Nigerian women at a meeting with Cameroon authorities, Makary, Cameroon, April 7, 2019. (M. Kindzeka/VOA)
Nigerian women at a meeting with Cameroon authorities, Makary, Cameroon, April 7, 2019. (M. Kindzeka/VOA)

Cameroon says at least 40,000 Nigerians who fled across the border for fear of election-related violence have returned home and another 20,000 are soon to follow. 

Cameroon troops whistle to indicate it is time for departure as about 3,000 Nigerians prepare to return to the village of Kukawa in Borno state.  

Midjiyawa Bakari, the governor of Cameroon's Far North region, says about 60,000 Nigerians fled into Cameroon ahead of Nigeria's February elections, fearing that violence could break out.  He says some 40,000 of them have already returned home and the rest will soon follow.

Midjiyawa Bakari, governor of the far north region
Midjiyawa Bakari, governor of the far north region of Cameroon in his office in Maroua, Maroua, Cameroon, April 7, 2019. (M. Kindzeka/VOA)

Bakari says within a week, they counted more than 40,000 Nigerians.  They deployed the military to protect them, he says, and provided them with water and food while they stayed in Cameroon.  The elections ended well so the Nigerians are going back to their country, says Bakari.  But he notes they will be escorted by Cameroon's military to protect them from any surprise attacks by Boko Haram militants.

Government spokeswoman Appolonia Ndukong says after escorting the returnees to the border, Cameroon's military will hand them over to Nigerian authorities.

"We are working with the Nigerian authorities actually because they have a squad that protects, so they want us to report on any event that are taking place so that they make sure they provide the necessary protection and security services that are necessary," said Ndukong.

Nigerians in host community houses, Limani, Camero
Nigerians in host community houses, Limani, Cameroon, April 7, 2019. (M. Kindzeka/VOA)

UNHCR has previously criticized Cameroon for refusing to accept Nigerian refugees, in breach of its international obligations.

But Cameroon says all Nigerians returning home are doing so of their free will. Bakari says Cameroon neither considered nor treated the recent arrivals as refugees because officials often see mass movements across the border before elections.  

Nigerians in Makary who fled for fear of political violence say they thank god the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari on February 23 was largely peaceful.  

Thirty-five-year old Maiduguri businessman Nelson Chidi says he hopes this time around Buhari will ensure peace in Nigeria.

"... Since Buhari entered there it has become worse. You can see Boko Haram. People are dying, innocent people are dying for a crime they never committed," said Chidi. "People are not living well. You see Nigerians are not having light while our neighboring countries have light. We produce fuel, but in our country Nigeria, fuel is too scarce. Our people are suffering because of bad government."

Nigerian men in a meeting with Cameroon authoritie
Nigerian men in a meeting with Cameroon authorities, Limani, Cameroon, April 7, 2019. ( M. Kindzeka/VOA)

No doubt Cameroon hopes for peace as well, in hopes the flow of refugees will slow down.  According to the latest U.N. figures, he country currently hosts more than 400,000 refugees, mostly from Nigeria and the Central African Republic.