Tears flowed freely in December, 2018, shortly before the Christmas celebration when Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from the June, 2018, attack in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area of Plateau State set foot on their communities six months after they were displaced by heavily armed men.
Relatives and well wishers converged at the Kakuruk Central Primary School in Gashish to await the arrival of the IDPs. The women sang in Berom and tears flowed freely as they recounted the tragic experience that forced them to flee their homes, which left about 200 people dead.
The returnees were part of the 204 households from Kakuruk, Kuzen and Kura Falls in Barkin Ladi being repatriated home under what Operation Safe Haven (OPSH) classified as Phase I of the repatriation programme for 18 communities affected by insecurity.
The IDPs underwent free medical checks organised by OPSH and relief materials and food items were given to them by the state government to ensure they celebrated the Christmas.
The December repatriation was the first by government and security agencies since crises bedevilled the state for almost two decades. The exercise followed the recommendation of the seven-man committee set up by Gov. Simon Lalong to work out modalities for the safe return of all IDPs.
The report of the committee had in November, 2018, disclosed that 50,212 persons were displaced from their abodes in the last eight years and that 118 communities and 98 Fulani settlements were been affected in Jos North, Riyom, Barkin Ladi, Bassa and Bokkos local government areas. The report recommended that all IDPs should be returned to their original abodes in four phases and that evacuation should commence when proper security measures were put in place.
Being the first phase of the repatriation exercise, the December, 2018, returnees said they did not believe they would ever set foot on their soil even after the committee had completed its work.
One of the returnees, Chap Steven, said, “I never believed such a day would come. Just seeing the way we were crammed in vehicles and the security agents who accompanied us broke my heart. I couldn’t hold it, seeing our villages, we are supposed to be in our homes, but look at us today; that made me cry. Our own is to pray for government and security agents because even the security agents are being killed in their effort to protect us; so we have to pray for them. It is God that can help us all.”
The Management Committee Chairman of Barkin Ladi, Dickson Chollom, said this was “the first time in the history of this state that IDPs are being returned home, and we are happy.”
Mrs. Sarah Pam from Kuzen Community, who had in the last six months lived with many others at the Geosciences IDP Camp in Jos South, said, “Our children, husbands and relatives have been killed. That was why we were crying, it was tears of remembering the tragedy and also tears of joy that we are home. We never believed that we would return home.”
Mrs. Pam lamented that, “We are happy to be back home, but we don’t know where to start from or how. Our houses were not burnt, but our animals and valuables were stolen and our homes vandalised.”
The Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong, however, assured the people that crops and farm implements would be made available to them to ensure they were comfortable and returned to their occupations, and that building materials would be provided to communities to ensure they rebuilt their houses before they were also repatriated.
OPSH Commander, Mj. Gen. Augustine Agundu, explained that the task force earlier repatriated the men to the villages to do some clean up before the women were returned and assured that the villages had been properly secured with more troops being redeployed.