SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN CITY
The Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Uhogua community, Ovia North East Local Government Area of Edo State, has attracted attention since Sunday Vanguard featured the hardship faced by the over 1,000 inmates made up of children and officials.
Philanthropists, Edo State government, churches, among others, have come to give one assistance or the other towards the upkeep of the children. However, a visit to the camp ahead of Christmas indicated that all was not well with the children due to the paucity of food items and toilet facilities. Apart from the First Lady of Edo, IIara Oshiomhole, who brought some food items for the children during the Yuletide, not much was received from the public.
To worsen the situation for the poor children, a container loaded with things that will help to enhance their upkeep, such as blankets, food items, bicycles, among several other items, sent from Germany by some kind hearted Europeans, has been with the Customs Service due to the inability of Pastor Solomon Folorunsho, the Coordinator of the International Christian Center for Missions, the organization overseeing the IDP camp, to clear the goods due to lack of money.
Sunday Vanguard was informed that even after applying for assistance from the Federal Ministry of Finance to help clear the items,the container was not released. Ministry officials were said to have claimed that the ongoing reforms by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration led to their decision. Similarly, the authorities of the Customs expressed their handicap in assisting the IDPs due to the position of the Finance Ministry.
Sunday Vanguard spoke with Folorunsho on the inability of his organisation to clear the container.
We are aware you are having issues clearing your container loaded with goods for your children. What is the situation now?
Following Vanguard’s report on the children’s plight they read abroad, one of the white girls from Germany came here to see for herself; she wept when she saw the children. When she got back to Germany, she and her colleagues decided to put things together such as blankets, bed spread, mattresses, noodles, rice, bicycles, towels; these things have been at the port for more than three months. These are donations for the IDPs. We thought it will be easy to clear them, we presented the bill of laden, we applied to the Customs with our details and details of what they sent. The Customs advised that they needed approval from the Ministry of Finance. We were advised to go to the Ministry of Finance to apply. We went there to apply, it took about a month for the Ministry of Finance to reply our letter and, unfortunately, our request was not approved. The Customs was actually sympathetic to our cause, but they regretted that they will not be able to help since the Finance Ministry did not give clearance.
But just yesterday penultimate (Wednesday), the Custom’s PRO in Abuja called to say they were following the procedure and that it was not their fault. He advised we should write again to let them see how to assist. That is where we are now. But I can tell you that the items there would have helped the children a lot at Christmas. My appeal is that while we understand that due process must be adhered to, government should look at the plight of the children and also help in that direction by allowing us to take possession of that container. You know how we live here, we don’t have money, we live on people’s kindness. President Buhari is a father and an upright man, he should assist us because these children are his children too.
How has it been managing the children with the negative economic outlook?
To be frank, everything has been going very well until four weeks ago, when we started running short of food. We started talking to people to come to our aids that we needed food stuff. That is the major area we have challenge now. Again, because school started last term, they need new note books and text books and we don’t have enough for our students. Our toilets are filled up, we need new toilets.
To be frank, after you journalists enlightened the public, people have been coming in droves bringing different items, food and toiletries. But four weeks down now we started running out of food. I want to thank Nigerians for their support because, before, some children were sleeping outside, but now nobody sleeps outside. Though we still need accommodation, right now, no body is under the sun or under the rain. I want to thank them and to also tell them that their assistance has help us a lot.
We also thank the Edo government for providing security for us. Since the state government came in, it has made a lot of impact in our lives. Today we have security operatives here 24 hours. The government has been sending money, food items and other educational materials. Infact, the First Lady has been wonderful to us. She sends us food; even recently, he sent cows, bags of rice, yams etc to us. We pray that God Almighty should improve the economy of the state so that we can get more from the state government. But I can tell you that the Comrade Governor has shown a lot of concern, love to this children and that has helped immensely. God will bless the Comrade Governor. Nigeria has good people and I believe that is why we are still standing as a nation.
Have some of the IDPs not gone back to their parents?
Even those ones that left before, some did not spend up to one week they came back here. It was only about four of them that their parents came to pick and they went to settle I think in Abuja and some northern states.
So how are you coping with the health challenges of the kids?
We employed a nurse that is in charge of the health department and she directly works under doctors from private hospitals. For the medications, we always get them from some Christian doctors or individuals who get drugs for us. When we are out of stock we buy from the markets. For the toddlers we have people who cares for them, you know we have an organized camp here so we ensure that all the children are well taken care of. Infact from the time you people came up with the first report things improved. We received doctors, nurses who volunteered to serve and that has been helpful. That is the same way people bring drugs for us, I thank God for his miracles.
But how have you been coping with this hectic job with your family and private life?
This is the work I have been doing for years. I am a full time pastor. I oversee more than 50 pastors and church leaders with over 300 churches both within and outside Nigeria. So the work we are doing here is every body’s effort. We all are working to ensure we sustain this place and make the children happy. We have been coping very well. Before IDPs started coming, I was travelling once every two weeks to preach. But I love this work; this is an emergency time in Nigeria. Government is sacrificing; so I have to play my role too. For more than eight months I have not travelled out. But this is my own little contribution to Nigeria and I am very happy to do it.
Help from churches
Churches in Nigeria have tried for us a lot. Church of God Mission, New Covenant Church, Winners Chapel, Pastor Oyedepo’s wife brought clothes and food items for the children. The Catholic Church, several Rev.Fathers have come here to assist us one way or the other. The Redeemed Church has equally not failed us, even Muslims too have been wonderful. Several persons have really assisted us. I won’t be able to mention all of them. Nigerians are just good people.
For the Federal Government, through NEMA, they brought tents, blankets, mosquito nets, they came to capture the names of the people living here. But we want to appeal to the Federal Government to assist in providing for the children. We need a lot to assist them to grow particularly their schooling.
I want to also appeal to the Federal Government to come and help us complete the projects we have started. We need electricity because we buy diesel every day to pump water from borehole and that has been quite expensive for us.
The village here, if the Federal Government is able to give us a transformer and poles and the cables that can cover at least a kilometre, we can connect to PHCN. We are spending at least N9,000 every day on diesel and that is too expensive for us.