By Sam Eyoboka
PATHETIC scenes from refugee camps on the fringes of the Cameroon-Nigeria border reveal that women give birth to babies in harsh conditions. Feelers from the camps indicate that lack of medical supplies have resulted in deaths of several persons from preventable diseases because of the horrific living conditions.
No food! No water! No money! The refugees have left the comfort of their homes and are making do with newly cleared church compound, sleeping on bare floor; come rain, come shine. Pity those who are weaning children with little or nothing to eat. Not too far away from the camps are pit latrines. The only source of water, two wells, is contaminated. Men, women, children, old and young cannot go far for fear of being attacked by insurgents suspected to be members of Boko Haram, who are said to be parading the neighbourhood looking for who to conscript into their Islamic army or Cameroonian gendarmes.
In October, some insurgents invaded sleepy Gwoza community, shooting sporadically, killing people amid shouts of Allahu Akbar (God is Great) and disappeared afterwards toward Kurana Bassa village that leads to Gwoza hills. Intelligence reports indicate that some insurgents are still hiding on the Gwoza hills since the declaration of a state of emergency in the three states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa by President Goodluck Jonathan a little over six months ago.
Many of the victims who fled the attack are currently refugees in the premises of a village church—Church of Christ in Nations, COCIN – in Galma village, Cameroon. The church which was founded in 1904 with headquarters in Jos, Plateau State was originally known as Church of Christ in Nigeria.
Despite appeals by Borno State government for them to return, their spokesperson declared: “We cannot return to our residence in Gwoza council area until the security of lives and property is guaranteed with deployment of soldiers, because even the policemen in our area are not spared by the insurgents whenever they attack our communities in Gwoza.”
Recent reports put the number of Nigerians held in Niger Republic and Cameroon as a result of the attacks by Boko Haram members at 70,000. A United Nations report said the Nigerian crisis had pushed nearly 40,000 refugees over the northern border into Niger and Cameroon in a drive that was straining food supplies in the drought-prone country.
The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in its latest report, indicated that a total of 37,332 refugees had fled to Niger, nearly 29,000 of who are officially nationals of that country. The report said that this figure was three times more than expected, an indication of a difficulty in developing a humanitarian response.
Thousands of refugees have also spilled into Cameroon, prompting Nigeria to reach out for help in policing their shared border. The deputy governor of Borno State, Alhaji Zannah Umar Mustapha, who visited the border towns in Gwoza Local Government Area, called on Nigerians who fled to that neighbouring country to come back home as government was making necessary arrangements for their safety.
But over 14,000 displaced Christians, in an open letter addressed to Governor Kashim Shettima of Borno State by the Gwoza Christian Community (GCCA), made a passionate plea to the governor, stating the plight of Christians in the local government. The letter claim that a “total of 618 families (not individuals) have been displaced from their houses to various places in Nigeria as well as places in Cameroon.” “There were a total of 46 churches that have been burnt and destroyed while a total of 541 houses were also burnt and destroyed.
“As at October 23, 2013, a total of 46 villages were completely displaced; while a total of 108 houses have been vandalized, some of these houses are being occupied by the insurgents atop the mountain hills.
More of concern is the plight of 68 widows whose husbands were either shot or slaughtered in front of their family members. We have full documentation of these atrocities against Christians and yet your deputy governor, during his two visits to the area, didn’t find time to even commiserate with the Christians, but were deliberately avoided,” the community chairman, Elder Ayuba J. Bassa, explained.
A feeble-looking woman gave birth to a baby at the refugees’ camp where displaced persons from Gwoza are exposed to harsh weather conditions especially as harmattan winds have started blowing with ferocious intensity. She was helped by equally hungry-looking refugees. She sleeps in the open field with her baby under the cold weather.
Moved by the development, the National President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, on a recent ecclesiastical visit to the region, donated N1 million for the purchase of relief materials for the refugees and other victims of the insurgent attacks through the leadership of GCC.
Our correspondent narrated sights of joy in the refugees camps that drove even the GCCA to shed tears. Most notable sight of appreciation came from a widow who was pregnant when her husband was killed. She gave birth at the refugee camp. She had two measures of grain left and was sleeping in the open field with her baby under the cold harmattan when she was given a bag of maize, some small cash, as well as salt, Maggi and slippers. She could only murmur, saying “there are still kind-hearted people.”
Another man who nearly lost both hands to the bullets of Boko Haram insurgents could hardly pick even the hospital card for his treatment. He too was given a bag of grain, salt, Maggi, and slippers as well as cash. He was so joyful that tears started rolling down his cheeks while muttering words of thanks to the CAN National President.
A young girl, who survived the bullet that pierced the right side of her face, also got a bag of grain, salt, Maggi as well as cash and slippers. She was filled with joy.
Another recipient was an indigene of Michika Local Government in Adamawa State who was assisted with a bag of maize. According to his testimony, he can be described as the proverbial cat with nine lives. He did not just survive the insurgents bullet which pierced through his stomach and came out through the back, he had very little food left to feed his family of over 15.
GCCA distributed the relief materials to the needy in six recently affected villages. Efforts by the church to spread the gospel to the widows in the refugee camps were hampered by violent attacks by insurgents for three consecutive days without security intervention. Pleas for local leaders, emirs and district heads’ intervention fell on deaf ears as GCCA representatives were directed to, instead, seek security assistance from neighbouring Cameroon.