect and to worsen the situation, my brother was killed in a bomb blast.

“Though, life is not easy in the East because there is a lot of competition here. Many people are into business here and they already know them, unlike in Bauchi where we are few. We that are just coming are trying to measure up, but it may take years.

“Nevertheless, I have made up my mind not to go back even if peace returns back to the region because I was traumatised before living the town due to the ugly situation”.

 

Leaders say no cause for alarm

Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, is worried about the exodus from the north, especially from his home state.

Sanusi, during the week, cautioned those creating panic and apprehension ahead of the polls, urging politicians to desist from acts capable of causing disorder or disunity.

To him, no society can flourish in the absence of peaceful atmosphere.

The Emir urged non-indigenes not to worry, noting that Kano, as a cosmopolitan city, craves for peace, just as he commended the various ethnic groups resident in the state for the existing peaceful coexistence.

He expressed optimism that peace would continue to reign before, during and after the elections, stating that “the door to his Kano palace is always open to those who intend to seek his collaboration to work towards the development of the state and the country at large”.

But, Ralph Uwazurike, leader of the Movement for the Actualisation of Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), has repeatedly called on Ndigbo residents in any part of Northern Nigeria to relocate to back home with immediate effect to avoid falling prey to the insurgency.

Uwazuruike, who expressed worries over the constant killing of innocent Igbo sons and daughters doing legitimate businesses in the north, said, although it was painful for them to abandon their life-time investments in the north to relocate home, their lives were more precious than their wealth.

The MASSOB leader regretted that his previous calls for his kinsmen to return at the beginning of the insurgency were not heeded, stressing that this accounts for why many Igbo sons and daughters have been killed by the insurgents.

He stressed that since the lives of Igbo indigenes could no longer be guaranteed by the Nigerian security forces, the only option left for them was to return home for now, warning that this might be his last time to make such a call.

Uwazurike recalled that the late Biafran warlord, DimChukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, had similarly warnedNdigbo to return home before the outbreak of the civil war, adding that those who heeded the warning returned and saved their lives, while those who disobeyed perished with their investments.

Like the MASSOB leader, former Niger Delta militant leader, Asari Dokubo has continuously warned Igbo indigenes and members of the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) to return home ahead of the elections or risk the consequences of what could be a war zone if President Goodluck Jonathan does not emerge winner of the presidential elections.

The Ohanaeze Ndigbo however sees things differently. The prominent Igbo socio-political group recently advised its indigenes living in the north to remain there during the elections and defend themselves and their properties in the eventuality of any post-election violence in which they are attacked.

President General of Ohanaeze, Gary Enwo Igariwey, during a chat with journalists at the Ohanaeze National Secretariat in Enugu said in case of possible post-election crisis in the north, where the Igbo people were potential targets, they should not run away, rather they should mobilise and resist such attack on them.

In his submission, Ndigbo should no longer turn the other cheek when they are slapped. “Ndigbo are tired of running away each time there is crisis in the country.

“We are part of Nigeria and where we are living is our home; soNdigbo should remain where they are residing and doing their legitimate business. If they are attacked, they should resist the attack.”

Igariwey added that there are over 3.7 million Igbo in Kano alone and that such number could be used to cripple activities in the city if that was what the indigenes wanted.

The ultimate hope is that the efforts of the military will go a long way to bring the Boko Haram insurgency to a halt and return life in the north to normalcy as well as the boisterous economic atmosphere the region has always been known for.

 

OWERRI

Tales of misery for Imo returnees

In Imo State, Sunday Independent findings showed that a good number of these returnees are from Mbaise, Obowo, Okigwe, Ngor Okpala, Ideato North and South local government areas.

Rochas Okorocha

Innocent Onyeglula, an indigene of Ikwuneme community, in the Njaba Council Area, is one of those who forcefully relocated from Maiduguri to his village as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency.

He said: “Life has no duplicate and as our people have a saying  that ‘a fly that does not listen to advice usually ends up in the grave with a coffin’. The Boko Haram insurgency has compelled me to relocate from Maiduguri to my home town with my family.

“I lived in Maiduguri for almost 40 years and stated business there and married there.

“In one of the bomb blasts, I lost all I had in my place of business while my two children in primary schools escaped death by the whiskers.

“While I was trying to recover from the shock I sustained, another blast occurred three weeks after, which consumed a new Toyota Hiace bus I bought to use for commercial transportation.

“I saw this as a dangerous signal for me to quit the town. Really, it has not been easy for me as life has not been the same again. But, I thank God that some members of my family and relations have assisted me financially to begin life all over again”.

Onyekwerre Igwe, a Kano-based mechanic and a native of Ezinihitte Mbaise returned from Kano last year. The killing of seven members of his association, where he held the post of secretary had sent shivers down his spines, forcing him to flee the state.

“I am afraid that even if I am not cut up in the cross fire, one day the sect might waylay me and butcher me.

“Before relocating home, I had earlier sent my family home hoping that the insurgency would subside, but all to no avail. Right now, I operate at the Nekede Mechanic Village, but I am yet to find my feet”.

Mrs. Eudora Ngozi Njoku, a petty trader in Suleja, Niger State, had a heartbreaking experience. Her husband was killed in the bomb blast that rocked the St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, Madalla, Niger State, some years ago.

That sad occurrence forced her to relocate to her hometown in Oburu, Oru West Local government area and she has sworn never to return to Niger State in her lifetime.

Her ability to pull through and start life afresh, she said, was the unflinching support she got from her family members, friends and brothers.

“There is nothing on earth that will make me to go back to that place again even if my husband resurrects from the grave.

“The Federal Government should sit up and check this insurgency, because, to me, they are not doing anything serious to contain it.

Okoroafor Obidike did not lose any loved one. But, the native of Ngor Okpala local government area lost his precious four-bedroom apartment he had managed to build in Yobe State after a bomb blast rocked the area. His greatest regret, however, is the fact that currently, he has no house of his own in his home state and has no choice, but to squat with his younger sibling.

“Can you imagine that after living in Yobe for over 30 years. I went there in 1981. But, I thank God that I am still alive”

 

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