On Tuesday, hundreds of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Baga took to the streets of Maiduguri, Borno State’s capital, to protest.
The National Emergency Management Agency had come out immediately to deny the fact that hunger and poor treatment led to the protest, the first in recent times by any IDP camp. But the protesters have since denied NEMA’s claims.
Their protest was on allegations of hunger and poor treatment by officials managing their affairs in the camp.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how the protesters barricaded the major highway which leads out of Maiduguri, popularly known as Maiduguri-Kano highway, to register their displeasure.
Their major frustration was over the alleged poor pattern of feeding and manner of care they have been accorded, since their arrival over a month ago.
The protest was wild and almost went out of control as participants, mostly women, young men and children began to destroy public signposts, especially campaign billboards of various political parties.
Soldiers and police officers who were deployed to the scene had to use moderate force, including the release of tear gas canisters against the protesters, who stood their ground.
The standoff lasted almost three hours even as armed soldiers tried to create space by using the whip, to allow vehicles to squeeze through the human barricade.
At the end of the day, the protesters hearkened to the pleas of some senior military and police officers deployed to talk to the leaders of the protesters.
The angry IDPs agreed to retreat to their camp at the Shettima Ali Monguno Teachers Village where they continued to protest.
At the camp, PREMIUM TIMES spoke with some of the dwellers, who explained the reason which compelled them to take to the streets.
According to most of the respondents, the conflict started two days back when the International Committee on Red Cross (ICRC) came to the camp to commence distribution of food ration to them.
This development, they said, excited them because it will be the first time in the last 30 days that they would be getting food supply.
The IDPs said since their arrival in the first week of January, the government only gave them food ration of a measure of rice and beans and some condiment and nothing more.
The IDPs said they had been abandoned since then, even though the ration did not last them a week.
But the ICRC can only get the food distribution done using records collated by some officials of the camp as well as community leaders. This turned out to be a suggestion that did not go down well with the majority of the IDPs.
“When the Red Cross (ICRC) came to announce that they would be sharing food for us, we were happy because the hunger has been too much to bear,” said an aged woman, Rakiya Abubakar.
“But when the ICRC officials arrived they started telling us that we have to identify our Bulamas (village heads) in the camp and that it is through them the food ration card will be issued before we begin to get the food supply.
“We said that will not be possible because we have confirmed cases of how the officials use the same register to favour their relatives who are not residing within the camp,” said the mother of nine children.
The IDPs insisted that the process of distributing the ration card is usually corrupted by the local officials hence they demanded to be treated directly.
Some of the IDPs said their anger is not only about the food the ICRC was about to distribute to them.
“The attempt to short-change us in the Red Cross food distribution simply fired the anger that has been there,” said Esther John, another female IDP from Baga.
According to her, since their arrival at the camp, the government has not been kind to them; as they were left to sleep in the open without any descent form of accommodation or shelter.
“It is not our fault that we are chased out of our homes by Boko Haram,” she said.
“We were dumped here and left to live and sleep in places not fit for animals. Look at women, nursing mothers and those that have just delivered living in the open as if they are not human beings.
“We were given only two measures – one of rice and the other beans, and some condiments, which cannot even take one for a week. We were told that it was for a month. Everyone here is starving and the government left us like that.
“Now that the Red Cross came in to help, and we insisted to be treated directly, they said it has to be through the village head. And we don’t trust the village head because they have not been sincere with the way they share food or meal ticket in camps.
“They normally hoard the food or invited their relatives from outside to come and pretend as if they are IDPs.
“The sharing pattern has not been fair at all; if you have three kids, you get three measures of food grains; if you have five you get five and if you are alone you get only one measure, irrespective of your age. And that distribution was done only once, since we arrived here.
Another IDP, Ali Usman, said the only way to avoid further demonstration is for the officials to allow the ICRC come to the camp and share the food to them directly without the involvement of the camp officials.
“We also want the state government to know that we are not happy because we have not been treated fairly, like others, and they should not expect us to vote for them after they had left us without accommodation, and without proper medical care for our wives and children,” he said.
Some of the IDPs were seen packing their baggage and storming out of the camp in anger; even as they were heard vying not to return to the camp or any other place in order to cast their votes.
NEMA reacts, say protest not triggered by hunger
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) however, issued a statement explaining why hundreds of IDPs from Baga took to the streets of Maiduguri to protest on Tuesday.
A statement issued by the spokesperson of the agency, Sani Datti, said the IDPs were not demonstrating for lack of food but the distribution pattern.
“The attention of the management of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has been drawn to a media report of a protest by Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Maiduguri, Borno state which was erroneously attributed to hunger in Teacher’s Village camp.
“For record and purpose of clarity, though there was a protest by some IDPs living in Teachers Village Camp, Maiduguri, it was never caused by hunger or lack of food supplies.
“The protest was actually caused by interruption of profiling exercise of the IDPs by International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) who arrived the camp to extend their humanitarian support to complement the effort of partners.
“Consequently, some people outside made attempt to be enumerated and this prompted some IDPs in camp to chase them away and resulted in commotion and riot.
“However, the situation has been immediately brought under control by the security operatives stationed at the camp and normalcy restored.
“It is on record that the National Emergency Management Agency has continued to provide food items, monthly, to the camps, IDPs in the host community and liberated areas in Borno and Adamawa States.
“The last distribution at the Teachers Village camp was on 15th January, 2019 for all the household and was meant to last for a month.”
An ICRC official who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES said: “It the normal thing for us to use the official record of IDPs registered by the officials of the SEMA or IOM in carrying out any form of food distribution in the camps.”
The ICRC official who requested not to be named said the cases of diversion of food meant for poor IDPs has been a major challenge amongst the inmates of the camp.
“The alleged cases of diversion is too rampant amidst cases of hunger due to the inadequacy of the supplies handed out to the IDPs.
“We have also established cases of inadequate shelter for the new arrivals, most of whom sleep outside. All these challenges can easily infuriate people in displacement who need the care necessary,” the ICRC official said.