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Promising Children in Abuja  IDPs Camp nurse hope to live their dream, but they stand little chance to beat the odds  


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NINE-YEAR-OLD Sodiq Usman wishes to become a foremost engineer, but his chance is slim for a child living in an Internally Displaced Camp.  

Hadiza and Usman, his parents, do not have the means to enrol him in any school, even though he is a gifted child who uses papers and cellophane to build different toys for his peers.

Sodiq is among the 10.5 million children between age five and 14 that are not in school in Nigeria, according to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF).

His parents fled with him from their hometown, Gwoza, in Borno State, the epicentre of insurgency in Nigeria, and settled at the Durumi IDP Camp, Abuja, in 2015.

They have been living on the goodwill of the public since they came to the camp.

Sodiq with one of his works. Photo credit: The ICIR

Five-year-old Hajara, his sister, was born at the Durumi Camp.

Sodiq wakes each day, thinking about making fun toys with the materials he picks at retail shops and around the camp that accommodates at least three thousand displaced persons.

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Children at the camp usually gather around the boy, hoping to learn his skills.

He makes toy houses, cars and other objects with carton boxes and cellophane.

Sodiq uses needles and wool to knit his works after cutting his materials into desired shapes and sizes with scissors or blades. He learnt knitting from his mother, who makes woven caps.

His father, Usman, works in the city as “agbero,” the itinerants who call for passengers at motor parks.

“I want to be an engineer because I always love to build things for my friends. I started building when I was three. If I go to school, I will acquire more skills to build things better, like an engineer. I love to go to school,” Sodiq told his Islamic teacher, Hadiza Musa.

But there is no school at the camp. The only primary school built for the IDPs by members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) has stopped functioning since 2017. Sodiq never had a chance to attend the school.

Though a few non-governmental organisations enrolled some of the children at the camp at nearby schools, Sodiq was not among the lucky ones selected for the opportunity.

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As if that is not a huge challenge already, Sodiq’s family has no access to healthcare like other IDPs at the camp. The camp has no functional health facility. A mini-clinic in the community is not working because it has no equipment and drugs.

Residents at the camp also lack potable water, toilet facilities, and the tents in which they live are unsafe for humans.

Sodiq, his mother and sister. The mother displays the cap she knits. Photo credit: Marcus Fatunmole/The ICIR

Durumi Camp parades hundreds of make-shift tents made of cellophane and tarpaulins. Many of them leak, and the ‘rooms’ in the tents are often flooded during rainfalls.

A large section of the camp is on a timber farm, making the camp’s temperature very cold for children during the wet season and harmattan.

Sodiq sleeps on bare floor like many other children in the community, battling mosquitoes all night.

About 1,200 children of school age live at the camp, says Idris Halilu, the health coordinator of all IDPs in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

Only 360 of the children go to school, Halilu, a septuagenarian IDP at the camp, added.

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“Many children at the camp are orphans. They lost their parents to insurgents in the North-East, and neighbours brought them to the camp.

“So, we have families who cannot put their children and their foster children in school,” Halilu added.

The only primary school at the camp has been shut since 2017. Photo credit: Marcus Fatunmole/The ICIR

Apart from making toys, Sodiq and his friends mould different objects with sand. Unaware of their unhygienic environment, the tattered-looking children walk and run around the camp barefooted, playing on heaps of garbage that dot various parts of the settlement.

Seventy per cent of people at the camp do open defecation, making most parts of the camp stink, says Halilu.

Most homes have pits covered with cellophane, where faeces and other human wastes from each tent are deposited. Many of the pits are open, and children play around them. The pits attract flies and other insects to the neighbourhood.

This reporter could not confirm if any of the IDPs have been victims of rising cholera cases in the city. But the camp’s women leader Liyatu Ayuba said there had been a high level of morbidity at the settlement.

At the end of July, the Federal Capital Territory Administration had recorded 69 fatalities from over 1,000 confirmed cases of the disease in the city.

Experts say poor hygiene and lack of access to potable water are major reasons for the cholera outbreak.

Factors contributing to children’s plights at the Durumi Camp 

There are cases of men abdicating their responsibilities at the camp, thereby leaving their wives to fend for their children.

The husband of 37-year-old Margaret John allegedly abandoned his family and ran away from the camp six months ago.

Margaret John and four of her children. Photo credit: Marcus Fatunmole/The ICIR

Margaret said she had since been responsible for the upkeep and education of their six children.

She came to the camp from Michika Local Government, Adamawa state, in 2014 with John, her husband, and the children.

Margaret said her husband had physically assaulted her many times since they came to the camp, an attitude he never showed in Adamawa, she claimed.

Peeved by the persistent abuse, the camp leaders brought police to arrest John and have him detained in the cell where he spent ten months, Margaret told this reporter.

After his release, John stayed away from his wife and children, and he never asked after them again.

The woman said she could not return home because she had lost her father and siblings to the insurgency. Only her mother remains in her village, and the mother lives with trauma she suffered from the death of her children and spouse.

She said some of her children had withdrawn from school because she could no longer pay their tuition.

Tent where Margaret lives with her six children. Photo credit: Marcus Fatunmole/The ICIR

Margaret works in a school in Abuja as a cleaner where she receives N15,000 as a monthly salary, from which she caters to her children. She has five girls and a boy. The boy is the youngest.

The family lives in one of the leaky tents at the camp.

Like Sodiq, the fate of Margaret’s children currently hangs in the balance, as their withdrawal from school could deprive them of the opportunity to live out their dreams.

Several other families are handicapped to provide basic needs for their wards.

Fatima Umar fries beans bake (akara), which she sells to feed her eight children. Her husband is jobless at the camp, she said.

She came to Abuja in 2015 after losing some of her relations to the insurgency.

Fatima waiting for customers to buy her beans cake at the camp.
Photo credit: Marcus Fatunmole/The ICIR

Most of Fatima’s children have never been to school since they came to the camp, and she does not have the resources to make them learn a trade or undergo apprenticeship.

“The children roam the camp all day. They do not have anything to do. I wish they go to school, but I do not have the resources to enrol them.

“Many of them have grown up now, and the only thing I think they can do at their age is to learn a trade,” she said.

There is also Abdullahi Muhammed, 30, married with two children. He has been at the camp since 2015. After Boko Haram launched an attack on his Gwoza community, Muhammed is the only person left in his family. He lost four relations to the attack.

He said he had been jobless and got no help to support his family of four.

Abdullahi Muhammed. Photo credit: Marcus Fatunmole/The ICIR

His two children are currently not in school. Being the only person left in his family, he wished his children could go to school and become successful children in the future, but he said he did not have the means to enrol them.

Ladi Nuhu, a 36-year-old mother of seven, has also lived at the camp since 2014. Her husband is a farmer, but she does nothing at home, and her children have not been to school since arriving at the camp.

She lost two of her children in 2019. One died from a motorbike accident, and the other was sick.

How IDPs feed at the camp

Children and other IDPs are always on the lookout for vehicles to convey food into the camp. Foods come from individuals, non-governmental organisations, religious institutions and government agencies. Some of the families also go hungry many days if they do not receive aid from the public.

Children return to their tents after collecting food from a donor.
Credit: Marcus Fatunmole/The ICIR

When a donor shows up, children file in a line to receive as much portion as possible, ranging from snacks, candies, packaged foods, beverages and other gifts, depending on what the donors bring.

Older IDPs have their share mostly taken to their homes by youth assigned by the camp’s leader.

Findings by this reporter show that most of the IDPs are jobless. But some youth and adults engage in economic activities that enable them to cater for themselves or their families.

Some are involved in commercial motorcycling, retail trading, car and motorcycle wash, barbing, and food vending.

High morbidity in camp, children who don’t go to school engage in drugs – Women leader

Some children of Sodiq’s age, who did not go to school when they arrived at the camp some years back, are now youth.

The camp’s women leader Liyatu Ayuba said she was the first to come to the camp in 2011.

Women Leader, Liyatu Ayuba. Credit: Marcus Fatunmole/The ICIR

She lost her husband, a police officer, to the Boko Haram attacks and brought one of her children injured to Abuja for treatment. She was at the hospital where her son received treatment for two years, she said.

She said that the government did not know the camp existed until some NYSC members brought aid to the place.

Ayuba is the chief midwife at the camp, even though she did not receive formal training. She claimed she learnt the skill from her mother, whom she said was a traditional midwife.

She decried the level of morbidity in the camp, which she said resulted from the poor living condition and lack of functional health facilities.

“Our children are roaming about anyhow. During the rainy season, you will see high vomiting, diarrhoea, cough, and other diseases here because of where we live. Our tents have no windows. They are made of cellophane.

Pit toilet in part of the camp.
Pit toilet in part of the camp.
Credit: Marcus Fatunmole/The ICIR

“During the rainy season, it is cold. During the dry season, heat will almost kill us. Even the tents we live in, the landowners come and drive us out because they want to use their land; we will have to shift to another place.”

She said most children and youth at the camp did not have access to school, making them wander, keep bad friends and indulge in drugs.

“Some of our children are not going to school. We thank God for individuals who keep some of the children in school. Even though they put some of them in government schools, they are not going because the parents cannot prepare food for the children when they don’t have money. They must give the children transport money.”

She added: “Those children that are not going to school hang around, keep bad friends. They’ve started taking drugs anyhow. Before you know, they have collapsed. Even yesterday, we took one boy back to the village because of drug abuse.”

Ayuba said both male and female IDPs were taking drugs at the camp, adding that they could steal anything to buy drugs because their friends influenced them.

She also said though the IDPs wanted resettlement, many of them would return to Abuja because of the company they were already keeping.

Why we can’t enrol our children in school – Parents

Some parents claimed they had attempted to support their children to have a promising future but had faced challenges beyond their control.

Hassan Muhammed. Credit: Marcus Fatunmole/The ICIR

Hassan Muhammed, who spoke with this reporter on behalf of the camp’s chairman, Ibrahim Muhammadu, said some IDPs made efforts to support themselves economically, but government officials stopped them.

He said some married men at the camp were commercial motorcyclists.

According to him, the Directorate of Road Transport Services (DRTS) officials seized his motorbike, which he used to fend for his family around Area One three months ago. He has since been jobless, he said.

Officials of DRTS, otherwise known as Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs), prohibit commercial motorcycling in some axis of Abuja, including Area One.

DRTS keeps thousands of confiscated motorbikes at its auto pond, along the Airport Road. The agency sells the products after they are rot to interested companies for recycling.

Idris Halilu.
Credit: Marcus Fatunmole/The ICIR

Halilu also said some IDPs had run retail businesses in the neighbourhood, which officials of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board found to have contravened environmental regulations in the city.

They consequently discouraged the IDPs who could no longer continue with their jobs, he said.

Most of the IDPs who spoke with the reporter wished they could get land to farm in the area, but they said the rate at which property owners develop their land made farming difficult.

Checks by the reporter showed that landowners had developed at least 75 per cent of land in the area.

Much of the remaining land in the neighbourhood has been fenced and mounted with gates to prevent unauthorised entry.

How community’s school, health facility collapsed

Halilu said the primary school donated by some corps members for the camp stopped functioning in 2017 because the settlement could not pay its teachers. The school operated for about three years.

Makeshift building housing the camp’s clinic. Credit: Marcus Fatunmole/The ICIR

Similarly, the only clinic in the camp has no equipment and drugs. “We thought we could get doctors who would be coming to this clinic. You can see; it is empty. The Nigerian Army Officers Wives Association built the clinic under Mrs Buratai. You can see, there is nothing there,” he said.

He explained that the Federal Inland Revenue Service Training School owned the larger part of the land occupied by the IDPs.

He alleged that the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally-Displaced Persons had abandoned the IDPs.

The ICIR had reported how the commission failed to support an IDP treated for TB by the National Hospital, leading to his detainment by the facility.

Despite the challenges faced at the settlement, some IDPs, including children, are still coming to the camp from Borno State, Halilu revealed.

Another section of the camp filled with filth.
Credit: Marcus Fatunmole/The ICIR

Halilu, however, blamed the Abuja Environmental Protection Board for the heaps of filth at the settlement.

He said waste collectors assigned by the board had not visited the camp for months.

But the spokesperson of the board Janet Peni countered Halilu when the reporter demanded an explanation at her office.

She called the contractor in charge of Durumi Area, who said his office always removed waste at the camp.

Nigeria may face more crisis with out-of-school children

With over 10 million out-of-school children, Nigeria may face more troubles in future.

The country is currently battling unprecedented insecurity and crimes, which economic and security experts have blamed mainly on the lack of education of most of the perpetrators.

President Muhammadu Buhari recently pledged to double Nigeria’s budget for education to reduce the out-of-school population.

The pledge came amidst similar promises which the government has failed to redeem.

And when the government does, the bulk of the fund often ends up in private pockets. The ICIR has reported about several UBEC school projects that were abandoned despite full funding. And the contractors are neither sanctioned nor compelled to pay back.

Durumi IDPs are mainly from Gwoza

This reporter observed that most of the IDPs at the settlement are from Gwoza.

Landowners place notice of demolition on tents at the camp and end up ejecting IDPs occupying the land. Credit: Marcus Fatunmole/The ICIR

13,434 IDP households and 53,828 IDPs were at different camps in Gwoza Local Government Area in 2020, according to a report by the Displacement Tracking Matrix of the International Office on Migration.

There were also 104,860 households and 452,841 IDPs in camps in Borno and Adamawa states at the time.

The organisation puts the IDPs population in Nigeria at nearly 2.2 million in February.

IDPs are lazy, perennial beggars – Refugee Commission

Meanwhile, the Director, Resettlement and Durable Solution, National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally-Displaced Persons Musa Kangiwa lampooned the IDPs at Durumi.

He said he was conversant with issues at the camp and had joined other officials to support the IDPs before he was transferred out of Abuja three years ago.

One of the IDPs empowered herself with a grinding machine to fend for her family.
Credit: Marcus Fatunmole/The ICIR

Kangiwa, who returned to the city last month, told The ICIR: “How long will somebody be living as IDP? You can’t continue to live as IDP for life. It is not possible. The Durumi Camp is more than ten years old, and you cannot continue to be an IDP all your life. I know there are a lot of interventions there.

“Other citizens that are not IDPs are not getting all they want from the government. They are coping, and they are struggling to survive, let alone IDPs that enjoy special treatment. Government, NGOs, development partners, they all assist. Yet, it is creating a scenario of laziness.”

He said the government was planning a durable solution for the IDPs.

The programme has three options: return to initial displacement, local integration, and resettlement, he said.

“You can’t continue to be an IDP. Go to a construction site, do labour work, get money. Feed yourself. Go and get a bus, become a conductor. Get three thousand (Naira) every day as income. You can’t be lazy because you are displaced,” he added.

Senator Ali Ndume

The ICIR could not reach the senator representing Borno South Ali Ndume on the phone. He did not respond to text and Whatsapp messages sent to his line.

Gwoza Local Government Area is part of Borno South which Ndume represents at the Senate.

Similarly, this newspaper could not reach the lawmaker representing Bama/Ngala/Kala Balge Federal Constituency at the House of Representatives Zainab Gimba on the phone.

She did not respond to the Whatsapp and text messages sent to her phone line.

But the Manager of IDP camps in Borno State, Idris Aloma, told our reporter that the state government was doing much to support IDPs in the state.

He said government’s agencies supported IDPs across states where they settle in the country.

But he could not confirm if the state government had supported IDPs in Abuja.

According to him, the ongoing rebuilding efforts by the state government would resettle IDPs in their hometowns.

Insurgency in the North-East, which started in 2009, has displaced an estimated 3.2 million people, including over 2.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the North-East, over 684,000 IDPs in Cameroon, Chad and Niger and 304,000 refugees in the four countries, according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees  (UNHCR).

Premium Times Centre provided*Support for this report for Investigative Journalism with funding from Free Press Unlimited.


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