By Ihuoma CHIEDOZIE
Internally displaced persons resident in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja are finding it more difficult to get by during the COVID period. Ihuoma CHIDOZIE visited six IDP camps in the FCT to report about the condition of living of this vulnerable group.
“During the lockdown, the National Emergency Management Agency came here with two buckets and liquid soap so that we can wash our hands for prevention of the coronavirus disease. But they did not bring foodstuffs or any other palliatives for us, even though our major problem is hunger,” Luka Yadume said, sadness and despair written all over his face as he spoke of the travails of internally displaced persons at an IDP camp in New Kuchingoro, a sleepy village in the Abuja Municipal Area Council of the Federal Capital Territory.
The interview with Yadume took place during a visit to the IDP camp on July 13, 2020. Yadume is the secretary of the camp, which has about 2,000 residents, mostly refugees from Borno and Adamawa states, who had been displaced from their homes by Boko Haram.
The New Kuchingoro IDP camp, a ramshackle, squalid, barely habitable cluster of tents made of tarpaulin, zinc and fabric, sprang up in 2014 in what was hitherto undeveloped hectares of land filled with cashew trees.
Six years after the IDPs settled in the camp, the residents still lack the most basic amenities.
Some old women sat on the floor, under the tree shade, looking on, silently, as Yadume spoke of challenges faced by residents of the camp. Children, clad in dirty and torn clothes, ran about the camp, seemingly oblivious of their unfortunate situation. The few youths around sat in a group under another tree, discussing in subdued tones.
The Federal Government, through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, reportedly spent billions of naira on palliatives to vulnerable Nigerians during the recent lockdown that followed the outbreak of the COVID – 19 disease in the country.
However, investigations revealed that the IDPs, who should ordinarily be classified among the most vulnerable Nigerians, barely got any palliatives from the government during the period.
”We did not receive any palliatives from the government during the lockdown. We only got support from some NGOs (non-governmental organisations),” Yadume said.
It was the same story in other IDP camps visited during the investigation. Residents of IDP camps at Karamajiji, along airport road, Lugbe; Durumi 1, near Area 1; and Pegi, in Kuje Area Council, all in the FCT, said they did not receive palliatives from the government.
Also, IDPs at a camp in Gurku, in Nasarawa State, as well as those in a camp at Cheku, in Niger State, narrated similar experience.
Yadume said the IDPs at New Kuchingoro have long lost hope in the government.
But he noted that it was highly disappointing that NEMA, a Federal Government agency that coordinates response to disasters, could only bring ‘two buckets and liquid soap’ for IDPs in the camp during the lockdown.
”We heard when the Federal Government said it will feed IDPs for two months during the lockdown but we IDPs in New Kuchingoro did not receive any palliatives.
“The IDPs here in New Kuchingoro have lost interest in the government. We are law-abiding citizens that is why we ran away from our homes, otherwise, some of us could have stayed back to join Boko Haram.
“Look at the environment here. This place is not conducive, especially for children and women. Most of the children are not in school. Also, we have serious issues with healthcare in the camp. There are no facilities for antenatal care for pregnant women,” Yadume said.
He revealed that more than 25 IDPs in the camp died due to the inability to access basic healthcare.
Forced into destitution and penury after losing all they had while fleeing from Boko Haram, the older IDPs among the residents of New Kuchingoro desire a better future for their children.
Yadume was quick to draw a link between lack of education and the Boko Haram insurgency. Uneducated youths, in most cases, are easily recruited by the insurgents.
However, left to fend for themselves, without support from the government, the IDPs had to find ways to educate the children among them. An improvised primary school, run by volunteer teachers, has been set up in the camp.
Explaining further, Yadume said, “Because of the problems caused by the high level of illiteracy in the North-East, which contributed a lot to the insurgency, we decided to establish a school for the children in the camp.
“Our children were growing here without education so we decided that it is important to do something about their education before it is too late so we established a school that is run by volunteer teachers. The school started with three volunteer teachers in 2018 and now we have about 10 volunteer teachers who teach the children regularly.
“Currently, we have kindergarten and early age primary school classes but we need the support of the government. We have students of secondary school level who are not going to school because their parents cannot afford to pay for their education. Most of them dropped out of school after finishing primary six.”
Apart from his role as ‘secretary’ of the IDP camp, Yadume, whose dream of completing higher education was aborted by the Boko Haram insurgency, serves as one of the volunteer teachers.
Lack of basic amenities and neglect by the government is currently the least of the problems faced by the IDPs of New Kuchingoro, as they are now confronted with the threat of imminent eviction from the camp. And they don’t have anywhere to go.
The residents of New Kuchingoro IDP camp may, very soon, become homeless. The land on which the IDPs set up the camp is private property and the owner of the plots has asked them to leave to enable him develop it.
The owner of the property had earlier, in 2019, notified the IDPs of his plan to develop the plots. A fresh eviction notice was issued to the IDPs in June 2020, shortly after the Federal Government started easing the lockdown.
“The owner of the property first came here in 2017 to inform us that this place belongs to him. Then towards the end of 2019 he came again to inform us that he intends to develop the property and that we should leave. He did not come back until June when he came again to ask us to leave. He said he is now ready to develop the property. We have pleaded with him but he said he wants to develop his property. He is insisting that we must leave,” Yadume explained.
The New Kuchingoro IDPs have found themselves in a tight condition – displaced from their homes by the Boko Haram insurgency, they now face the added jeopardy of being evicted from a sanctuary where they have found refuge.
Yadume added, “This is a very difficult time for us and it will not be easy to leave. It is the rainy season and we don’t know anywhere. It will be very difficult for anybody to relocate.”
The IDPs, according to Yadume, had informed the Ministry of Women Affairs of their plight. But they did not get any response.
“We informed the minister of women affairs about our predicament but nothing has been done about it. The government is not involved in the process of relocating us or getting a new place for us. We will have to bear the cost of setting up a new accommodation because the government is not involved in our welfare and we don’t have the resources to set up a new camp,” he said.
Karamajiji IDP Camp
Tales of government neglect also resonated at the Karamajiji IDP camp, near Lugbe, in AMAC, FCT.
The primary school in the IDP camp is a decrepit building, with collapsed ceiling and blocks. Although schools have not reopened as a result of the COVID – 19 pandemic, malnourished looking pupils and their teachers were seen huddled inside the only available classroom.
The school is run by the IDPs with support from an NGO – the Association of Muslim Women.
Suraju Musa, an IDP who introduced himself as the ‘vice headmaster’, stated the obvious when he explained that the school was not conducive for learning.
“We have a lot of problems. The school building is in poor condition. We don’t have facilities for learning. There is no ventilation in the classroom and as a result, during the dry season, it gets very hot and uncomfortable for both pupils and teachers. The roof leaks and rain comes into the classroom during the rainy season.”
“We don’t have funds to run the school and pay teachers’ salaries – the parents of the pupils don’t have enough money to pay school fees. Government is not assisting us, it is only an NGO, the Association of Muslim Women, that has been assisting us,” he added.
Pupils in the school, who number about 500, pay N300 each as school fees. The money realised from the fees is used for teachers’ salaries – the teachers are paid N5000 per month, while the two headteachers, the headmaster and vice headmaster, receive N10,000.
Musa disclosed that the Association of Muslim Women gives the school N15,000 each month. The amount takes care of the salary of three teachers.
Durumi 1 IDP camp
For residents of an IDP camp at Durumi 1, near Area 1, in Abuja Municipal Area Council, access to medical care is currently the biggest challenge, following the suspension of healthcare subvention hitherto provided for the IDPs by the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons.
Chairman of the camp, Ibrahim Ahmadu, a native of Gwoza LGA of Borno State, who was nursing a fresh bullet wound which he blamed on ‘trigger-happy policemen’, explained that before now, IDPs from the camp received free medical care at the National Hospital, Abuja, upon the presentation of a letter from the Commission. But lately, that is no longer the case.
Ahmadu said, “Our major challenge is healthcare. Before now, the National Commission for Refugees usually takes care of the medical bills of our people who are treated at the National Hospital. But now they have stopped doing that. Usually, when we present a letter from the Commission indicating that we are from the IDP camp, the National Hospital will treat us without asking for money and the Commission will pay.
“But now the Commission is no longer issuing letters to our people. They did not tell us why but we learnt that the Commission is owing to the National Hospital a huge sum for previous treatments given to our people.”
The IDP camp at Durumi is located on land that is meant for the construction of the permanent site of a Federal Government agency, and judging by the structures and other amenities at the place, the IDPs there seem to enjoy a comparatively better lease of life than their counterparts in other places.
But Ahmadu also spoke of government neglect, noting that it is only NGOs that have been coming to their aid.
”Some NGOs have been assisting us by bringing foodstuffs and other essential items. An NGO provided two medical doctors who come here to treat our people free of charge. During the lockdown different NGOs and some individuals brought food items for our people,” he said.
The camp, populated mostly by people from Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, currently has 2,830 IDPs.
Apart from medical care, Ahmadu said IDPs in the camp also need foodstuffs, ’empowerment’, education, and financial support.
Gurku IDP camp
Series of disappointing experiences has entrenched a deep sense of distrust for outsiders, including government and private organisations and individuals, among residents of the IDP camp at Gurku, a remote village in the Karu Local Government Area of Nasarawa State.
The camp, occupied mostly by IDPs from Borno and Adamawa states, was initiated by of an individual, Mr. Marcus Gamache, who, reportedly, set up the structures and amenities in the place with support from foreign donors.
IDPs in the camp vehemently refused to give out information, even concerning their challenges. According to them, they have not gained anything from countless occasions in the past when they told visitors about their problems. Rather, they alleged that government agencies and private organisations and individuals who visited the camp to ask about their well-being used the information to enrich themselves.
The camp chairman, Yohanna Zidiko, said he will only talk if presented with gift items for IDPs in the camp.
”The camp initiator has given us instructions regarding how we give out information concerning the camp to visitors, including journalists, NGOs and government officials. We were directed to stop giving out information to anybody. This is because, for more than four years now different organisations and individuals have been visiting this camp to collect information and we have found out that they use the information we give them for their own benefits, without any benefit coming to us.
“That is why the camp initiator instructed that we should not give out any information, and before we give out information we must ensure that the person or organisation seeking that information have brought things for us – no matter how little.
“That is the instruction that was given to us, no matter who it is. Even if the government comes to ask for information we have been instructed not to give them that information,” Zidiko said.
Noting that the IDPs in the camp have become disillusioned after serial disappointing experiences, he added, “There is hardly any government agency that has not come to this camp. Many journalists have been to this camp. In fact, there are few media houses in Abuja and in this Nasarawa that have not visited this camp. Even the current Secretary to the Government of the Federation (Boss Mustapha) before he was appointed as the SGF, came to this place.”
Zidiko refused to reveal the population of the IDP camp. ”I can’t tell you the number of people in the camp. That is one of the information we were instructed not to disclose,” he said.
But he was quick to reveal that the IDPs did not receive any palliatives from government during the lockdown.
“The government did not bring any palliatives for us during the lockdown,” he stressed.
Asked to state what the IDPs in the camp want from the government, Zidiko noted that requesting anything from the government was a waste of time.
“Whether we say it or not we are sure that the government of Nigeria will not do it. We have been here since 2014. There is nothing that the government has done. The Human Rights Commission has come here, even the House of Representatives has visited this place. The Senators representing our areas are here in Abuja. Did they ever send anything to us? Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume is the one representing Gwoza Senatorial District. We have Senator Elisha Abbo representing Mubi Senatorial District. They are aware of this place, they know their people are here, did they do anything? Even President Muhammadu Buhari himself, he is aware of this camp, has he done anything? For more than five years government has not done anything for us,” he said in a dismissive tone.
Pegi IDP settlement
Unlike IDPs in most other places, the displaced persons at the IDP settlement in Pegi, a village in the Kuje Area Council of the FCT, live in rented accommodation. The IDPs, who are mostly indigenes of Chibok town in Borno State who were displaced from their homes by Boko Haram, live among the villagers in the remote rural community.
Rent for the houses occupied by the IDPs varies according to the condition of the building but the regular houses cost N30,000 per annum.
Naomi Joseph, a widow and mother of five, explained that the IDPs engage in farming within the village and neighbouring communities, as a means of livelihood. The farms are also rented, with the rent determined by the size of the farmland. The larger farms are rented for N10,000 per annum, while smaller ones go for N5000, per annum.
The harsh conditions in which the IDPs live was evident from the squalid surroundings, and the dirty, unkempt and malnourished appearance of most of the women and children.
Naomi explained that IDPs in the camp have not had any contact with the government since they moved into the area in 2014. The situation did not change during the lockdown – the IDPs did not receive any palliatives from the government. She added that NGOs hardly visit the camp, which is located in the remotest part of the remote village.
Ironically, Naomi’s husband had succeeded in escaping with his family from Boko Haram attacks back home in Chibok, only to lose his life in an armed robbery attack in the FCT, where he found refuge.
Narrating how her husband died, Naomi said, “My husband brought us here in 2014 after we escaped from Boko Haram attacks in Chibok. He was a businessman before but because we lost everything while escaping from Boko Haram, he had to become an okada rider when we got here. Three years ago armed robbers killed him and collected the okada he was riding.”
The IDPs at Cheku, a rural village in the Lapai Local Government Area of Niger State, were not displaced by insecurity. They were driven from their homes by flooding, a yearly occurrence which usually force them to become temporary refugees. Usually, when the rains start, the river overflows its banks, flooding homes and farmlands, forcing the villagers to vacate their houses and currently, they are taking refuge in a makeshift, open camp set up by the courtyards of offices at the local government secretariat. They will remain refugees until the rains stop.
During a visit to the camp, women, and children, looking helpless and stressed out, sat on mats positioned under trees, which provide shade from the scorching sun. Mosquito nets were placed on the pavement, where the refugees sleep at night. Cooking utensils littered the grounds in the dirty environment. Some of the younger children were observed begging for alms from passers-by along a road in front of the secretariat. One of the IDPs, who simply introduced himself as Hussaini, said they depend on alms from members of the public for survival. Government support is non-existent.
Residents of Muye, another community in Lapai LGA, are also affected by floods. But, so far, they have been spared the disaster since the rains started this year.
IDP situation in Nigeria
Although the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – a UN agency with the mandate to protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people – stipulates that IDPs should be under the protection of their own government, travails of displaced persons in most IDP camps in Nigeria suggests that government at all levels is neglecting the highly vulnerable segment of the society. The situation is more worrisome as worsening insecurity is continuously turning more Nigerians into refugees in their own country.
The level of insecurity in Nigeria has heightened in recent years, due largely to the activities of Boko Haram jihadists and bandits in the northern part of the country. The situation is exacerbated by incessant attacks by armed herdsmen on pastoral communities in the Middle Belt and parts of the South.
Insecurity has led to the displacement of several individuals and households – the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre stated that 2,583,000 Nigerians were living as IDPs, due to conflict and violence, as at December 2019. Disasters, especially flooding, also contributed to the high rate of internal displacement. Disasters accounted for 157,000 new displacements from January 1 to December 31, 2019.
Investigations have shown that IDPs are largely left to fend for themselves, without any support from the government. In all the IDP camps visited across the FCT and parts of Nasarawa and Niger states, IDPs bitterly complained of neglect by the government. Members of all the IDP camps said they did not receive any palliatives from the government during the lockdown.
Federal Government keeps mum
But the Federal Government had said it spent billions of naira to provide palliatives to vulnerable Nigerians across the six geo-political zones during the lockdown.
Officials of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, the ministry which supervised the implementation of the palliatives, refused to respond to questions concerning the non-inclusion of IDPs, who are among the most vulnerable Nigerians, in the palliatives scheme.
When contacted, a spokesperson in the ministry, Rhoda Iliya, said the question should be forwarded to her through SMS. But the SMS sent to her was not replied, and subsequent calls to her mobile phone were not answered.
The amounts the Federal Government claimed it spent to provide palliatives to vulnerable Nigerians during the lockdown has raised eyebrows, and already, a group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, has filed a lawsuit asking the Abuja Federal High Court to order the Federal Government and the Central Bank of Nigeria to disclose the identity of Nigerians who benefited from the programme.
FG pampering ‘repentant’ Boko Haram fighters while neglecting their victims
Yadume, the Secretary of the New Kuchingoro IDP Camp, expressed regrets that the Federal Government was ‘pampering’ ‘repentant’ Boko Haram members, while at the same time neglecting their victims, who have been turned into IDPs. He observed that the development was sending out wrong signals to the youths, who are beginning to believe that they will only be ‘recognised’ by the government if they take up arms.
Ex-Boko Haram fighters are being rewarded with scholarships and employment as part of a ‘reintegration and de-radicalization’ programme implemented by the Federal Government.
“If the government is taking care of the ex-Boko Haram fighters, it is only fair that government should also look after the IDPs who are victims of the Boko Haram insurgents.
“The ex-Boko Haram are the ones who put these IDPs in this situation and neglecting the IDPs while you take care of the ex-Boko Haram is not fair. It now gives the impression that you have to become a Boko Haram member before the government can recognise you. The government should address this situation,” Yadume said.
Not yet safe to go home
Faced with hardship in ‘foreign lands’, the IDPs desire to go back home, where they experienced better days that now seem like a lifetime ago.
However, they also believe that it is not yet safe to return to their homes.
Ahmadu, chairman of the Durumi IDP Camp, noted that the Federal Government was not saying the truth when it declared that Boko Haram has been defeated.
“Unfortunately, the authorities are not being truthful in claiming that Boko Haram has been defeated, the area is still not safe and they are still launching attacks and killing people,” Ahmadu said.
Although he expressed a burning desire to leave the IDP camp and return home, Yadume noted that it will not be possible until a time when it will be safe to do so.
He said, “We will be very happy to go back to our homes but the problem is our homes are still not safe. Boko Haram is still killing people back home. They are killing soldiers and civilians.
“So we can’t think of going back home yet. If it is safe we will be very happy to go back. But for now, we can’t go home. What is the point in losing family members, losing your property and escaping with your life, only for you to go back after some years and you get killed?”