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Nigerian Refugees Pin Hopes on Buhari


Aissatou Jowel, left, lives with her children at the refugee camp in Minawao, Cameroon. She says it would be too painful to return to her home in northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram rebels killed her husband. (Moki Edwin Kinzeka / VOA)

Aissatou Jowel, left, lives with her children at the refugee camp in Minawao, Cameroon. She says it would be too painful to return to her home in northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram rebels killed her husband. (Moki Edwin Kinzeka / VOA)

Many of the 200,000 Nigerian refugees now living in Cameroon say they expect their new president-elect, Muhammadu Buhari to end the Boko Haram insurgency that drove them from their homes.

FILE - Some refugees hope to return to Nigeria shortly after Muhammadu Buhari's May 29 inauguration as president.

FILE - Some refugees hope to return to Nigeria shortly after Muhammadu Buhari's May 29 inauguration as president.

The refugees weren’t able to cast ballots in the March 28 election. But some hope that, soon after Buhari’s May 29 inauguration, the violent Islamist insurgency will end and they’ll be able to return to their homeland.

Chidi Lucas fled violence in the northeastern town of Ngoshe in mid-2014 and now works as an electronics repairman in Cameroon's capital, Yaounde. The 42-year-old said he accepts the election outcome but regrets missing the chance to vote for incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan.

"He has done a lot to [help] Nigeria,” Lucas said, citing “good roads, many things.” Last year, the country surpassed South Africa as the continent’s leading economy. “We have never been in that position. Since Goodluck Jonathan took over in Nigeria, there has been no fuel scarcity. … It is democracy [that] Buhari has taken over. We support him."

Lucas said Jonathan lost because of his inability to stop Boko Haram insurgents, who’ve terrorized northern Nigeria since 2009 in their quest to establish an Islamic state. He said he hopes Buhari can capitalize on recent gains against Boko Haram to bring home people like him who want to participate in their country’s development.

He praised a new regional military force – with troops from Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin joining those from Nigeria – fighting the Boko Haram insurgents.

"That is why there is progress in fighting them," Lucas said. "As Buhari is taking over now, he should continue where Goodluck Jonathan has left [off]. Boko Haram will have no power again as they had before."

Mixed plans

For other refugees, the thought of going home is painful.

Aissatou Jowel, a 32-year-old refugee from Gwoza, said she’d be too traumatized to return even if Buhari could manage to eradicate Boko Haram.

Jowel, 32, said her husband was killed in front of their children for refusing to give money to Boko Haram fighters. To go back and confront those memories would be unbearable, she said, but she hopes that Boko Haram massacres will end to spare others the pain she has experienced.

Immanuel Odimere has taken in three relatives who fled Boko Haram fighting.

"It was God's will that Buhari should win,” she said. “What I expect of him is a peaceful Nigeria and not trying to Islamize the whole country. You know, since Buhari said if he climbs, Boko Haram will stop, we are expecting that from him.”

Cameroon-born political analyst Ngole Ngole Elvis said Nigerians see their future in Buhari’s hands.

"Buhari has to know that many Nigerians will want to be seen as … the No. 1 country in Africa, the No. 1 economy,” he said. “They should fight the Boko Haram insurgency. … Muhammadu Buhari understands that … if they fail, they have failed Africa. And I think Nigerians will like to go down as the shining light of Africa. … and I believe that this time around, they will do it."

U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres greets Nigerians at the Minawao camp in Cameroon, March 25, 2015. (Moki Edwin Kinzeka / VOA)

U.N. refugee chief Antonio Guterres greets Nigerians at the Minawao camp in Cameroon, March 25, 2015. (Moki Edwin Kinzeka / VOA)

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