In the wake of advances by Nigeria’s military against Boko Haram insurgents in the country’s northeast, people displaced during years of violence are trickling back home to find their lives in ruin.
Homa Luka returned home to Michika to a backyard full of dead people.
Like most Michika residents, he fled the northeastern town when Boko Haram took it over in September. When he came back, he saw that the insurgents had turned his land into a cemetery.
“When we came back we discovered the house has been destroyed, all of our things had been moved around and we weren't able to stay here because the house was smelling very bad. So we started looking around to see what the source of the smell was, and we checked in back and saw there was a graveyard over there where they did a mass burial of their fighters,” said Luka.
Michika was one of many towns Nigeria’s military lost control of last year as Boko Haram started seizing territory across the northeast. It was recaptured in January as the military, aided by regional troops and foreign mercenaries, pushed the insurgents out of most of the territory they had taken. People are trickling back to see what’s left of their livelihoods and loved ones.
Mary Yohanna Kwatri doesn’t know where her husband is. He was home when the militants attacked, and she was at church. She managed to flee the town, then kept moving as far south as the Adamawa state capital, Yola, then back to Michika.
With nowhere else to go, she now sleeps on the dirt floor of her burnt-out home.
“So far, I don’t have anything to do. All I do is just find food to cook, and after I’m finished eating, I just go under this tree to lie down, in order to survive. I’m trying to make a round hut where I’ll be able to stay,” said Kwatri.
The road to Michika is lined with the evidence of battle between the military and Boko Haram, such as buildings obliterated by an air raid, or a bridge destroyed by the militants to stop the military’s advance. Locals who assist cars fording a nearby stream, like Paulie Cap, say the area’s shallow creeks will turn to torrents when the rainy season comes, cutting off towns like Michika.
“This is the only road we have so far in this place. If this road is not fixed up then definitely, we’re going to face so many challenges. Things will become very difficult for us, because there is only one way,” said Cap.
Dozens of towns and villages across the northeast have been damaged as badly as Michika, or worse. A new government is coming in at the end of the month. People here have high expectations that the new administration will do what’s necessary to rebuild their lives.