Nigeria is hard, but much worse for IDPS, PWDs in Benue state

AFTER witnessing killings, losing family members and property to armed attacks, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at Ichwa IDP, Makurdi, Benue state, are facing economic challenges compounded by the ongoing impact of fuel subsidy removal, the ICIR’s Mustapha Usman reports.


Before President Bola Tinubu announced the removal of the fuel subsidy, forty-seven-year-old Akwacha Mary, who was displaced by suspected herdsmen last year in Ajimaka village, Guma LGA of Benue state, found it hard to afford two meals a day.

Until the attack that displaced her from her home and left her husband dead, her family boasted of two hectares of land where they cultivated and planted crops and consequently fend for their immediate and extended family. 

But now, things have become much more difficult for her as she can hardly afford food and medicines for herself and her family with the meagre profits she earns from making brooms in Makurdi IDP camp due to market inflation.

Despite the responsibility of caring for her three children, Mary mentioned that she now relies on the government and individuals to provide food for them in the camp, which she said is scarce, arriving only once every two or three months and barely lasting for two weeks.

Akwaga Mary
Akwacha Mary, with other displaced women in Ichwa IDP camp. Pc: The ICIR

“The government does assist us with food, but the population outnumbers the food. Imagine the quantity of food that will be shared with 2,403 households. Most times, we get a measure (mudu, as it is popularly called by the IDPs) of rice, bean and garri, and that only lasts for a week, especially for people who have many children,” Mary said.

The ICIR gathered the Markudi IDP camp, which has a total population of about 14,315 and a  household of 2,403, having to share relief materials from the government and individuals or humanitarian aid that visit the camp.

Occupants of the camp, made of makeshift tents, were sacked by terrorists in different parts of the state and have been seeing an influx of people since at least 2013. The insecurity in Benue state has been long-standing but has been much more deadly in recent times, with an increase in the reported number of casualties.

Gabriel Yev, one of the stakeholders of the IDP camp, who was displaced by terrorists, stated that the Camp usually gets 250 25kg of rice, 250 25kg of Beans, 100 bags of Garri  100 bags, 17 gallons of 20liters of palm oil, 15 gallons of 20liters of vegetable oil. These provisions were supposed to be every month, but they now bring it every two months, with the last one being in October 2023. 

He said, “Even though the foodstuffs are shared per household, it still makes no meaning because the highest a household can get is one mudu, and some households have up to 5,6 members or even more. For example, in my family, I have six children, myself and my wife. As such, the items make no meaning.”

Yev, in January 2024, told The ICIR that they have yet to receive the provisions for December last year.

By The ICIR calculation, a mudu of rice or garri consists of about eight tin cups of rice or garri.

With the little they get from the government, life has been so difficult for the IDPs, like Mary and Gabriel, particularly since the removal of the fuel subsidy as they continue to battle to fend for themselves and their family and could not return to their villages due to the non-stop attacks by bandits.

Just like The ICIR findings that there has been at least a 50 per cent increase in some of the foodstuff, the camp occupants explained that they now get a mudu of rice and for N1500 and N1100, what they used to get at N800 and N500 respectively.

‘Fuel subsidy is gone’ 

On May 29, Nigeria’s new President, Bola Tinubu, declared in his inaugural address that his administration would remove the fuel subsidy. The announcement immediately led to fuel queues as many retailers shut their filling stations, hoarding their stock and creating scarcity with a view to hiking fares later.

Two days later, the Nigeria National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCLtd) officially increased the pump price of petrol by about 200 per cent. The NNPCLtd, in a statement signed by its chief corporate communications officer, Garba Deen Muhammed, explained it was adjusting price upward “in line with current market realities,” adding that “prices will continue to fluctuate to reflect market dynamics.”

The development has, however, led to a sharp rise in the cost of transportation on the different routes and unprecedented inflation of products across the country.

In one of its approaches to cushion the effect of fuel subsidy removal by the Federal Government was the disbursement of N5bn financial support to each state.

While Benue has confirmed it has received N2bn from the total amount, IDPs and People with Disability (PWDs) told The ICIR that they have not received any improved intervention from the government to cushion the effect of the subsidy.

This was despite the promise by the Benue State Governor, Hyacinth Alia, that the palliatives would be used to provide food items like rice in large quantities to each of the 23 local government areas in the state and also provide grants to 5,000 women in the state based on the revised social register of the women cooperatives, among other things.

No subsidy palliatives for poorer Nigerians in Benue

Mary Yev, one of the victims of insecurity attacks in Benue state.
Mary Yev, one of the victims of insecurity attacks in Benue state.

When Mary Yev, 75, learnt about the fuel subsidy removal, she never thought of the immediate impact. In fact, she didn’t know how it would affect her living and wouldn’t bother thinking about it until a week that followed when she was told a mudu of rice had increased by over 50 per cent.

She often managed to get two mudu at N1600 to support whatever the government gave for two weeks. In the case where they didn’t receive any assistance from the government, she managed to get one more mudu of rice and a mudu of beans.

Mary, who was a victim of an attack from suspected militant herdsmen in Tse anwayo Geebe, Makurdi LGA, works as a miller in one of the milling factories near the IDPs, where she earns less than a thousand naira as profit. 

“I go to the rice mill to help millers winnow their rice. Sometimes they give you a mudu or more, depending on the number of bags”, she stated. 

The ICIR gathered that for over two months, the camps’ occupants have not received any food from the government or benefit from the palliatives meant to cushion the negative impact of the fuel subsidy removal.

Mary’s situation mirrors the plights of all the IDPs who spoke to The ICIR as they revealed that they have not benefitted from the fuel subsidy removal palliatives in the camp.

Speaking to the assistant women leader of the camp, Mercy Nyishember, explained that some of the IDPs engage in street begging, re-winnowing of rice chaff to at least get a meal in a day.

“It’s not easy for us to take care of ourselves and our families, and as such, some people engage in so many difficult means to meet their end, such as street begging, re-winnowing the rice chaff from the rice mills, etc.

“I am aware of the fuel subsidy palliative, but here in the state, we were told that the government instead of giving it to the people, he used it to buy about 100 busses to be carrying people at a lesser cost to ease the transportation cost”

‘We live a tough life…’

Life has been tough for people living in Makurdi IDP camp in the past few months as most families are hoping to get enough sustenance from the government or put an end to insecurity so they can go back home and continue with their agricultural activities.

Mama Kwartakpa, as fondly called, lost her two children to the cold hands of bandits. The attack also led to her displacement and since then has had to battle survival alone.
Mama Kwartakpa (as she is fondly called) lost her two children to the cold hands of bandits. The attack also led to her displacement, and since then has had to battle survival alone.

Sixty-five-year-old Kwartakpa Orke, who lost two of her children during one of the attacks on her village, Tse-orke Anter mbalagh Mbagwen Makurdi LGA, explained to The ICIR that she sometimes thinks of death as the only means of relief from the hardship she has been putting through.

“I came here because of the Fulani crisis that engulfed my community that brought me here. In the cause of the attacks, two of My children were killed, leaving me alone here. It’s been a sober experience, at times, I feel like taking my life, but because everything is hard. 

“There is no means of livelihood apart from the government and well-wishers. The food the government gives us is not enough because most times, we get only a mudu of whatever they bring, and they expect us to live on it for months. 

This was the same story for Justina Sha from Umenger Village Guma LGA Benue. 

Another displaced person who has been battling survival amid the ongoing economic hardship.
Another displaced individual enduring the challenges of survival amidst the ongoing economic hardships.

Until last year, when the gun-blazing bandits attacked her village, Justina and her four children lived with her husband, who catered for all her family’s needs and made sure they had food to eat three times daily.

However, on that ill-fated day, when the terrorists attacked her village, her husband was not spared and was caught by a bullet. Since then, she has been working so hard at the IDPs to cater for her three children.

This experience has now been compounded by the economic hardship that trailed the removal of fuel subsidies.

“I go to the rice mill to help millers winnow their rice, and they give me the little rice they can at the end of the day. Even though we did receive help from the government a few months ago, it was not meaningful because of our large number.”

Sick Nigerians, PWDs face more hardship

Deorun Jatto
Deorun Jato, living Ichwa IDP camp, Markurdi, Benue.

Deorun Jato had been battling sickness since early last year but had stopped going for medical check-ups as of August 2023 due to the inability to afford the associated bills.

Jato explained to The ICIR that before, she used to rely on well-wishers to take care of her medical bills, but it has been a while since she received any help from the Non-governmental Organisation.

Just as she explained to The ICIR, there are no public health centres in the camp for sick people who need medical attention. “There is no hospital in the camp. The government only promised to get one for us few weeks ago but they have not,” she said.

“If not because of economic hardship, I would have gone for a checkup now, but I can’t do anything, except a visitor come in and decide to pay for my medication.”

As of December 2020, Nigeria has over 2.7 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), the third largest in Sub-Saharan Africa, behind Congo Democratic Republic and Somalia.  In 2020, Conflict and violence led to 169,000 new displacements.

In 2021, the government signed a revised edition of the National Policy on IDPs. The policy states that all wounded, infirm, and IDPs with a disability shall receive medical care to the extent practicable, which shall include psychological and social services whenever necessary. This policy was first introduced in 2012 before it was reviewed last year.

Christiana Udoo Ordue, a person living with disability in the Ichwa IDPs, has seen her challenges miltiplied in recent time.
Christiana Udoo Ordue, a person living with a disability in the Ichwa IDP camp, has seen her challenges multiply in recent times.

For Christiana Udoo Ordue, 70, who has already faced socio-economic challenges due to her blindness, the removal of fuel subsidies has deepened these hardships.

Consequently, Ordue has been compelled to forego necessary medications or treatment due to financial constraints, thus exacerbating her health conditions.

“Actually, it’s been a long story because I survived this fulani crisis for two consecutive times. Being blind is completely a new life, where I have to completely depend on sympathisers to survive.

“So everything is getting tough now. A mudu of rice we used to buy at N700 is now N1500 and it’s not like I am working that i can afford the increment.”

State government shifts blame, fails to comment

On Monday, December 18, The ICIR reached out to Charity Agber, the information officer of the Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), seeking SEMA’s response to its findings regarding the fuel subsidy palliative and the frequency of welfare package distribution to the Ichwa IDPs. Agber initially informed this reporter that she was no longer authorised to speak to the media.

When this reporter pushed further, she requested the questions be sent and assured that she would forward them to the relevant authority for a possible response. However, upon receiving the Agency’s reply, it stated, ‘Anything palliatives on fuel subsidy removal is under the of the Governor and not from SEMA.’

Meanwhile, Agber failed to provide information about the regular welfare packages for the IDPs and how frequently the Agency distributes them, even after additional inquiries from the reporter.






     

     

    Similarly, The ICIR reached out to the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Tersoo Kula, requesting to know why the state government has not distributed fuel subsidy palliatives to the IDPs and PWDs in Ichwa camp, he told the reporter that the issue bordering on humanitarian is manned by SEMA and he has sent the question to them for debriefing.

    This was despite this reporter having to wait for days to get his response, with consistent reminders through phone calls and SMS.

    He also noted that they (SEMA officials) are the ones who have the idea of how they distribute the palliative and can respond appropriately on the issue.

    This investigative story is produced with support from Safer-Media Initiative under The Collaborative Media Engagement for Development, Inclusiveness, and Accountability Project of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ), funded by the MacArthur Foundation.

    Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: [email protected]. He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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