Treasures of Doom
Nigeria’s Northeast region has known a decade-long insurgency that has led to the death of thousands and displacement of millions of people. In addition, infrastructures pile up in ruins. The humanitarian crises in the region are heart-wrenching. Even the Internally Displaced Persons’ camps where survivors are taking refuge are not spared from abject structural decay, stinging needs and violence.
Despite recurrent attacks by insurgents, the Nigerian government maintains that the Boko Haram sect has been technically defeated. Government has also gone ahead with plans and preparations to return and resettle displaced persons back to their homes, and rebuild local economy for survival. Notable as these moves are, much emphasis has not been placed on demining activities for a region that has suffered more than ten years of terrorism. Displaced persons have been urged to return home without committed efforts to demine the affected communities. Aside humanitarian crises and possible attacks from insurgents, are these communities safe from planted bombs and landmines?
It is a no brainer that places affected by conflict, especially terrorism, possibilities of hidden landmines cannot be ruled out. For instance, on the 8th of September 2019, 15 people were killed and 6 injured after a van rode on a planted bomb in Burkina Faso; a country that has suffered militant attacks since 2015. In 2015, Mozambique became the first heavily mined country to be declared landmine-free by United Nations and other agencies after three decades of War. As at 2018, other African countries such as Angola, Chad, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Eritrea and Zimbabwe were seriously in need of demining activities.
In Nigeria, hidden explosives are now additional challenges to Boko Haram survivors who have been asked to return to war-torn areas of the Northeast. In line with the Ottawa Treaty, Nigeria has a legal obligation to report suspected or confirmed contamination from anti-personnel landmines to other state parties. It also has an obligation to clear all landmine contamination within its borders. Study indicates that Nigeria completed clearance of landmine contamination from previous conflicts and reported such in 2011. A research by Mines Advisory Group (MAG) says that between January 2016 and March 2018, there were 439 casualties from 144 incidents of mines/explosive remnants of war.
Indications are that Nigeria does not take the landmines and hidden explosives within the country serious. Forty-nine years after the Nigerian/Biafran civil war, war bombs are still being detonated in Anambra, Imo and Delta states by the Nigerian police. At any rate, Nigerians living in wartorn areas are daily, arguably, walking on landmines and planted bombs. With the desire to return people to their homes, Landmines and bombs detectors should be used to properly inspetct the region and measures taken to address affected areas.
According to MAG, mine action should be prioritised as a core protection activity within the humanitarian response in the Northeast. It also emphasizes attention on coordinated strategies for safe, voluntary and informed returns to areas where there is risk posed by landmines and other explosives. Bounded by the Ottawa convention also known as the Mines Ban Treaty, Nigeria is obligated to destroy stockpiles, clear mined areas and assist affected communities.