BY NDAHI MARAMA,
MAIDUGURI – The violence unleashed by Boko Haram on communities in Borno State, among other states in the North-East, has left millions of people homeless in the last seven years, thereby forcing government to establish resettlement camps to cater for the displaced. Only last Thursday, Borno State government had to suspend ‘“the central feeding of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)” following their protest in Maiduguri, the state capital.
Hundreds of women IDPs had embarked on peaceful protest that day, barricading the Maiduguri-Kano/Jos Road over alleged shortage of food in the Arabic Teachers College Camp. Some of the protesters alleged food had been in short supply or diverted by officials while calling for the removal of the Central Feeding Committee. “We’re hungry; we don’t want any Feeding Committee again because they aren’t giving us quality food. Give us our food directly,” a woman, who identified herself as Aisha Marte, said.
The protesters refused to listen to the appeal by the police to call off their action but the arrival of the deputy governor, Alhaji Usman Durkwa, doused tension.
Durkwa, who was returning from another IDPs camp in the state capital to supervise the feeding of the displaced persons there, announced immediate suspension of the Central Feeding Committee at the Arab Teachers College camp and introduction of household feeding. He said each family will now receive foodstuff from the state government and cook for themselves. The camps, in recent times, have became a topical issues globally due to malnutrion, hunger and communicable diseases suffered by inmates as well as politics that dominated the management.
Meanwhile, governors of the North East states affected by Boko Haram insurgency resolved, last week, to shut down the IDP camps at various locations in the states by May 29 next year. Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima disclosed this after a meeting with United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, shortly after his meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari. Shettima said: “On the issue of resettlement, the bulk of the IDPs are from Borno State, a situation that has swelled the population of Maiduguri from two million to three million now. And where there is a will, there is always a way. “Believe me, by May 29 next year, we want our people to go back to their homes. We are going to marshal whatever resources, with or without international support, to see what we can do to restore the dignity of our people. “We cannot wait for eternity for manna from the international community to develop our communities. The biggest IDP camp is in Kenya. The Kenyan government has finally summoned the political courage to close down that camp. “In most of the camps, there are challenges of early marriage, child prostitution, drug abuse, gangsterism, malnutrition and diseases. The sooner we close them down the better”.
Separately, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) North-East Zonal Office in Maiduguri has taken over the feeding of the 1.6 million IDPs in the resetlement camps and satellite centres across Borno with a view to addressing malnutrition and other issues.
The North-East Coordinator of the agency, Mallam Mohammed Kanar, who spoke during the flag off distribution/presentation of relief items to officials of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) for onward delivery to IDPs in the state, said the gesture was to address hunger and malnutrition.
Officials of Medicine San Frontiers, otherwise known as Doctors Without Borders, had, recently, reported that there was acute malnutrition and food crisis at various camps in Borno, leading to deaths. But Governor Shettima denied the report, saying the severe malnutrition witnessed amongst some IDPs in Bama and other camps was as a result of some hostages freed from insurgents after spending over two years in captivity without food and access to health care delivery.
Kanar said the decision to resume 100% feeding of the IDPs by NEMA was to complement the effort of the state government and other humanitarian agencies. He stressed that with sustained effort of troops in liberating many communities, more IDPs are now willing to go back to their communities to continue their normal lives and businesses, hence the need to assist in the IDPs well- being, especially now that there were emerging cases of new satellite camps across the state.
The NEMA chief noted that in recent past, NEMA had the sole responsibility of feeding the IDPs, but it stopped doing so in the last two to three months following coordinated effort of the federal and the state government as well as other international donor agencies to manage the crisis. Kanar pointed out that with the concern of President Muhammadu Buhari to the plight of the IDPs and victims of insurgents in the North-East, NEMA had been directed to resume the feeding of the IDPs.
Shettima, who also spoke at the occasion, lamented that many NGOs and humanitarian agencies were feeding fat and smiling to their banks in the name of assisting IDPs in camps, but was quick to commend them for complementing government efforts towards managing the IDPs in his troubled state.
“We have received tremendous support from some members of the International community but no foreign country or any international partner within or outside the UN and major world donors gave any cash to our administration from 2011 to date for the purpose of IDPS. All donations come in kind like medical supplies, technical support and food items, most of which are directly distributed by the international partners themselves to reach IDP’s in different parts of Borno State”, the governor said.
“For instance, there was a time General Electric graciously donated one million dollars to Borno in support of the IDPs, I was at the presentation in Abuja. I was even presented the symbolic cheque but the money was paid to UNICEF and it was UNICEF that implemented the GE’s intervention in the area of healthcare and nutrition.
“When the government of Norway announced donation of four million dollars, the money wasn’t given in cash to Borno, it was the worth of their food supplies and these food supplies are being distributed by the Norwegian Refugee Council which deals directly with the IDPs in Borno. The ICRC has made the highest humanitarian intervention in Borno but we don’t even know how much they have spent, they have their men on ground who deal directly with the IDPs across Borno State.
“The World Food Programme also intervened in the area of food and recently they are doing conditional cash transfer and that also is handled by officials of the World Food Programme. If there is one organization that has given us any cash donation outside the N345m for IDPs, it was the Dangote Foundation which gave Borno N400m but that wasn’t for IDPs, it was an economic empowerment program for women which the Dangote Group launched in different states including Lagos,Kano, Jigawa, Kogi, Adamawa and Yobe States in which N10,000 each was given to about 400,000 women across these states I mentioned. The N2b Dangote announced in support of Borno two months ago, we requested that he doesn’t give us cash but building materials worth the amount”.
He lamented that a political group in Borno has since hijacked the issue of IDPs. “They send all kinds of information with misleading figures and pictures. The media should try to separate facts from fiction by simply seeking clarification from us on issues that affect us”.
Senate President Bukola Saraki has also shown concern over the plight of the IDPs, saying the issue of malnutrition and resettlement should be treatment as a national crisis not to be left for the Borno government alone.
“The issue of malnutrition and management of IDPs is a collective one and should not be left in the hands of Borno State alone. I urge you to invite your fellow colleagues (governors) to come and see the humanitarian condition in the state”, Saraki told Shettima during a visit to Maiduguri.
“On our part at the National Assembly, we are going to enact the legal framework to support the resettlement and rehabilitation process in the North-East, though the establishment of the North-East Development Commission to fast track the resettlement process”.
Senate leader, Senate Mohammed Ali Ndume, also spoke on the lingering “hunger, malnourishment and poverty” in Borno, saying it should be fought to save lives of IDPs and host communities. Ndume, while reacting to the challenges of hunger and malnutrition in IDPs camps in a session with journalists at his Government Reservation Area (GRA) residence, Maiduguri, said, government alone could not win the war against malnutrition, hunger and poverty in the state.
“I have said several times that after winning the war against insurgents which has been successful, there is the second war, which is very serious; like more or less invisible, that government has to fight.,”he said. The fight, according to him, is against hunger, malnourishment and poverty “affecting tens of thousands of IDPs from liberated communities in Borno.” “Only God knows what is happening in the seven liberated local government areas hit by hunger, malnutrition and poverty,”
Citing other communities. If you go to Cameroonian border communities of Banki, Kumshe and Gulumba; there are some areas I understand the malnutrition and hunger have set in and they are killing people. “So this is a bigger war that everybody must be involved. This is why I am calling on even individuals, no matter how little you can support the displaced persons to make a difference.”
Similarly, House of Representatives Joint Committee on IDPs and Human Rights visited Borno on a fact-finding mission on the poor living condition of IDPs in the North East and Borno in particular. The delegation, led by a former National President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Honourable Sani Soro, member representing Gumel Gagarawa, Maigatari and Sule Tankarkar federal constituency, said there was no strategic plan on how to manage the IDPs.
He, therefore, recommended the establishment of the proposed North-East Development Commission. The team visited Damboa township IDPs camp being one of the largest camps outside the state capital where they addressed the IDPs, officials and security agencies.
“There must be continuous supply of water, sanitation and other hygiene related materials in place before the rest of the IDPs came out of the Sambisa forest and other places of captivity”. The wife of the President, Hajiya Aisha Buhari, also took the battle against malnutrition to Maiduguri, with the distribution of food items to over 4,000 IDPs, mostly women and children. Aisha, who was represented by the wife of Borno State governor, Hajiya Nana Shettima, said “it is time for everyone in the country to get involved in the fight against malnutrition in order to prevent any more death.”
She went on: “Everybody should get involved to prevent the death of our people, especially women and children from malnutrition and this they must do now.”
In the meantime, there are reports of increasing sexually transmitted diseases and prostitution in most of the IDPs camps across Borno.” Mallam Idrissa Usman Izge, an IDP from Gwoza Council Area, said, “ Many IDPs might have been infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases because we don’t have money to buy condom and the state government refused to provide us with such since we were camped here in Maiduguri. What bothers us so much in the camps is the issue of rape. And, in most cases, women are the ones raping men”, Izge stated.
IDP from Marte, Mallam Abubakar Shuwa, aged 61, said, “It is unfortunate that as a father of four grown up female children, I don’t have control over any children as they roam about the camp mingling with bad eggs/boys”, pointing out that two of the female children got pregnant in the process.