By Titilope Fadare
Hyacenth Atsagba dashed home from his farm where he works as a labourer to pick up some equipment he had earlier forgotten. He was about returning to his farm when two vehicles caught his attention as they entered into the premises of Awe central primary school.
The school has six dilapidated buildings and several classrooms that house his family of six and 3,000 other displaced people. They had been driven away from their homes in Mararaba community in the Nigerian state of Nasarawa since 2017.
Some of the buildings in the school no longer have roofing sheets and its premises have been overtaken by overgrown grass.
The farmer in his mid-thirties, as well as other IDPs, expressed surprise at the visit. The last time they had such visitors was when the Red Cross came to distribute relief materials to them months ago.
Immediately the two vehicles parked under a tree in the middle of the camp, the dwellers came out in clusters, seeking to know the purpose of the visit.
They soon learnt their visitors were from the PAGED initiative, a non-governmental organisation which seeks to promote gender inclusiveness and participatory communication in conflict-related situations in a bid to have a more equitable society.
With introductions out of the way, they were treated to a motion picture by PAGED initiative, detailing the conflict situation in Borno State. The state, located in the north-eastern part of the country, is the most ravaged by Boko Haram insurgents.
After about one hour of film screening, the IDPs, in a sombre mood, gathered under a tree to share similar tales of how the conflict between farmers and herders have left them in a precarious state, forcing them to live like savages even though they are full citizens of Nigeria.
Journey to destitution
January 1, 2018, remains an unforgettable day for Hyacenth and his family. At the crack of dawn that fateful day, gunshots disrupted their sleep as they woke up to see people scampering to safety.
As they struggled to find a hiding place, the gunmen were looting, burning houses and shooting at anyone in sight, the farmer recalled with so much emotion.
In confusion, Hyacenth said, he took his family and fled without looking back. Since then, they have been living in poor conditions. They later settled in an abandoned school located in Awe local government of Nasarawa State where my team visited.
Inhuman living conditions
Hyacenth now lives in one of the classrooms with his family and about 20 other people. The classrooms are littered with pots, plates, and food items but that was not Hyacenth’s major concern.
His problem, according to him, was the lack of privacy to engage in sexual relations with his wife.
For him and many other couples in the camp, the surrounding bushes have now become safe havens for intimate moments – away from prying eyes of their children and fellow co-habitants.
He explained with a visible frown, “The living condition is difficult. Even to meet with our wives is a problem. We manage like that. Sometimes we go inside bush because there is no other way and it is not convenient for us.”
Statistics on poor living conditions in Nigeria
In October 2019, the United Nations released a report https://www.un.org/development/desa/dpad/publication/world-economic-situation-and-prospects-october-2019-briefing-no-131/ on poor living conditions, placing Nigeria in the top 5 with 85 million people living under extreme poverty.
According to the report, in sub-Saharan Africa, half of the number of people living in extreme poverty globally are in this region, surviving on less than $1.90 a day.
“Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia are among the five countries with the largest populations living in extreme poverty and are home to about 23 per cent of the world’s poor.
“In Nigeria, the population in extreme poverty is about 85 million people, while in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia about 61 million and 22 million live in extreme poverty, respectively”, it stated.
The report further indicated that the rising poverty in Africa is linked to the recent deterioration of growth prospects amid the collapse in commodity prices, political turbulences, weather-related disasters and conflicts.
An assessment conducted by the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) unit of the International
Organisation for Migration (IOM), estimates two hundred and thirty-eight thousand, one hundred (238,100) individuals are displaced as at 22, July 2019, in the north-central and north-west regions of Nigeria.
The north-central region has one hundred and twenty-seven thousand, seven hundred and thirteen (127,713) displaced persons and seventeen thousand, one hundred and fourteen (17,114) of them currently reside in Nasarawa State, next to Benue with the highest number at eighty one thousand, one hundred a d thirty two (81,132) individuals.
The report informed that the clash started in 2013 with multi-dimensional crisis rooted in deep and historic rifts, then worsened in January 2018 due to socio-economic and environmental conditions, resulting to one million individuals being displaced by the end of that year.
With the help of the country’s disaster management agency, several thousand have returned but others remain displaced for lack of security and the fear of being attacked en route or upon their return, the report noted.
‘We do it quietly’
Eunice Uliam, 25, a mother of 3 from Benue State, is a resident of the school.
She said that they have been unable to return home as a result of fear, preferring to live in harsh conditions than face a likely outcome of death.
She recounted the difficulty she faces in raising her children in a conducive and degrading environment.
“We don’t have toilets. We urinate and defecate in the bush. We sleep on mat or wrapper,” she narrated.
Like Hyacinth, Eunice lamented how she cannot be intimate at will with her husband as she has to wait until her children are asleep and cannot catch them in the act.
“We can only meet when the children are asleep and we manage to do it quietly. When they are not asleep we can’t”, she said shyly.
Cry for help
For this set of Nigerians, there is no benefit from any government purse in terms of aids or any other palliative effort to ease their sufferings.
According to them, they have never received any intervention from the government and have been long forgotten.
Aside from general complaints of hunger, for Hyacenth, Eunice and other couples living in this camp, they long to return safely to their original settlements.