Mustapha Ali is the village head (lawan) of Tarmuwa, a neighbourhood of Banki town in Borno State’s Bama Local Government Area (LGA). He arrived in Banki with his 38-member family, who were among the 1,320 Nigerian refugees facilitated to return from Cameroon by the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon, in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Mustapha was beaming with joy when he was interviewed in front of one of the five shelters assigned to him and his family by UNHCR. With him were his four wives, 17 children, 11 grandchildren, a nephew, and five other relatives.
During his eight years of forced displacement from his home, Ali, 76, lived at the Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon’s Far North Region. He and his family had fled Tarmuwa village in 2014 after it was attacked by Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs). Four of his children and five grandchildren were born in Cameroon and had never set foot in Nigeria.
Chief Ali, or Lawan as he is fondly called, recounted how the villagers of Tarmuwa were forced to flee their homes in 2014, saying that NSAG members had invaded the village one night and opened fire indiscriminately.
“They killed many of my people, raped young girls and women, destroyed houses, and took away the villagers’ animals and other property. Although none of my biological family members was killed or hurt, I am affected because the villagers are all my people,” he says.
Chief Ali and his people decided to flee Tarmuwa village to Kangallari village in Cameroon, which is about half a kilometre from the Nigerian border. They survived for about two months of farming here before he continued the journey alone to Minawao camp in Cameroon’s Far North Region, where his family later joined him.
“While in Minawao camp, we lived peacefully with the community members and Cameroonian authorities. They treated us like their own and helped us when we lacked food,” he said.
He is overjoyed to be back home with his grandchildren, who now have a home and a sense of belonging.
“I can’t explain how happy I am that my family and the other Nigerians who have finally gone back home have been given shelters,” he said.
The septuagenarian says that his joy would be complete the day that he would go back to Tarmuwa village so that his family could once more sit close to their ancestral tombs and access their farmlands, as well as other activities that they frequently engaged in before they fled.
“I urge the State and Federal governments to help us rebuild Tarmuwa village and help the people with farm tools, seeds, fertilizer, and start-up kits, especially for dry season farming, which we are used to,” says Ali.
Upon their arrival in Banki town, UNHCR and its partners allocated shelters, non-food items (NFIs), and dignity kits to families. WFP, through their partner INTERSOS registered the individuals for food assistance. The Borno State Government officials, National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internally Displaced People (NCFRMI), and Bama LGA distributed food and cash to the returnees.
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