Iraqi Christians revisit ghost town abandoned by Islamic State.

A damaged picture of Jesus and a CD from his daughter’s wedding were pretty much all Iraqi Christian Said Shaba found when he returned to the ransacked house he had to flee when Islamic State arrived two and a half years ago.

The militants stole a safe with his savings and set the two-storey house ablaze before Iraqi forces pushed them out a month ago from the northern town of Bartella as part of a campaign to retake nearby Mosul, the group’s last stronghold in Iraq.

With the jihadists using suicide car bombers to stop an army advance on Mosul located just 20 km (12 miles) away, Bartella remains a tense ghost town.

Black army Humvees patrol the potholed streets where Islamic State fighters set homes on fire, while rows of shops and restaurants have been flattened during fighting.

But tired of living with his seven-member family in a rented house in nearby Erbil, Shaba and other Christians came to check on their houses for the first time since fleeing Bartella in 2014 when Islamic State seized Mosul and much of Iraq’s north.

“They destroyed and stole everything. They even took away our safe,” the 59-year-old said, pointing to a wardrobe in his bedroom where a safe containing $1,400 in local currency and dollars once stood.

When rumors of an Islamic State offensive in August 2014 spread, Shaba drove his family to the safety of Erbil one morning, planning to return to take cash and documents. But he never made it back as the jihadists were already in control of Bartella by the afternoon.

His petrol storage facility, the family’s main source of income, a few blocks from his modest house, was destroyed during fighting, he said.

Luckily, among the debris on the house’s floor a picture of Jesus survived though militants tore out parts of the face. His wife Nidhal kissed the painting and put it on a wall in the ransacked reception room.

A CD containing pictures of their daughter’s wedding also made it through the occupation.

“They have left nothing intact including windows, doors and walls,” said Milano Yousuf, the daughter. “This CD is more important to me than all the furniture. It is irreplaceable.”


Returning for good to Bartella and other nearby towns is not option for now for thousands of civilians — Christians and Muslims alike — as the battle for Mosul drags on.

The army has closed Bartella and other towns and villages, using them as forward base. Special forces commanders and U.S. officers, who have been backing the army campaign, met in the town on Wednesday.

The Iraqis and the Americans arriving in Humvees declined to discuss the meeting, which took place amid heightened security. Dozens of army vehicles with mounted guns were parked on an unpaved square in the town.

The army only lets in civilians selectively to inspect their houses and take some belongings, officers say. Still, many hope they can stay.

Hundreds were queuing at a checkpoint, where officers sent many back for lack of paperwork. Shaba, the Christian entrepreneur, said he got his army permit to go home only through “wasta”, or personal connections.

“We need to make sure the places are safe, that Daesh left no bombs,” said an Iraqi officer, using a derogatory Arabic term for Islamic State.

Apart from Christians, there were also many Shi’ites, seen by Islamic State as heretics, trying to head home.

“We are trying to see our house for the first time since we fled in August 2014,” said 28-year-old Ahmed Ali, a Shi’ite who escaped with his 17-member family from their Bartella home when the militants approached. His cousin was killed by the Sunni fighters, he said.

“Life has become very difficult, paying rents in Erbil with very little work,” he said, standing with a veiled relative near the checkpoint where soldiers told civilians without permits go back. “We don’t know whether our house still stands but we hope to go back soon, God willing.”


Dogara Vows To Amend SSS Law, Condemns Raid On ‘Corrupt’ Judges Homes

Speaker Yakubu Dogara on Wednesday said the invasion of the homes of senior judicial officers by the State Security Service was a disorganised and worrisome act.

The Speaker said the clampdown was a duplication of the function of other anti-corruption agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and promised sweeping reforms to prevent its recurrence.

Mr. Dogara made the observations when he inaugurated a House committee charged with investigating the clampdown and its aftermath.

“It is untidy, it seems, to have multiple agencies exercising similar functions. The EFCC already handles issues of corruption and economic crimes in Nigeria,” Mr. Dogara said. “Should the State Security Service also be charged with the same functions?”

Scores of SSS operatives swooped on the homes of judges in a coordinated raid across the country on October 7. The raid dragged until the next morning on October 8 before the news of the raid filtered to Nigerians.

Two judges of the Supreme Court, an appellate court judge and five high court judges were arrested in the operation.

The SSS also said it recovered a huge amount of money denominated in different currencies from the judicial officers’ homes and said it was the climax of a sting operation launched months before.

Some of the arrested judges are already being prosecuted for corruption while all of them have been granted bail.

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[Video]: LASG, police, hoodlums destroyed our homes – Otodogbame residents

When Raymond Amosu paddled his family to safety in the midnight of November 9th, he steadied the canoe, turned and cast a last look at what used to be home. Tongues of fire licked away, furiously, at the three bedroom enclosure where he had married his wife, Okelusi, and raised eight children.
His eyes watered.

“I did not remove anything except my fishing nets,” Mr. Amosu, 48, a fisherman, said.

In the early hours of November 9, a gang of boys with reported ties to the powerful Elegushi chieftaincy family, entered Otodo Gbame community – a peaceful fishing settlement on the edge of the Lagos Lagoon in Lekki Phase I, made up predominantly of Eguns and other ethnic minorities in Lagos – and began setting fire to houses in the community.

Mr. Amosu said he was asleep when his wife woke him around midnight with screams of ‘fire, fire.’

“All the people in the community woke up. They were putting fire everywhere. They destroyed everything,”

About 800 homes were affected in a massive destruction that rendered an estimated 10,000 people homeless, according to the Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), a non-governmental organisation that had worked extensively with the community people.

This destruction occurred barely a day after a Lagos court ordered the state government to immediately suspend its planned demolition of shanties along creeks and waterways in the state.

It also came one week after the state House of Assembly appealed to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to reconsider the planned demolitions.

‘An ethnic clash’

On the evening of November 9, the Lagos State Government released a statement authored by the state’s Police Command attributing the “crisis” in the community to a clash between the Eguns and Yorubas.

Dolapo Badmos, the Public Relations Officer of the State Command of the Nigerian Police, said the “Egun community mainly made up of people from Republic of Benin,” occupied illegal shanties.

“We were alerted about the breakdown of law and order in the area and immediately went to check Otodogbami community, Ikate Lekki Phase 1, where there is a fight between the Benin-Yoruba communities fighting over the supremacy of the territory,” said Ms. Badmos, a superintendent of police.

“It’s an illegal settlement area, most of the structures there are shanties and because of a protracted dispute between themselves, they set fire on their different shanties. The Police moved into the area to restore peace.”

The community people, who said they are mostly from Badagry but have lived in Otodo Gbame for over a century, insisted the crisis was triggered by a group of youth, who with government backing, invaded their homes and unleashed violence on them.

Solomon Akojenu, chairman, Otodo Gbame community, said the youth were planted by those who wanted to evict them from the community.

“They have been coming to rent houses from us and we thought they were legal entities, not knowing that they have a mission for coming to the community,” Mr. Akojenu said.

“This week, they started padlocking people’s houses, extorting money from people forcefully.

“That was what took them to the house of a man called Jonas, where they went, padlocked the wife’s room and expected the woman to come and pay them N20,000. That’s what led to this clash. They went extorting money from people, that they should pay N5,000, N10,000, N20,000.

“After locking their houses, they said they are now the ones in charge, the landlords.”

At about 7.30 a.m., on November 8, Alfa Salako said he was on his way to his brother’s house when a group of boys, armed with machetes, marched into the community and headed to the Baale’s (traditional leader) house.

“Those people, they did not come to the Baale and say ‘this is what we heard, what is the problem? Can you find out somebody who did such a thing? No. They came to Baale’s place and began to break bottles and use machetes to slap people,” said Mr. Salako, 42.

On Thursday afternoon, the entire part of the community on land had been destroyed. Dozens of armed police officers kept watch as a backhoe pulled down the remaining structures that were still standing.

Those living on water were removing the zinc sheets on the roofs of their wooden homes and frantically packing their belongings into canoes.

“They told us to leave immediately because they are bringing speed boats to come and destroy everything,” said Francis Esisu.

In a statement on Thursday, JEI condemned the actions of the police and other private parties working on their behest.

“We decry the extremely false and misleading press release issued by the Nigerian Police Force in the late afternoon of 9 November 2016 that seeks to characterize the police’s actions as a ‘rescue,’ while announcing that the community in question will be taken over by the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development and remaining structures will be demolished,” said Megan Chapman, the group’s co-founder.

“We note that there is absolutely no legal basis for eviction or taking over of land in the aftermath of either security or fire incident. We further note there have been no statutory or paper notices whatsoever served on any residents of Otodo Gbame.

“Rather, the police are acting completely outside the scope of the law and in overt disregard for a subsisting order of court. We call on all conscientious citizens concerned for democracy and rule of law to join in condemning this action.”


Over the past two years, the Otodo Gbame people had fought to remain in their community amidst threats of eviction from the Elegushi chieftaincy family and the government.

In 2014, a prince from the royal family arrived the community to place a seven-day eviction notice.

The inhabitants headed to court. By 2015, the community had instituted, at least, two suits before the court – one over land ownership against the Elegushi family at the state high court and another over the destruction of over 250 of their houses in 2013 at the federal high court.

PREMIUM TIMES’ repeated requests to interview Saheed Elegushi, the traditional ruler of Ikate, met a brick wall. An aide to the king told this reporter to “be visiting and, maybe, one day the Oba will be in the mood to talk.”

But in an interview he granted the News Agency of Nigeria last year, Mr. Elegushi said the people at Otodo Gbame were not originally settled there.

“It is important to first and foremost know the facts,” Mr. Elegushi said.

“You, visit the place and assess the soil there. Does it look like a place that has been in existence for 300 years? All these people are squatters from Banana Island, and other transit places.

“Are you going to tell me that somebody would be somewhere for 300 years and there would be no proper structures (on ground)?”

On October 9, Governor Ambode ordered the demolition of illegal structures in waterfronts across the state and gave the inhabitants a seven-day ultimatum to vacate the areas.

According to the governor, such shanties are often used as hideouts by kidnappers and militants before using the waterways to move their victims to another location.

“You will see that most of the issues that we have with kidnappings are being brought up by those who are illegal settlers by the waterfront,” Mr. Ambode said while inspecting the Ilubirin Housing Scheme on Lagos Island.

“We will commence demolition of all the shanties around the creeks in Lagos State and around our waterways in the next seven days. I have given directives to that effect to the appropriate agencies.”

The governor’s directive triggered a wave of protests from waterfront residents who marched to the Government House to register their displeasure. But their calls for a retraction of the notice were ignored.

Earlier in the year, in March, over 100 slum dwellers in Otodo Gbame community besieged the Lagos State Government House protesting dredging and sand-filling activities near their homes.


NEMA returns 5,403 citizens to their homes from IDPs camps

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has confirmed the return of 5403 Internally Displaced People (IDPs) to the home after their stay in Camps.

The returnees include 1517 in Mafa , 750 in konduga, 1200 in Ngamboru and about 1,936 are due to return to Dikwa

This is coming at a period Governor of Borno State Alh kashim shettima and a team of NEMA North East zonal staff led by Zonal coordinator Alh Muhammed Kanar spent the night in Bama in order to fast track the reconstruction of homes and other structures to facilitate the return of residents displaced by insurgency.

The team delivered food items on behalf of the DG NEMA Alh Muhammed Sani Sidi.

The Zonal Coordinator also promised to provide building materials in line with the needs assessment conducted by NEMA and Borno State Emergency Management Agency (BOSEMA).

FG plans new initiative, targets 300,000 new homes

The Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, has announced plans by the Buhari administration to launch a new housing finance initiative.

Under the proposed scheme, the Federal Government is planning a mortgage system that will catalyse the development of the mortgage market in Nigeria with the provision of single digit interest rate mortgages and longer repayment periods such as 20 years.

The proposed scheme also aims to provide 300,000 affordable homes supported by mortgages and creates 700,000 new jobs across a range of disciplines and professions.

The minister who made this known at the Annual Conference and General Meeting of the African Union for Housing Finance (AUHF) noted that with housing deficit at over 17 million, Nigeria was ripe for radical intervention in the provision of housing.

She said: “We are committed to fundamentally addressing historical challenges to housing. This requires innovative financial solutions that will stimulate housing development, related industries, create jobs across the nation and satisfy yearning for security through home ownership.”

The minister, represented by Mr. Seye Senfuye said: “Nigeria deserve to acquire affordable homes, built to a standard of good quality, located in well serviced estates that will create ideal environments in which they can raise their families, instead of being saddled with the challenges and risks of trying to build their homes organically.

“Due to the current high rates of interest, we believe that government intervention to bring down rates and enhance affordability is needed and we are committed to doing this.”

The Central Bank’s Director of Other Financial Institutions, Ahmed Abdullahi, noted that the housing market in Africa and in Nigeria is underdeveloped, and that the contribution of the market to the GDP in the country is less than one per cent, compared to the United States, which is about 80 per cent.

Abdullahi stressed the need to address absence of long-term capital that could be used to create mortgages, high cost of building materials, and problems of registering and enforcing property rights.

His words: “Mortgages are not short-term but the deposits we have in the banks are short-term liabilities, and you cannot easily use them to create mortgage. So, we need to address these challenges before we can improve the contribution of the market to the GDP.”

IDPs Will Return To Their Homes Early Next Year– Buhari

President Muhammadu Buhari declared yesterday in Abuja that the return of persons displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency to their home communities will begin early next year.

Speaking when he hosted a delegation from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) led by former British foreign minister, Mr David Miliband, President Buhari said that his administration would do all within its powers to facilitate the quick return and resettlement of over two million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in their towns and villages.

According to a statement issued by his senior special assistant, Media, Malam Garba Shehu, the president told Mr Miliband and his delegation that the federal government would welcome the support of the IRC and other local and international non-governmental organisations in the rehabilitation of IDPs.

“In 2016, the return of the IDPs will start in earnest. They will return to their communities to meet destroyed schools and other infrastructure which have to be rebuilt.

“With agriculture being moribund in the region in the last two years without cropping, hunger is already manifest. We will welcome all the help we can get to assist the returnees, “ President Buhari said.

Credit: Leadership