TALES OF WOE: AGONY, HUNGER INSIDER NORTH EAST IDPS

IDPs at a camp in Maiduguri, Borno State

IDPs at a camp in Maiduguri, Borno State

Amidst allegations of diversion of funds and relief materials meant for them, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North-East narrated to Daily Trust on Sunday how difficult it has been for them to survive.

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Located about 10 kilometers on the outskirts of Yola, the Adamawa State capital, Malkohi Internally Displaced Persons Camp (IDP) bears the trappings of desolation. As one approaches the waterlogged path leading to its main entrance, one is confronted with the grim picture.

The interior is as damp as the bushy, murky marshes that surround the tents within the compound.

The dingy corners inside the tents provide sanctuaries for multitude of malevolent mosquitoes and even rodents. No wonder, the occupants say they are ‘living in hell.’ They are constantly faced with the sights and sounds of their amphibious neighbours who breed and luxuriate in the stagnant waters around them.

A large sized aluminum pot was standing on three big stones in front of one of the tents, under which there was a burning coal. Peeping inside the pot, a middle-aged woman with a baby on her back cleared perspiration on her face as she battled with the cloud of smoke that surged from the fireplace towards her.

She was preparing tuwo, a Hausa local diet, for meal. Smaller clay pots, wooden mortars and pestles also lay elsewhere, just as logs of firewood leaned against the iron pillars by the sides of the tent.

As this reporter approached the woman, her boy of about five years emerged naked from the tent with amazing speed and began to vomit profusely. Upon inquiry, the mother said: “He has been throwing up since yesterday. I suspect he is reacting to the poor condition of this place, which includes poor feeding.”

With an estimated population of 1, 235 inhabitants, out of which 657 are women, Malkohi is one of three Internally Displaced Persons’ camps in Adamawa which accommodates victims of Boko Haram attacks from neighbouring Borno State, as well as returnees from Cameroon.

The other two are the Fufore camp, located in Fufore town and a transit camp in Mubi.

  A female IDP surrounded by her children as she prepares meal at the Kuka-Reta camp near Damaturu, Yobe State
A female IDP surrounded by her children as she prepares meal at the Kuka-Reta camp near Damaturu, Yobe State

Like their counterparts elsewhere, IDPs in Malkohi have complained of poor conditions, saying they live in hunger due to alleged failure by Adamawa State and the Federal Government to provide some of their basic needs, especially food.

Some of the IDPs  at Malkohi camp said government only provided a small quantity of raw food as monthly ration while they were left to source for  soup condiments, firewood and other materials needed to cook the food. They also alleged that government no longer provided non-food items such as soap, detergents and other sanitary materials which are necessary for personal hygiene, saying withdrawal of such assistance had rendered them helpless.

This condition, findings show, had forced women and children to resort to going outside the camp in search of menial jobs, mostly on farms around the community to fill the feeding gap and raise money for other basic needs.

It was gathered that the IDPs have to obtain permission from security men before they are allowed outside of the camp, but not every one of them get ‘pass’ every day to go in search of succor elsewhere.

Maryam Musa, mother of six, from Gwoza Local Government in Borno State said she was given a monthly dry ration comprising of three measures of rice and two measures of millet, which she and her children were expected to live on for a period of one month, but the food only lasts for two weeks.

“Some of us have to sell part of the grains to raise money for ingredients like vegetables, seasoning and salt, as well as firewood or kerosene. They give us raw food every month, but the problem is where we can get money to buy other things that make the food eatable. Some of us who are strong enough often go out in search of jobs. If you are lucky to get one, you can raise about N300 working on the farm. But in many cases, you don’t find any job. How about those of us who are sick and the weak?

“We have food problem that forces women to go out for farm labour. They give us three mudu (measures) of rice to feed for 30 days – no seasonings like Maggi, no vegetable, no oil, no firewood or kerosene. It is really difficult for us. I and my children were given 3 measures of rice and two of millet. We have to sell part of the dry ration to buy other cooking ingredients, and what remained could not last for a month. We don’t know what is happening,” Maryam lamented.

Another female IDP, Jummai Ismail, who lives with her three children in the camp, corroborated Maryam’s claim, saying the family got four measures of rice and millet as their monthly ration with no provision for spices and toiletries like bathing soap.

“Women have to go out in the fields looking for paid labour. Sometimes we are lucky to get hired for N300 or N500 per day. Those who can’t get it have to endure hunger,” she said.

She said that apart from feeding, as a mother she was expected to buy, pampers, soap, detergents and other things for herself and her children. She called on the authorities to live up to their responsibilities to the displaced persons.

A youth leader at the camp, Malam Bukar, appealed for improvement of welfare and facility upgrade. According to him, some of the tents have broken down, forcing some inmates to sleep on bare floor.

Although the clinic at the Malkohi camp was open to the IDPs, it was gathered that some basic drugs were not available, even as some patients could hardly afford to buy from private medicine stores outside the camp.

Despite the presence of soldiers and other security personnel, the IDPs said they felt insecure as part of the perimeter fence had collapsed, leaving them with the fear that infiltrators could take advantage of that to cause security problem within the facility, which had suffered a deadly suicide bomb attack in the recent  past.

The head of operations of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in charge of Adamawa and Taraba states, Abbani Imam Garki, however, said the dry food ration system was introduced after the IDPs rejected the central cooking system, where food was cooked in a central kitchen and distributed to people in the camp.

Imam explained that in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed with the Adamawa State Government, the NEMA was responsible for the supply of basic food items while the state government was to provide condiments, including spices, seasoning etc.

“Initially, we had a central cooking system where we cooked for all the IDPs and served them, but due to complaints, and  because even the IDPs had different ways of cooking and how they want their food to be, they have been advocating continuously that they want us to be giving them food to cook themselves. So what we do is that we supply them with food items that will be sufficient for them for at least one month,” Abbani said.

  Some IDPs awaiting relief materials
Some IDPs awaiting relief materials

‘Our destiny in our hands’

In 2014, internally displaced persons from different parts of Borno communities, such as Damboa, Benishek, Bama and Gwoza, among others, moved to neighbouring Yobe State. They eventually settled at a sprawling community called Kuka-Reta, located some 15 kilometers along the Damaturu-Maiduguri expressway. With the permission of the village head of Kuka-Reta, they set up a camp, which was said to have later got the recognition of government.

But the IDPs of Kuka-Reta said that having been left to their fate as no relief supplies were forthcoming from government; they decided to take their destiny in their hands.

“For the over three years we spent in this camp, I cannot remember any assistance from the NEMA. The only time I remember seeing them here was when an inferno happened six months ago. They came and took names of the affected people for intervention, but they did not return. The Borno State Government has also neglected us. They know we are here, but they don’t care about the way we live or how we survive,’’ said Baba Gubo, who has spent four years at the camp.

Gubo said it was the World Food Programme (WFP) that came to their rescue in terms of feeding. “We get monthly food support from the WFP and nobody else’’, he said.

A visit to the Kuka-Reta IDP in May last year was quite revealing. It was on a Tuesday morning, and as early as 6am, men, women and little children were seen tottering across the muddy streets littered with garbage and overgrown grasses.

Aisha Babagubo, a mother of seven, who hails from Kafa village in Damboa Local Government Area of Borno State, said that throughout her stay in the camp, very little assistance came to them, and it was from the Yobe State Government.

“We were left to starve by our state (Borno). But thanks to the WFP that gave us tickets for monthly groceries. Although it is inadequate, at least we eat one square meal every day,” she said.

Pointing towards her tent, Aisha said: “You can also see the reed-made tents we live in. Whenever it rains we can’t sleep until the rain stops.  Our children usually get drenched and fall sick, yet we don’t get drugs, even if we go to the camp dispensary. When the rains are over we are confronted with another problem of windstorm that wreaks havoc on our tents.’’

Aisha, who was surrounded by her five children, fanning her halogen stove to cook breakfast said: “At times these children would have nothing to eat. In this compound, we have over 50 children, ranging from 1 to 10 years.”

Malam Ali Umara, an IDP from Gulgi in Damboa Local Government Area of Borno State, said he arrived the camp nine months earlier after Boko Haram insurgents raided his home town and killed over 50 people, including his son, who was also married with kids.

“I did not receive any help from government or any other organisation since I came to this camp. I only survive doing menial jobs and selling firewood I fetch from the bush,” he said.

The village head of Kuka-Reta, Lawan Babagana, said the IDPs in the camp were almost 8,000 and that with attacks on villages under Damboa, more were still coming.

“The population of this community is only 1,500. We are being tripled by the IDPs, who are almost 8,000. It has been difficult with us both in terms of feeding. Only the WFP is forthcoming on food intervention, they provide monthly groceries of N17, 500 to over 3,000 people,’’ he said.

Sidi Yakubu Karasuwa, a member representing Karasuwa/federal constituency, said the director-general of the NEMA, Maihajja had asked him to send people that would witness the distribution of food items in his constituency, where the camp is located. He, however, said: “But they reported to me that no distribution had taken place.’’

The IDPs in Borno State also have bitter tales of neglect and alleged diversion of relief materials meant for them, especially food. They accused government agencies, especially the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), of giving them quantities grossly insufficient for them. They alleged that bulk of the food items meant for them was diverted.

Ahmed Kaumi, an IDP at the Bakassi Camp in Maiduguri, who hails from Bama, said: “My wife, five children and I have been IDPs for four years and some months now. What I was receiving for the upkeep of my family was grossly insufficient for proper upkeep. I and my family have been roaming the streets for daily labour. Even when you hear that relief materials are being distributed, sometimes the distribution officials first demand to ‘do something’ with your wife before they give you anything substantial. Distribution officials even ask for bribes. This is why I have decided to avoid going for the relief materials,” he said.

Babakura Ibrahim, another IDP at the Bakassi camp said: “Officials always complain of taking delivery of insufficient supplies. If, for example, 100 bags of rice are to be shared, only about 60 would actually be given. About six families would be lumped up on a bag. We are only lucky to be receiving occasional assistance from non-governmental organisations.

An IDP who wouldn’t want his name mentioned for fear of victimisation said: “In the case of ceremonial distributions in the official camps or in locations within the metropolis (for IDPs in host communities), any government official performs the ceremonial distribution to a selected few and his convoy snakes away. The distribution is often halted immediately and trucks would be seen carting away the bulk, and nothing is heard of it afterwards.”

He further alleged that pickup vans or trucks escorted by government officials were often seen at night carting away huge quantities of food items and other condiments in the stores.

But an official of the state government denied the allegations, saying: “We are used to the IDPs, whether in Maiduguri or back to their home communities alleging gross impropriety perpetrated by officials in the distribution of relief materials. We have developed a thick skin to this. But they (the IDPs) are also culprits in the misconducts they allege.”

The official, who wouldn’t want to be named because he is not authorised to speak on the matter, said: “They (IDPs) also perpetrate a lot of dishonesty in the give-and-take relationship between them and officials, with regard to provisions supplied to them.

“For example, they mastered the naughty practice of collecting double or triple rations while their fellow IDPs go without meals. And they don’t care about whatever happens to those who go hungry. We met with the SEMA and other strategic partners and stopped that. They then resorted to collecting dry rations and taking them to town to sell and then come to complain that they have not been given,’’ the official said.

Allegations of corruption drew the attention of the National Assembly, leading to probes by both chambers of the parliament. While the Senate had, in 2016, launched a probe of alleged diversion of over N5billion meant for IDPs in the North-East and subsequently indicted a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, the House of Representatives, on February 15, 2018, through a motion of urgent national importance, mandated its Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness to investigate the NEMA over an alleged diversion of N19.4 billion relief materials and funds for victims of disasters.

Although the accused had denied any wrongdoing, the House of Representatives, on Thursday, November 8, 2018, adopted the report of its committee, which, among other things, recommended the dismissal and prosecution of the NEMA director-general over alleged fraud. In the report, the committee accused the NEMA director-general of embezzling N33 billion emergency intervention fund” meant for the agency.

The House also asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to prosecute the director-general and recover the fund listed against him.

Part of the committee’s findings read: “On the emergency intervention of food security to the North-East to support the population ravaged by insurgency, a sum of N5, 865,671,939.26 was approved and released in June 2017 vide a memo raised from the Office of the Acting President, directing the Minister of Finance and the Accountant-General of the Federation to so act.

“It is consequently recommended that the director-general of the NEMA, Engr. Mustapha Yunusa Maihaja be relieved of his duties by Mr. President and handed over to relevant authorities for prosecution.”

In a swift response, however, the NEMA rejected the report of the House of Representatives committee, saying: “We were shocked to hear some of the findings and conclusions presented by the committee on the issues, which did not reflect the facts and documents placed before it by the NEMA.

“The House of Representatives, at its sitting of November 8, 2018, received the report of the House Committee on Emergency and Preparedness Response on the alleged violation of public trust against the NEMA. On the port clearance and transportation of emergency food assistance by the Chinese government, the Federal Government received a total of 6,779MT of rice for IDPs in the North-East as donation. This amounted to 271 containers, which arrived Apapa ports between June and October 2017.

“The processes of securing duty exemption, waivers and other related issues took several months, but the total quantity was subsequently cleared from the Apapa port, transported and delivered to NEMA warehouses in the North-East. It was thereafter distributed to the IDPs in Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe. Documents on the transaction, including distribution to the IDPs were made available to the committee.’’

This investigation was carried out with the support of Tiger Eye Foundation.