Abuja (AFP) - Nigeria expects many of the 2.1 million people internally displaced by Boko Haram's insurgency to return home in the coming year, amid claims the Islamists are in disarray and a spent force.
President Muhammadu Buhari said the return would begin "in earnest" in 2016 and his government "will do all within its powers to facilitate the quick return and resettlement" of IDPs.
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Military commanders and the government believe they are on track to meet a year-end deadline to curb the group's fighting capacity, despite continued suicide and bomb attacks targeting civilians.
Abuja is, however, appealing for help, with homes and businesses destroyed by six years of fighting and infrastructure, from clean water and electricity to health clinics and schools, severely hit.
Information minister Lai Mohammed said after a recent visit to Bama, in northeastern Borno state, he was "astounded at the level of destruction and devastation".
"Not a single building was unaffected by the activities of the terrorists and no building is being occupied by its original resident," he said on Tuesday.
AFP visited Bama with the Nigerian military in March after it was recaptured by troops. Corrugated iron roofs lay ripped off among charred debris and houses were blackened with soot or in ruins.
Decomposing bodies could be seen around the town, 71.5 kilometres (44 miles) southeast of the state capital, Maiduguri.
Mohammed said a "clean-up" of Bama, as well as nearby Konduga and Kaure, was already under way, with plans for the start of rebuilding an initial 1,000 homes due to begin in January.
- 'Huge challenge' -
Babagana Umara, commissioner of the newly established Ministry of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement in Borno, said the violence had left 17 local government areas completely deserted.
As well as Bama and Konduga, reconstruction has also begun in Benisheik, west of Maiduguri, and nearby villages, as well as in Mafa and Gwoza, where Boko Haram proclaimed a caliphate last year.
"This is the first phase of the reconstruction project. Everyone knows the destruction wrought by Boko Haram is enormous," he told AFP, describing the rebuilding project as a "huge challenge".
"The reconstruction of Bama alone will require around 40 billion naira ($200 million, 182 million euros) which is well beyond the capacity of the state government," he added.
Nigeria, whose crude-reliant economy has been hit by the global oil shock, last week announced a 15-percent increase in capital expenditure in its proposed 6.0 trillion naira budget for 2016.
But with infrastructure projects desperately needed across the country, it is not yet clear how much will go to the Boko Haram-affected northeast.
Reconstruction also does not end in bricks and mortar. The UN said last month some 1,100 schools were destroyed this year alone in the Lake Chad region, where Nigeria meets Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
Nigeria's National Union of Teachers estimates more than 600 teachers have been killed since 2009 and another 19,000 have fled, in a region already short of qualified staff.
Fears have already been voiced about the effect of lengthy school closures in the region, with illiteracy and poverty seen as key drivers of radicalisation.
Doctors have also fled and healthcare services collapsed, exacerbating historically poor indicators in areas such as maternal and infant mortality.
Many people who returned to the north of Adamawa state, which borders Borno, told AFP in May no food supplies were getting through, with roads and bridges bombed in the area.
Farmers have missed this year's planting season and there was also the added danger of landmines planted in fields.
- Security threat -
Umara said displaced residents from Konduga and Mafa could return home as early as next month but people from further afield will "be returned gradually" once reconstruction was complete.
Supporting the IDPs in camps in Maiduguri is a huge financial burden for the state government, he added, calling for help from the international community.
Security, however, remains an issue, with sporadic Boko Haram raids still occurring and indications the Islamic State group affiliate is biding its time on islands on Lake Chad.
The Nigerian military's capacity to prevent attacks in remote rural areas remains unclear.
On Thursday, 14 people who returned to the Borno village of Kumiya to farm after fleeing a previous attack in July were killed in a raid that saw some decapitated.
Last month, eight were killed when a suicide bomber blew herself up among a crowd of IDPs arriving in Maiduguri from Dikwa because of a lack of food.