By Akanimo Sampson
A community market in Gwoza, Northern Nigeria, has been reopened after the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a United Nations agency, had rehabilitated it. It was opened for business on March 10.
Gwoza is a Local Government Area in Borno State, the hot bed of Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. Gwoza which is also the headquarters of the local government, is a border town of some 135 kilometres South-East of Maiduguri, the state capital.
Wikipedia says the Gwoza Hills, with heights of about 1300 metres above sea level provides scenery and is made up of the Mandara Mountains, which form a natural barrier between Nigeria and Cameroon, starting from Pulka. They overlook the game reserves by meandering towards Mubi and beyond in Adamawa State.
The area has been called “a notorious hide out for the Boko Haraminsurgents,”who arrived in the area in 2009 from Maiduguri. The area has suffered considerable violence as a result of the Islamist insurgency in Nigeria, and in 2014, saw an influx of Boko Haram fighters fleeing Sambisa Forest.
As of June 23, 2014, “reports indicated that the whole of Gwoza was under attack.”Deutsche Welle reported that “roads out of the region are extremely dangerous and phone connections are poor to nonexistent.”
As of October 19, 2014, an estimated 3,000 Gwoza residents displaced by fighting were squatting on the fringes of Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city, according to a local relief committee spokesman, with “the need for shelter, food, clothing and medicare for the displaced also becoming dire.”
On March 27, 2015, the day before the Nigerian presidential election, the Nigerian Army announced that it had recaptured the town of Gwoza from Boko Haram.According to AllAfrica.com, “Gwoza, one of the largest towns in Borno, fell under the control of Boko Haram terrorists on August 6, 2014.”
In the mean time, IOM says 142 Gwoza residents participated in the rehabilitation of the market as part of a cash for work initiative aimed at strengthening the local economy through income opportunities and providing motivation for conflict affected individuals to invest in their community.
The market was badly damaged as a result of the protracted conflict with non-state armed groups in the volatile North-East Nigeria and remained unused for many years.
For the IOM Nigeria Project Officer, Afra Ure, ‘’the reopening of the local market is an important part of IOM’s support to the transition and recovery process in Gwoza. Apart from reinvigorating the local economy, it is also an important step towards a return to the community’s pre-conflict way of life.’’
Though many people have returned to their homes in Gwoza since Nigerian forces regained control of the town in 2015, humanitarian assistance remains critical. In addition to livelihood recovery assistance, IOM distributed 550 cash grants and shelter repair kits containing the necessary materials to rebuild homes.
A local vendor, Modu said, ‘’I have worked in an open space without shade in the old market for over four years. But with the construction of stalls, I can comfortably display my fabric wraps and I believe even my customers will be more at ease to buy my products.’’
Alongside Modu some 350 other vendors now sell cereals, vegetables, clothing and household items such as buckets, brooms and cleaning products in the new facilities.
As part of the efforts to improve the living conditions of people affected by the conflict, support their recovery and build their resilience, IOM has implemented livelihood projects consisting of community-level rehabilitation and vocational trainings across North-East Nigeria.
‘’I’m the leader of my household and I hope that working in the reopened market will help me get the necessary means to sustain my family… I’m optimistic’’, said Fatima, who sells candy and other confectioneries at the market.