…say ‘we’re fed up with life in camp’
l We eat vegetables to survive
The condition of tens of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), who are now homeless due to armed bandits’ attacks and killings, living in designated camps across the North, is indeed pitiable. The displaced persons are agonizing over inadequate food, poor shelter, diseases, and deprivation. According to them, the food items distributed by aid workers often finish within weeks, and it takes many days before they receive a new supply.
In Benue State, the affected persons said they are wallowing in penury in the camps, lacking freedom and other fundamental needs of life including food, good healthy living and living in an insecure environment. Similarly, in Borno State, one of the IDPs at the Slumri community, Ibrahim Dala, told Saturday Telegraph that those of them living within the host communities have been forgotten.
He said: “Sometimes we spend over 40 days before we get assistance and even when we get it, it’s not enough.” But, in Lafia, Nasarawa State, almost all the IDPs are said to have left the camp and returned to their homes as a result of the relative peace in the areas hitherto hit by herdsmen attacks. In the North generally, it is said that there are currently over 1.9 million people displaced from their homes. 60 per cent of this figure is also said to be children, with 1 in 4 under the age of five.
About four years ago after the militant herders invaded communities in Guma, Logo, Makurdi, Buruku, Kwande, Agatu and other local government areas in Benue State, leaving hordes of residents in pains and agony, the affected persons are still wallowing in penury in the various IDP camps. The displaced persons lack freedom and other fundamental needs of life including food, good healthy living even as they live in insecure environments.
Many of these persons are children, women (including pregnant ones), old men as well as teenagers. When Saturday Telegraph visited some of the camps including the Abagena, Udei and the one at Federal Housing Authority, along the JS Tarka University of Agriculture Road in Makurdi, many of them were seen in a state of despair. Most of them said they were fed up with the situation in the camp due to what they called the worsening inadequate food supply and continuous eating of vegetables to survive.
They told one of our reporters that it is their desire to return to their ancestral homes, but that their villages are still not safe as the invaders are still occupying them, adding that those who tried to go back were killed. They lamented that the failure of the Federal Government to fulfill its pledge of rebuilding the villages and the homes of victims, which were destroyed by the marauding herdsmen, had left them helpless. At the Abagena camp, our reporter observed that it was in a terrible condition, which required urgent attention. The facilities at the camps are inadequate and too deplorable to provide minimum comfort for the occupants.
Despite the supply of mattresses and other facilities by the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), the IDPs were seen sleeping on bare floors, especially the newcomers, who were attacked recently. Children were also seen going about naked in the chilling weather. Some of the persons at the camp, who interacted with our reporter, expressed worry over lack of basic social amenities, especially electricity, potable water and toilets. This, they say, has given room to the practice of open defecation and possible spread of diseases like diarrhea. They said even in the camp, their lives are at risk as they received information from militia herdsmen of attacks.
Even though the last attack was months ago, seven people, according to them, were killed. They said that they were displaced when the armed herdsmen attacked their villages. Others, who spoke to our reporter, identified inadequate food supply, funds and other basic amenities as their major challenges. A 45-year-old man with four children, Mr. Philip Saatse, said life at the camp has been so difficult because of the lack of food and other basic amenities to take care of his family. He said: “I have been in this Abagena Camp for four years; I was displaced from Guma Local Government Area in 2018. “The major challenge of the IDPs here is food. We used to produce food by ourselves but now that we have abandoned our farms due to the attacks and killings, we are now depending on the government and other NGOs for survival.
“So, life is not easy for us and as I am talking with you, most of us don’t have food; things are truly difficult for us. “The government is assisting us with food but you see, there are many camps in the state and the government alone cannot satisfy our needs.
“Our homes are not safe up till now, even this IDP camp was attacked and seven people killed. “As we speak, some of us have fled to take refuge in Makurdi Town, while others return to the camp in the morning and go back in the evenings because of fear of possible attack.
“My children were going to school established in the camp by the state government but because of the recent attack, the school is no longer functional, and it was not up to standard. “It was just for our children to learn ABCD and make them feel they are in school.” One of the oldest women in the camp, Mama Mayoiga Utor, also said that herdsmen are not allowing them to return to their ancestral homes to continue with their normal farm work. Utor, 75, said she was displaced by the invaders in January 2018, and has not been finding things easy in the camp with her five children whom she said are also out of school due to the incessant attacks.
“My son, look at your mother and see if I am a happy woman. We have no food to eat; my children do go for menial jobs to enable us to chew something. “Life is no longer the way it was while we were in our home in Guma. I am appealing to the government of Benue State to come to our aid and supply more food otherwise we will die here of hunger. “Our village is not safe to go back to because the killer herdsmen are still occupying them.” Another woman, Mama Agnes Vihi, said they are facing extreme hunger due to food shortages.
She has five children. “We had no problem with food while we were at home, the soil is fertile, so we used to farm a lot but now we have to depend on the government to eat and the food is no longer coming, it’s just trickling in. “Our major source of soup is vegetables. So, I am appealing to the government to help us by supplying enough food for us in the camp to eat.”
Camp Commandant in charge of the Abagena Camp housing over 8, 210 IDPs, Mr. Solomon Azulo, said one of the major challenges confronting them is insecurity. Azulo also confirmed cases of early marriages in the camp, adding that 20 deaths and 35 births have been recorded since the camp was established.
He said: “The major challenge the IDPs are facing right now is insecurity. “As you are aware, this camp was attacked recently and seven people were killed and the herdsmen, who carried out the attack, carted away people’s handsets. “They are calling and threatening that they will come back and attack us again and this has instilled fears in us. “As you can see, the camp houses over 8, 210 IDPs, but the population has now reduced as some left to take refuge in the towns and other places they consider safer. “They come back in the daytime and go back in the evenings. We have recorded 20 deaths in this camp; we also record between 30 and 35 births.”
Ibrahim Dala, one of the IDPs at the Slumri community, said they have been forgotten. “Those of us living within the host communities have been forgotten. “Sometimes we spend over 40 days before we get assistance and even when we get it, it’s not enough.”
Another, who spoke with one of our reporters, at the Bakassi Camp, Mrs. Yaani Aliyu, also said: “Thank God we have been getting food monthly from the NEMA and SEMA as well as other NGOs. “Just last week we were given food items by an NGO, and NEMA is also distributing rations to us in this camp. Here in Bakassi, we were not only fed but provided with soap and detergents.
“Thank God, we have been taken care of but our major problem is we want to go back to our communities to live our normal lives.” On the issue of healthcare, he said: “Yes, we have a clinic here being managed by the staff of ICRC, MSF, WHO in partnership with the Borno State government.
“Though we are not only provided with drugs but when we need referral they always refer us to MSF hospital or even University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital for surgery and other medications. “In our camp, members of the host community also come to our clinic for antenatal and delivery, because everything is free. ‘’ Another, Mallam Abor Bulama, said: “In my own case, apart from the monthly ration we receive from NEMA and SEMA, I also collect a monthly stipend of N37, 000 from Mercy Corp, ICRC and other NGOs.
“You can also see we have a school here with mobile classrooms, teaching equipment and teachers. “Our children from the beginning of every term are given books, pencils, pens and even uniforms, bags and sandals. So, our children are going to school.” At the Gubio Camps, Kolo Abba, said: “Yes we are being taken care of by the government, World Food Program among other NGOs but the major problem is that as local people we are used to eating maize, millet and other grains. “But here they used to give us rice, beans, spaghetti and other foods that we are not used to.
We want to go back home and have access to our farms, so that we can feed ourselves. “We don’t have a problem with water here, you can see we have four boreholes in this camp, enough toilet facilities, school, court and other amenities. “Our main concern now is that since our other colleagues from Kukawa, Marte and Dikwa have gone back to their communities, we too are calling on the military and government to secure our town, Abadam, so that we can go back home.”
However, in Nasarawa State, almost all the IDPs have left the camp and returned to their homes as a result of the relative peace in the areas hitherto hit by herdsmen in recent times. A visit to a public primary school at Agwan Yankubu in Agyaragu, headquarters of Jenkwe Development Area in ObI Local government Area of the state, showed that all the IDPs have left the camp and gone back to their respective villages. The situation was not different at Awe Town, headquarters of Awe local Government Area of the state, where many internally displaced persons had camped but had also left for their communities.
It is the same situation in Kadarko in Giza Development Area of Keana Local Government where thousands of IDPs had left for their respective villages leaving a handful of them in the camp. One of them, Ortoho Kumaga, 46, who was seen leaving the camp at the time of the visit, told our reporter, that he and his two wives and children ran to the camp at the heat of the herdsmen attack on Ajimaka Village in Doma Local Government Area but are now travelling back to their village. He said: “I ran to the camp during the attack on our village near Ajimaka but we are going back now because there is relative peace now.
“We were given food items and some sleeping materials by the state government when we were in the camp, although it was not enough, we thank the government for what came to us, especially the relative peace that has returned to our villages.” Commenting on the development, President, Tiv Development Association (TIDA) in Nasarawa State, Comrade Peter Ahemba, told our reporter in a telephone conversation that virtually all the IDPs had returned to their respective villages. He lauded the state government for the deployment of security personnel in the affected areas which has enabled most of his kinsmen to return to their homes.