US press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. Rick Santorum cries Nazi (Washington Post)

Rick Santorum sees Nazis everywhere: in the Middle East, in doctor's offices and medical labs, in the Democratic Party, and now in the White House, says Dana Milbank.

2. Where's the change behind rhetoric? (Politico)

As the campaign season heats up, I can't help but notice President Barack Obama is dusting off the same old sweeping rhetoric and speechwriting skills that catapulted the first-term senator to the presidency three years ago, says Rep. Aaron Schock.

3. GOP's bailout battle buoys Obama (Omaha World Herald)

As long as Republicans are focused elsewhere, they are providing Obama with his own private bailout, writes Michael Gerson.

4. An Obama-Santorum matchup would be good for the country (Oregonian)

If Santorum wins the nomination, he and the president will be forced to defend their respective parties' views of what good government entails and which policies are best for the country. In other words, an Obama-Santorum matchup will focus on things that actually matter, says Kyle Scott.

5. The trials of Saint Santorum (Denver Post)

The American people are loath to elect a preacher or a prophet to lead them out of the desert of unemployment, writes Kathleen Parker.

6. Obama's budget blind spot (Los Angeles Times)

The stimulus act taught us that the country would be better served if the president did less tinkering in his budget and more leading, argues David M. Primo.

7. How to talk down Tehran's nuclear ambitions (Wall Street Journal)

Before deciding on war or containment, the West should offer a good-faith compromise to the mullahs and the Iranian people, says Richard Haass and Michael Levi.

8. Peaceful protest can free Palestine (New York Times)

Palestinians who seek an independent state and an end to the Israeli occupation should avoid violence and embrace peaceful resistance, says Mustafa Barghouthi.

9. Are liberals beginning to embrace the Constitution? (Politico)

In recent days many radical liberals have changed their tune regarding campaign finance laws, says David Bossie.

10. The failure of austerity politics (Washington Post)

The advocates of austerity -- here and in Europe -- have argued that cutting spending and reducing deficits, even with interest rates already near zero, would revive the economy, writes Katrina vanden Heuvel.

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Scarred lands: visiting the villages Boko Haram left behind reveals the toxic legacy of terrorism

The progress and challenges of Nigerian communities rebuilding after Boko Haram’s insurgency begins to wane.

“Sometimes it’s when I go to bed that what happened comes back to me.” Two years ago, Boko Haram militants stormed into 23-year-old John Amida’s home late at night in a village in Gwoza, Borno State, northeast Nigeria. Shielding his eyes with his hands from the torchlight saved his life. He shows me the mark in the centre of his forearm where the bullet aimed for his head went instead.

“All my friends were either killed or abducted,” he says. “I don’t try to forget what happened because it’s not possible; it’s with you even when it is not in your mind. The best thing is just to keep on living every day.”

After a broadly effective 18-month military campaign, Boko Haram remains a deadly yet waning force. Many communities once occupied by Boko Haram are now liberated. In Adamawa, just south of Borno, over 630,000 people previously displaced by Boko Haram have returned home.

With them, over 170,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) now live in camps, or – like John and his family – in host communities. He and his family live in a home vacated and lent to them by a local. All over Adamawa, IDPs live in homes shared with residents or given to them temporarily in exchange for help, crops or token sums of rent.

Adamawa is a serene, largely rural, mountainous state. Even deep into the dry season, driving through the roads that cut between its vast countryside, its land is incredibly scenic. But within local communities, in more rural, isolated villages north of the state’s capital, Yola, the picture is more complicated.

Gombi, a small town a few hours’ drive from Yola, was recaptured from Boko Haram in late 2014. Much of what was destroyed in the insurgency – shops and small businesses – have been rebuilt or replaced. The local government buildings have been largely restored. The impact is still visible but, according to locals, decreasingly so.

But in less urban areas, like in Garaha, a village in Adamawa, rebuilt homes sit next to broken, abandoned houses, churches, mosques and buildings blackened by the fires that damaged them. Local government officials say the damage across Adamawa by the insurgency has set the state’s development back by a decade. Funding for rebuilding the state, which local governments complain is insufficient, is concentrated on urban areas.

According to Chief Suleimanu, a traditional ruler in Garaha, mental health issues are widespread but few are financially able to access support. While some people have been able to move on, others are still dealing with the consequences.

“Many couples and families have separated,” he tells me, detailing how in some couples one partner feels attached to their home while the other can’t face returning, or feel there is little to return to.

“The same with the children, some of the young people have gone to bigger cities like Kano or Abuja because of a lack of opportunities.”

Many returnees, who left camps in Cameroon to come back to Adamawa, are from families who have lived in their villages for generations. Their ancestral roots anchor them to their homes because their farmland is their main source of income. Non-agriculture-based industries provide few jobs. For many people, fleeing their homes meant abandoning their livelihoods.

As of 2015, 52 per cent of people in Nigeria lived in rural areas. Their relative isolation is a blessing and a curse. Larger rural spaces provide them with adequate land to cultivate their crops – but it also leaves them exposed.

During Boko Haram attacks on Garaha through to early 2015, there was minimal protection from security forces who often take hours to arrive.

For many people living in rural Adamawa, life is getting harder and easier at the same time. Armed herdsmen, mainly from the Fulani ethnicity have become a greater threat across Nigeria, partly due to tensions between land ownership and cattle grazing.

According to locals, killings by herdsmen have increased this year. But villages are addressing their vulnerability. Armed vigilantes, some of which formed due to the lack of military protection against Boko Haram, are increasing. The police services are often too far away or too under-resourced to protect them. But some vigilantes now have more weapons and vehicles due to help from state services and locals. It is not an ideal solution but it has made places like Garaha safer.

With this new-found relative safety, villagers have begun farming again. With cash grants and donated tools from charities like Tearfund, it has been easier for thousands of people to begin cultivating land. In many villages there are small, lively recreation centres where young people play snooker and watch sport. Many of their places of worship have been rebuilt.

But the situation is grimmer in communities where such charities are not present.  Without resources, state or non-government help, rebuilding is a real challenge.

Adamawa is a state maxing on its credit of hospitality, relative safety and appreciation of agriculture. A recession in Nigeria and a severe food crisis in the northeast have added pressures on returnees and IDPs. Liberated communities will need more help and attention before they truly feel free.

Emmanuel Akinwotu is a journalist based between Lagos and London who writes about Africa, migration, and specialises in Nigeria.