By Peter Duru, Makurdi
There is palpable fear across Benue state at the moment following the outbreak of novel Coronavirus in the country. The fear and mounting anxiety in the state stem from the simple fact that the state is currently home to over 483,000 Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, scattered in several camps in the state and over 27,000 Cameroonian refugees who found safe haven in Kwande Local Government Area, LGA, of the state.
Needless to emphasize that the unease in the state has been tied to the fear of a possible outbreak of the virus in any of the 24 official and unofficial IDPs camps situated across the state.
Not a few are of the opinion that if such happens it would probably ignite an explosive of the spread of COVID-19 in the state especially after an index case had been recorded in the state and given the frequency of visitors who come from far and near to the camps.
It is on that account that there is much disquiet among the Benue people who feel that the state could do with meaningful support from the federal government if efforts to check the spread of the virus particularly in the state would achieve desired result.
This position was much echoed by the Coordinator of the Benue Diaspora Renaissance Initiative, BDRI, Mr. Josiah Tor who also blamed the federal government for failing in its responsibilities of taking the lead in ensuring that the IDPs returned to the ancestral homes long before now.
“We are scared and worried because if we record an outbreak of the virus in any of the crowded 24 official and unofficial camps housing the over 483,000 IDPs or the settlements where we have over 27,000 Cameroonian refugees, what we have in Lagos will be a child’s play because we might record an explosion of the virus in the state.
“It is unfortunate that we have a desperate situation in Benue at the moment because the federal government long turned a deaf ear to the cries of the people and the state government over the plight of the IDPs and the need to have them resettled in their various communities long before now. It is sad.
“The federal government must act swiftly to avert a looming disaster in Benue by giving special support and attention to the state and indeed other states that are home to these category of people whose peculiar situation would not allow the practice of social distancing,” Tor stated.
Meanwhile the state government only recently ceased the initiative to safeguard the lives of the traumatized IDPs and refugees by embargoing all forms of visits to the camps.
The restriction order was announced few days back by the Executive Secretary of the State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, Dr. Emmanuel Shior, when he moved truck loads of essential items to the camps for distribution to the inmates.
The order came on the heels of the recent outcry by Governor Samuel Ortom over the safety of the IDPs from the dreaded virus.
Making the distribution, the Executive Secretary observed that the food items would cover all the official and unofficial IDPs camps scattered across the state.
Dr. Shior stated that the agency was also carrying out sensitization on preventive measures including the distribution of sanitizers, face masks and other materials needed by the IDPs to maintain hygienic life style to prevent the spread of the virus in the camps as well as the refugee settlement in the state.
While lauding Governor Samuel Ortom for being proactive in taking measures to prevent the spread of the virus in the state Dr. Shior observed that he was among the first governors in the country to set up an Action Committee to confront the challenge posed by the global pandemic.
On his part, Convener of the Middle Belt Movement for Justice and Peace, MBMJP, Comrade Joe Bukka appealed to the Federal Government to urgently extend financial and material assistance to Benue and other states harbouring Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, and refugees to avert an explosion of the virus in the affected states.
Comrade Bukka who decried the mass influx of Cameroonian refugees into Kwande LGA of Benue state cautioned that if nothing was done urgently to supported the states to contain the disease they might become fertile grounds for the spread of the virus.
He said, “outside the North East, Benue is the worst hit state in the country being home to over 483,000 IDPs and about 27,000 refugees who live in camps that are extremely crowded and nobody is paying attention there.
“What this means is that if one or two of these IDPs or refugees get infected with the virus we might be in for a big trouble in this country and with the recent mass influx of Cameroonians into Kwande LGA the coming days might be the most difficult for Benue if something is not done urgently.
“We learnt that the state government has embargoed visits to the camps as preventive measure to check the spread of the virus in the camps aside taking full responsibilities of catering for them, but that is certainly not enough, the IDPs are moving about and people will still visit these camps.
“What states like Benue need now is all the financial and material support from the Federal Government to help them put everything in place, both within and outside the camps to safeguard the inmates including children and women from the virus.