By Beloved John
In this report, WikkiTimes’ Beloved John reports that despite the well-publicised reports of several cases of killings and kidnappings and the displacement of thousands of villagers by bandits, the Kebbi State government still claims that banditry only operates from neighbouring States.
“I have to return home. There is no means of survival. Even this place is not safe. If I don’t, this building may collapse on me one day,” Salamatu Mohammed said, pointing to the deeply cracked wall of an uncompleted building that serves as a shelter for herself, her children, and her husband.
Salamatu is a 45-years-old woman from Sakaba village, who has seven children whom she looks after with her husband. Before her displacement, Salamatu tended to the fields and livestock, working as a farmer with her husband. This provided their primary daily income.
Now living as a displaced person in Dirin Daji, a community in Sakaba Local Government Area (LGA) in Kebbi state, Salamatu describes her new life as one filled with difficulty. Despite the violent attacks in her settlement, the mother is determined to return.
“This place is anything but comfortable. There’s no food, and the shelter puts our lives at more risk. My kids have been complaining about this place. They are tired and want to go back home, and so am I. I will leave this place in a week or two,” she explained.
Like Salamatu and her family, many IDPs in the south of Kebbi are struggling with the lack of basic life necessities like food, safe shelter, and sheltering materials. For this group, survival as an IDP is a struggle. A struggle many find unbearable. Hence they are compelled to return to their settlement, risking their safety.
The mother explained that she was preparing dinner that faithful evening in March when she suddenly heard gunshots. Immediately she ran with her children into the bush, where they all spent the night. The family decided to leave the settlement the next morning when the gunshot persisted.
Salamatu described her to Dirin-daji as hours of constant stress, fear, and panic.
Banditry displaces thousands in Kebbi
Armed banditry is a major security challenge in the northwest that has killed many and displaced thousands.
An estimate by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), puts the number of people who have fled bandit violence and remained displaced between 2011 – 2021 at about 200,000.
In Kebbi state, armed banditry is uprooting residents of several rural settlements from their homes. These communities are often located in Zuru emirate, one of the four emirates that make up the state. The others are Gwandu, Argungu and Yauri.
Over 10,000 people have been uprooted from their homes within three years, an investigation by PRNigeria revealed. WikkiTimes also learned that more than 2000 villagers had been displaced within the last four months.
But the problems they encounter are not limited to their displacement; there are also problems of shelter, hunger, and the absence of a source of livelihood. Many of the displaced do not receive organised assistance and are in desperate need of basic necessities.
Despite the continuous displacement of villagers in remote settlements, there is yet to be an official IDP camp. Those affected often settle in abandoned buildings and makeshift camps.
‘We must leave, we cannot survive here’
According to the Nigeria national policy on Internally displaced persons, the government must address the human suffering of internally displaced persons in all its forms wherever found.
It mandates the government to provide humanitarian assistance for displaced persons.
The state government is primarily responsible for providing humanitarian support to displaced indigenous.
It stipulates that the State government is responsible for the welfare of its indigenes while the federal government is concerned with the welfare of all Nigerian citizens.
The policy highlighted food and shelter among the essential needs that should be provided for IDPs. It also stipulates that
In the course of controlling the impact of internal displacement, the policy dictates that affected persons must be treated with dignity.
However, the reality of IDPs in Kebbi contradicts that stipulated in the national policy for displaced persons.
For Mohammed, life in Sakaba IDP camp made his bandit-targeted settlement a dignified option for them.
In February, the 45-year-old first sought refuge in Dirin-daji after a group of heavily armed men invaded his settlement, shooting sporadically and killing everything in sight. Mohammed said he was lucky to have escaped the village unharmed with his family.
But the hunt for food, sheltering materials, and a means of livelihood forced him, his wife, and seven children back home two weeks after they arrived in Dirin-daji.
Having escaped with nothing but the clothes they had on, Mohammed’s family became vulnerable and unable to meet most of their basic needs.
Hence, he decided to return to his village with his family. This was for a short period as increased attacks on his community forced the family to flee.
Back again in Dirin-daji, the family faced another serious crisis. They were entirely out of food supplies. This time, they settled in an uncompleted building that Mohammed described as abandoned. The building has four rooms which were shared by four different families, no doors, no windows, and a deeply cracked wall.
Sitting on a wooden stool outside his shelter, Mohammed described how his family has been dealing with a difficult situation.
Every day, he leaves the house searching for people in need of manual labour. He renders whatever service is asked for in exchange for a merger amount.
“It is not a dignified life but we need to survive,” Mohammed acknowledged. “This is why I still wish to go back home. I have to return. There is no one to support us.
“We will go back and if they attack, we will come back here. When the bandits attack, we will leave and after a while, we will also return. We cannot survive here. This might be our destiny. This is what God has destined for us.”
IDP endangered in a makeshift shelter
The situation is not any different for IDPs in Danko Wasago local government. One Friday evening in March, one of the classrooms in government secondary school Ribah, inhabited by a displaced family, collapsed, although the family escaped uninjured.
Dindiri Zuna, the mother of 11 was having a super that Friday evening when suddenly, the wall of her shelter crumbled. Zuna had been sitting close to the wall.
Terrified by the incident, Zuna ran out of the building with slight bruises on her body.
The mother said she was overwhelmed by fear. And so did her children. They were horrified by the fall because they suspected that the building had fallen on Zuna.
The incident forced Zuna to reflect on her past. Had she been in her home in Likwakida, she would have had a quiet supper and a pleasant night.
But that home was lost to banditry in late February. It was one of many attacks in the community. Only this time, it was more intense, and it forced many residents out of their homes.
Now living in school, she wishes for nothing but to return home. Back at home, she had lived with sufficiency, and now, she has to rely on the goodwill of villagers in her new community to survive.
On some days, they fetch woods from the bush, sell them and use the money to feed, other times, they stay hungry because they have nothing to eat.
Safe shelter, relief material not provided
Galadima Yantacha has spent months in the Government Primary school Ribah. But he has yet to see government officials visit the camp to provide support and even promises one.
The 54-year-old said everyone residing in the camp has to fend for themselves as that is the only viable means of survival.
Having lost all his belongings in a violent attack in March, survival has been a major challenge.
Galadima decried the difficult situation, lack of essential materials and the wide variety of needs that were unavailable to him and many others in the camp.
“We all have to rely on support from random people. There’s no food and almost no way to source for it. We have not had any encounters with the government. Since I have been here, no government official has visited, not to talk of providing food items. It is a horrible situation,” he said.
The state authorities are aware of the thriving insecurity but are unwilling to provide adequate support, according to Fidelis Baba, the spokesperson of Zuru Emirate Development Society, a non-governmental organisation in Kebbi that supports victims of banditry in the state.
“ The living conditions in these places are terrible. The building is congested and the people are struggling to survive.
There’s no official centre for victims. This group of people do not have a place to stay, so they are mostly found in schools, mosques, churches, and abandoned buildings. The government is aware that there are people in need of accommodation, but nothing has been done to provide good shelter. There’s the need to do more. The government should prioritise humanitarian assistance and protection of the victims,” he said.
He stated that the human suffering of IDPs must be addressed in all its forms.
He emphasised the need to ensure that displaced persons are provided for with the primary objective of saving lives, supporting livelihoods, and reducing vulnerability.
Victims recount struggle for survival
Lawali Usman has lived as an IDP in Ribah, Sakaba council for only three months. However, he has tried resettling in his village multiple times without success. Every time he embarks on this risky endeavour, he is accompanied by his wife and seven children because he believes they would not survive in his absence.
Although the camp offers protection, the lack of support from the government as to the provision of shelter and other necessities, many IDPs living in Ribah prefer to return home.
For Usman, the lack of food, safe sheltering materials, sanitation, and safe sleeping space for his seven children is highly disturbing.
Although he has lost his properties, the 37-year-old still believes that reintegration into normal life cannot be achieved in the IDP camp where he is entirely dependent and has to live from hand to mouth.
Imada, another IDP in the community, also sought to resettle until he ran into the group of bandits occupying his hometown. Despite losing his properties in early 2022, Imada had determined to move back home and start over. But he was stopped by bandits, who harassed and sent him out of his village.
He was warned to leave Matari, his village, and never return. The IDP, who felt fortunate to be left unharmed, described himself as lost and confused.
“Few days after staying in Dirin- daji, I decided to relocate back home. I had assumed that the bandits would only loot the village and leave afterwards. But I met them there. They paraded the village with their ammunition. I was asked to leave and never return. They also ordered me to pass the information across to others,” he explained.
The government focused on resettlement of IDPs
When WikkiTimes contacted the chairman of the National Emergency Management Agency of Nigeria (NEMA) in the state, Sani Dodo, he refused to speak on the subject, stating he was too occupied to address the situation. Also, efforts to get the special Adviser on security to the governor, Garba Rabiu Kamba to respond to the story proved abortive as he did pick up calls or reply to the text message sent to him.
However, When contacted, the chairman of Danko Wasago local government, Aliyu Hassan Bena, said the state has no need for an IDP camp in the state.
Despite the increased violence and insecurity caused by frequent bandit attacks, Bena affirmed that the state government is dedicated to resetting the idps into their village and not creating a centralised camp in the state.
There’s no need for a centralised IDP camp in the state. Most displaced persons here return to their villages after a short while. This is because the government is focused on the resettlement of these people. Creating an IDP camp has a lot of crisis and that why the government is doing it best to ensure that victims can resettle into their communities,”
The chairman also claimed that most IDPs in the state are not indigenes of the state. According to him, the IDPs present from neighbouring states like Zamfara, although a Wikki Times investigation revealed otherwise.
He also noted that the government has been supportive by providing relief materials in the form of food, shelter, and healthcare.
“Most of the IDPs present are not from Kebbi. Rather, they are from Zamfara and they are here in Kebbi because of the safety the state provides.
“On several occasions, the government has provided food for victims. We also support the victims with food relief materials and health care. Most of them are supported and are in good condition,” he said
The absence of support exposes the victim to further exploitation — Expert
The deficiency of government support to mitigate the growing humanitarian crisis is an infringement of the right of the IDPs, according to Timothy Avele, a Nigerian security analyst.
He explained that when situations like this are allowed to thrive, IDPs who are already dealing with difficulty can be exploited by the terrorist group.
“Such a situation provides a breeding ground for mass recruitment of the locals by the terrorists either by fear or by force. It also infringes on their rights because the sole responsibility of the government is to provide security and safety to its citizens and failure means the government has failed.
“This now poses a serious threat not only to Kebbi state but to the entire country and beyond. When people are pushed to the wall then you can’t expect peace in any form because there’s an endurance limit.
“ The villagers are also prone to continuous illegal taxes by the terrorists, inhumane treatment but the gravest of all is the possible partnerships with the terrorists,” he said.
This publication, republished from the WikkiTimes is produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation