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Amid gloom in ‘foreign land’, IDPs long for home



CLUTCHED to her side with a tattered wrapper while flies struggle to take the nipple of her breast from a suckling malnourished baby, Asabe, was totally oblivious of happenings within the camp. It seems a long and tough battle for the baby to squeeze milk out of her breast. What could have occupied Asabe’s  mind other than the harsh environment she has found herself, hundreds of kilometers away from her home in Adamawa State. 

    Elsewhere, children between ages eight and 14 sat in groups under a makeshift canopy, listening to a volunteer teacher. They recited rhymes without writing materials, even as they made do with the bare floor.

   A little down the camp, women took their turns to fetch water from a pond which was a major source of water. Here, sanitary is a luxury, food is an essential commodity that comes at the mercy of good Samaritans. Who bothers about hygiene in the face of survival?

    Home here is a makeshift tent wrapped with either corrugated iron roofing sheets or polythene. They are temporary structures made habitable for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Boko Haram ravaged towns and villages in the North East.

    Indeed, those who were able to make it to these camps scattered around Abuja suburbs have every reason to thank their stars because some of their kiths and kins were not that lucky.

    A good number of them walked on foot for more than two weeks from their various villages in the North East to Cameroon, a neighbouring country to Nigeria. Others navigated their way through thick forest and finally settled in Abuja, their current abode.

    In the course of fleeing this war zone, some got stuck and were either killed or maimed by the rampaging insurgents or captured to swell the ranks of their foot soldiers. Their farmlands were invaded, crops and livestock stolen and their houses set ablaze. Welcome to the world of Nigerians who had become refugees in their own land and amongst their own kith and kin. 

    Adamawa, Gombe, Borno, Yobe states had come under severe and several attacks in last four years. These attacks have continued to reduce once bubbling towns and villages desolate. The terrorists carry out attacks indiscriminately irrespective of religious affiliation or tribe of their victims.  Churches, Mosques, Schools and social gatherings came under heavy attacks.  Reports have it that  Boko Haram killed more than 5,000 civilians between July 2009 and June 2014 with over 2,000  Nigerians killed in the first half of 2014 alone. Also, 1.5 million had been displaced by the end of 2014 from their homes and scattered around the country.  As it were, no one can give specific figures of those affected, the lack of citizens’ database in the country do not help either. 

    Those who have friends and relatives to stay with ran to the safety of their relatives’ homes while those who are strong enough to make the journey to Abuja, the seat of power came in their thousands and pitched make shift tents around the Federal Capital Territory.  For now, there are about six IDPs camps around the capital city.  They are located in Waru, Dogongada, Wasa, Massaka, New Kuchingoro, and a place called New Site in the area 1 axis of the city. These places were discovered with the passage of time and so it is not clear for now if there are other camps similar to these ones around the FCT.  These Nigerians never announced their arrival Abuja. They came, pitch their tents and continued their lives until corporate bodies began to discover them.

   For instance, the camp at Kuchingoro was discovered by the Realm of Glory International Church on a Saturday morning during an evangelism trip.  The Church, in its magnanimity, took food, clothing and other essential daily needs to the displaced persons but soon realised the task was not one it could shoulder alone.  The senior pastor of the church,  Nathaniel Ayo Aiyedogbon, said the church had to write to the Federal Government, intimating it of the existence of these people through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). He said there were women who were determined to leave their children and run away in the camps as a result of lack of food. 

     A tour of the IDP camps around Abuja by The Guardian depicts the same scenario.  The tales were the same; they lack food, water, drugs for the sick among them and good shelter.  They are psychologically traumatised as a result of their experiences back in their villages and the harrowing experience they went through while they made their way to Abuja. Of course, a lot of their relatives are still trapped back in their villages and the thought of not knowing what is going on with their people is another nightmare on its own. 

    As at the first time The Guardian visited the Kuchingoro camp, over 600 displaced persons were said to be there. A second visit to the camp confirmed the claims of Usman Adamu during the first visit that people who are trapped back in their village trickles into the camp on a daily basis.

The camp had become more populated and The Guardian noted new shanties under construction. 

Children were learning seated on the floor under three canopies in the camp.  The Guardian was informed that the school is been run by a good spirited Nigerian, Pastor Sanwo Olatunji- David, a member of the Living Faith Church, who took it upon himself to pay the salaries of the teachers in order to keep the children busy.

   Olatunji-David told The Guardian that he only wanted to engage the children so that they would not miss out much academically. 

    The Wasa camp has over 500 men, apart from women and children. According to Adamu Audu, who volunteered to be a tour guide of The Guardian at the Wasa camp, he had to leave his village when it was apparent that the insurgents were bent on killing him.  He said the group had ransacked his home twice demanding from his wives where he was. However, Audu cannot be said to be a happy man as one of his wives and some of his children are still trapped in the village. He also had to leave a thriving patent medicine store business behind. 

    The displaced persons occupy a somewhat abandoned housing estate in the Wasa area.  The houses are completed but could pass for one of the many empty estates around the FCT and so the displaced persons made good use of them. The group of IDPs could be said to be the only ones with reasonably good shelter compared to the other camps where the occupants made use of planks, tattered clothes and canopies to construct make shift shanties.   

    The Guardian met some children who had come to a pond located in the camp to fetch water.  However, construction work on a borehole was underway at the time The Guardian visited the camp.  The borehole is said to be at the instance of a spirited woman who came to see things for herself in the camp and discovered that the people rely on the infested pond for water.

   Hamman Bukar, a displaced person, who spoke with The Guardian through the tour guide, said he arrived the Wasa camp in September 2014, adding that by then, a large number of displaced persons were already in the camp.  He explained that their villages were always attacked in the night with masked men who usually speak in Arabic and the Hausa languages.  Bukar said he was convinced that the issue of Boko Haram transcends the shores of Nigeria adding that the men who usually attacked were tall with long hair.  He said he suspected they are from the Chad.

    He said: “I cannot say those who attacked us are Nigerians. Although, there may be some insiders, I mean Nigerians working with them.  The way they dressed did not portray them as Nigerians.  A Muslim Hausa man may leave his beard unshaved but the hair will not be long like the ones of these attackers. They had long nails both on their feet and hands and they speak Arabic and Hausa fluently.

“They had forcefully recruited most of our boys and anyone who refuses to be recruited to work with them is slaughtered right in front of his family.  That was why we had to run.  You can see our boys loitering around here doing nothing.  The only job we knew how to do is farming.  The attackers had taken over our farms, took our grains, cows and everything.  We were just lucky to be alive but the truth is that we are in difficult situation here.  We don’t have food, water and drugs.  A woman came here and saw the place where we fetch water and was not happy about it. She is the one sinking this borehole now” 

    Audu said that officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) were at the camp to take their census and that they were yet to receive any help from them.  A group of boys seen playing the game of draft challenged the reporter, demaning to know what her mission was.  According to them, a couple of government officials had visited the camp, spoke with them with bogus promises of the readiness of government to assist them and that was usually the last they heard of such promises.

   The Waru camp occupants are gradually dissolving into the Apo axis of the FCT.  Hamedu Musa told the Guardian that he was able to estimate over 700 of them in the camp at a period.  He said the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) brought them some essentials commodities. But, he said, such interventions were never enough because it never went round the people.  Musa said gradually, people began to find ways to fend for themselves by whatever means and they are systematically mixing up with the people around the Apo axis 

   “We discovered that whatever NEMA brought to assist us are never enough and we would go to the primary school and fight just to get a ration.  We don’t want all these rice, blankets, buckets and all that. We are not saying they are not good, but we want to have jobs so that we can provide for ourselves”.  

   He said government should ensure that peace return to their communities so that they can go back there adding,  “ we are like fish out of water here.  Our boys sleep anywhere outside around this place. They just wake up each day without anything in mind to do.  They are mixing gradually with their immediate environment just to have something to do.  It is difficult to get them in one place unless we are told that NEMA would be coming and then we go round to areas where they are and gather them together at the primary school.  For how long are we going to continue that way”.

   The tale at the Dogongada camp is not different.  With the estimated population of about 700, the people said they had to run for their lives and leave everything they had behind.  The people are already getting diffused into the village.  They are no longer in one place but clustered in groups and families who can afford to take some of them in their homes. When The Guardian made its first trip to the village, some aides of the village head said no displaced persons’ camp existed in the village. 

   However, those at the New Kuchingoro camp insisted that there were IDPs at Dogongada and The Guardian had to make a second trip to the village in company with one of the IDPs in New Kuchingoro.  At Dogongada,  Emmanuel Zakariya, said that the IDPs did not, at any time, officially register their presence with the village head.  He said that was why The Guardian was told that they did not exist in the village.  Ironically, one of the places where the IDPs were clustered is just two houses away from the village head’s house.  Zakariya said there were about 42 of them in that cluster alone.  He said he and some of the people arrived the village in January 2014 after they left Gwoza. He explained that they could not access the FCT through the normal route, so they had to find their way to Mitchika in Adamawa state before they were able to come to Abuja.

   Martha Titus lamented that their children are at home and they could not go to school.  She said the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) distributed mats, food items and other essential commodities to them when they arrived initially and since then, nothing had been given to them again, while no one is asking how they are surviving.  Her main concern, however, is the fact that their young children are out of school and the parents are helpless about the development. 

    Her words, “We are not happy about what we are going through. We want to go back to our homes. Look at our children just playing around. They cannot go to school and the painful thing is that they do not even know the implication of that.  They are too young to know now. Government should make our homes habitable for us so that we can go back home.  Individuals had been assisting us here. They are trying their best but there is nothing like being in your own home”.

    At the New site camp around the Area 1 axis, the occupants also told their tales of woe in the hands of the Boko Haram sect.  Some of them occupy a three storey uncompleted building, while majority of them are in shanties around the area.  Two of the rooms on the ground floor of the uncompleted building are used as school for the children who are between ages two and eight.           The Guardian was informed that older children are out there to fend for themselves in order to survive. Just like the tales told in other camps, NEMA had come and gone.  The agency was said to have distributed relieve items to the people and they are now left to the mercy of individuals and whatever they can afford to make for themselves.

Samson Job explained that the total number of IDPs in the area is well over 2,000.  He said the only thing paramount in their minds is the desire to go back to their homes because, according to him, nothing can be compared to the comfort of one’s home.  Asked if they are desirous to vote during the up-coming general elections, Job answered in the affirmative but noted that the only constraint is that they do not have voters’ cards. 

     “We want to go back to our homes.  This is not life. We had to gather these children so that we can teach them little things.  They have a general class, but when it is time to learn Arabic, the christian among them will move to another class.  The separation is necessary because, as you know, the christian among them cannot learn Arabic.  No one is paying the teachers, it is just something we are doing in order to keep the children busy and the older ones are all over the place, looking for ways of survival.  We would like to vote, but we don’t have our cards here.  Every one of us left our homes in a hurry. When you are running for your live, voters’ card will not be a priority. It would be the last thing on your mind.  The only thing we wanted at that moment was just for God to help us escape with all our children, even if material things had to be left behind”.

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