Victims of bomb blasts across the country cry out for help having seemingly been abandoned by the government
By Tosin Omoniyi
As she speaks of her travails, she intermittently wipes off the tears trickling down her cheeks. At a point, she could not restrain her emotions any more as she wailed, the tears no longer dripping but pouring.
Looking at the reporter apologetically, she sniffles and makes a poor attempt at smiling.
“I am not usually like this. I am an independent woman who takes on challenges as they come, but at times, one cannot help but give in to emotions especially when the life of a small girl is involved,” she says, unsuccessfully using her calloused hands to wipe off a new wave of tears threatening to fall from her eyes.
The small girl whom Favor Ndubisi Duke referred to was her six year old daughter who was killed in the bomb explosion that rocked Abuja’s Emab Plaza in June 2014. Favour also lost her husband in that tragedy.
A month before the 34 year-old anguish – stricken mother lost her husband and child, they had buried her mother-in-law, whose death had thrown the entire family into agony as a result of its unexpected nature and the huge expenses they incur burying her.
Just as the family was recovering from that sorrow, the latest tragedy struck, perhaps, eternally taking away Duke’s smiles. She still remembers the day as if it were yesterday, she says.
“We just finished a week long fast. I was at home that day expecting my husband to return so we could go to church together for the evening service. When he didn’t come on time, I decided to prepare for church with the hope that he would join me there. He never came back,” she narrates.
“I now live from hand to mouth. I can hardly feed my young girl. Sometimes I feel like just giving up but I can’t when I look at the face of this young girl. Even my husband’s family has deserted us. The church can only do the little it can. My daily concern is how to fend for my daughter and it is getting increasingly difficult,” she says.
Duke is an unemployed banking and finance graduate and the death of her husband has made matters even worse as she now has to rely on a fledgling daycare business she had just started, with only one child.
While Duke’s case may appear to be really sad, at least she is lucky to still be alive. After all, as they say, when there is life, there is hope.
But for Hope Musa, there is no such thing as hope as her voice has been permanently silenced. An indigene of Taraba State, Musa who was badly injured by the blast at Emab died a few weeks ago after fruitless efforts to get the required finance to take care of his mounting medical bills.
Friends who were close to Musa said the soft spoken victim died with his heart full of bitterness and deep resentment against a country he felt had abandoned him. He had unsuccessfully sought for funds to finance vital surgeries that would have saved his life.
Olamide Omotayo, 30, another victim of the blast and a mother of three is among the lucky ones as the price she has to pay for being at the scene of the blast is a slight limp as a result of injuries sustained on her hip.
But she still wakes up in the middle of the night terrified obviously still unable to get over the horrific experience of April 14, even more than a year after the blast.
She still needs to undergo a couple of surgeries but fears that financial challenges may eventually hinder her chances of fully recovering from the effect of the blast.
Omotayo, who nearly lost her life in the April 14, 2014 Nyanya bus station explosion, still recalls the day vividly.
“I was about to board a bus when the blast occurred. It was just a few minutes after 6am. All I heard was the blast and the next thing I discovered was that I was meters away, sitting on the bare ground with people screaming all around me. How I still held unto my bag, I don’t know till date,” she says, with a slight smile.
At the time of the blast, Omotayo was still breastfeeding her youngest child, who was then just few weeks old. After the blast, she was hospitalized for about six weeks at the National Hospital, Abuja, where the Federal Capital Territory Administration, FCTA, took care of her medical bills. Even then, she still had to spend an extra N100, 000 to undergo surgeries which were not paid for by the FCTA.
“As I speak with you, I still have shrapnel lodged in the hip which hinders my smooth movement. I still pay for medical treatment months after I was discharged. The blast also affected my ability to work fully and I now rely solely on what my husband brings home for our sustenance,” she adds.
Her husband, Sefiu, is however grateful that his wife survived the horrible incident even though he observed that the government had not done enough to alleviate the sufferings of the victims.
“The government said they would support the victims with money to take care of their injuries and assist them get back on their feet. But, as I speak with you, apart from the support received from the FCT, the federal government appears not to have done much to help these people,” he said.
Musa Baba, another victim no longer hears clearly as a result of injuries sustained in his ears during the bomb blast that rocked Suleja, Niger State on April, 11, 2011. He recalls that he was in the company of fellow youth corps members, at the offices of the Independent National Electoral Office, INEC, when the bomb went off.
Baba who showed our reporter a ragged scar on one of his legs told icirnigeria.org that he was lucky to be alive. He said medical doctors had given him three options on how he could recover his hearing. “One is to allow time to heal the ears. Two is to use hearing aid and the third option is to operate on it. But how do I get the funds to do that?” he wonders.
He says that government has not done enough to help the victims, forcing many of them to resign themselves to fate.
“I had to sell my property and plots of land to treat myself. My family members and friends also helped me out,” he said.
Victims of bomb blast in July took their fate in their hands and came together to form the Bomb Victims Association of Nigeria, BVAN, in order to effectively support one another and equally have a united front to present their case to relevant authorities.
The group at a press briefing in late July organized to draw attention to members’ plight raised a lot of questions about the Victims Support Fund, VSF, launched in August last year by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Kayode Olatunji, leader of the group, said BVAN had been registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, holds meetings regularly in Abuja and had been able to secure the support of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, through its erstwhile chairman, Chidi Odinkalu.
Olatunji who is a victim of one of the blasts in Suleja said he still suffers severe ear impairment but he cannot go for necessary surgery due to lack of funds.
He said BVAN membership cuts across different ethnic and religious groups, adding that its members were all victims of the various Boko Haram-related bombings that occurred in Nigeria, including the October 2010 bombing of the Eagle Square in Abuja; the United Nations House blast of August 2011; the December 2010 blast at Mogadishu Barracks; the 2011 blast at the catholic church in Madalla, among many other such explosions across the country.
“As a result of prolonged neglect of the victims of this bomb blasts across Northern Nigeria, some of us who initially survived the bombings have died, many due to little or no medical care attention and others as a result of their inability to continue to pay their medical bills or further their treatment here in Nigeria or abroad,” he said.
He added that most of their members suffer from several types of ailments with varying degrees of severity, including first-degree burns, cornea opacity, compound fractures, tympanic membrane as well as intensive nerve and tissue injuries.
Odinkalu, who was instrumental to the founding of the bomb victims association said that he advised the members to come together and call attention to their problems after he realized that government was probably not interested in doing anything for them.
“The issues raised went to the heart of the primary duty of government. I tried to make representations but determined early enough that official priorities were probably different. In my view, the only way to make progress was to get them organised as an advocacy body and mutual support initiative,” he observed.
The Jonathan administration had in July 2014 set up the Theophilus Danjuma-led Victims Support Fund, VSF, to mobilize funds for victims of insurgency and Boko Haram terror activities all over the country.
In August 2014, at an elaborate fundraising dinner, the Fund raised over N80bn which was intended for disbursement to the affected victims. Jonathan said the fundraising was part of the government’s efforts to raise funds so that those widowed and orphaned as well as those whose businesses, homes and places of worship had been vandalized could be catered for.
However, many of the victims who spoke to icirnigeria.org, including officials of BVAN say they are yet to receive anything out of the funds raised to assist them.
All attempts to get the reaction of the Executive Director, Nigerian Foundation for the Support of Victims of Terrorism also known as the Victim Support Fund, VSF, Sunday Ochoche, proved abortive, as his cellphones were switched off for over three days. A text message sent to his cellphone was also not responded to.
Last week, the Fund announced that it was giving N10, 000 cash gifts to 410 pregnant women at the Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camp in Maiduguri, capital of Borno State.
Speaking at the presentation at the Government House, Maiduguri, Ochoche said that the cash gift was to complement the efforts of the state government and the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA.
It would also be recalled that VSF last month said it had commenced issuing cheques to “deserving hospitals” for the treatment of the victims of the bombing by Boko Haram. It said the first seven hospitals selected were issued with cheques of N20 million each to treat victims under their care. A memorandum of understanding was equally said to have been signed between the VSF and the selected health facilities.
The University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, UMTH, and the State Specialist Hospital, Maiduguri, were among hospitals selected, while other hospitals in Yobe, Adamawa and Gombe states were also said to have been given funds to treat victims of the insurgency.
But the N20 million given to seven hospitals would amount to N140 million, still a far cry from more than N80 billion the Fund realized at its launch.
Ochoche, who signed the MoU on behalf of the federal government, said the funds were aimed at assisting the hospitals treat victims of bomb blasts under their care, adding that the Fund would deploy more funds to the various hospitals selected as soon as those pledges made during the fundraising dinner were redeemed.
“The decision of the VSF is to make sure that all these hospitals are assisted to perform at their minimum best in treatments and taking care of all victims of Boko Haram attacks in the affected states of Borno, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe, Plateau, and Taraba in the North East sub-region of this country,” he stated.
“We at the Victims Support Funds are aware that we cannot meet all the challenges that your hospitals face in the treatment of victims of terror attacks, however, the presentation that we are making is to assist you deliver better services to victims of terror attacks that are usually brought to your hospitals,” Ochoche further said during the presentation of the cheques.
The VSF chief said that about N24 billion has so far been received by the Fund. The Premium Times also reported that Danjuma had during a meeting in July told President Muhammadu Buhari, that out of the N55.92 billion pledged at the fund-raising dinner in August 2014, only N23.33 billion had been redeemed; about N33.54 billion was yet to be redeemed, including the N5 billion pledged by the Federal Government.
President Buhari directed the Head of Service of the Federation, Danladi Kifasi, to facilitate the immediate release of the N5 billion pledged by the past administration and it was confirmed last week that the government had redeemed the pledge. It was also confirmed that the banking and finance sector too had redeemed up to N2 billion it pledged.
One of the big questions being asked by blast victims is why the funds currently sitting in four different banks had not been disbursed to those in dire need of them. BVAN’s secretary, Musa Audu, said there are many questions he hopes would be answered when the association is formally launched this month in Abuja.
“We intend to invite President Muhammadu Buhari and all the 36 state governors and other prominent people in Nigeria to the launching. We don’t need to be told what bomb victims are going through. We were victims ourselves. BVAN will be the voice of the voiceless and, if possible, handle issues of all bomb victims nationwide. We hope BVAN will be properly funded. We intend to work alongside NEMA and other relevant agencies,” he said.
Odinkalu is hopeful that the association would be able to galvanise support for its members from government and grow to become an entity that can initiate and fund programmes for the benefit of bomb victims.
“The Association is now incorporated and its trustees are up and running. We’re working on helping them get an office and getting members of the association to get it going with programmes on mutual support, rehabilitation, trauma support, care and counselling. We’re looking for volunteers psychologists, doctors, orthopaedic surgeons, to help with different kinds of care,” he stated.
However, even while the victims embark on this self-help effort, Odinkalu insists that the government must fulfil its promises to them, particularly since it has raised money for that purpose.
“My personal view is that a Victims Support Fund has to be seen to fully involve and integrate victims and their representatives in its priorities and programmes. That is not yet the case in our situation,” he said.