Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) living outside government-controlled camps in Borno State are lamenting ‘months of starvation’ amidst allegations that both the state and federal governments’ relief agencies have ignored them.
The IDPs have also alleged that even non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that used to provide relief services to them have pulled out since January this year.
They said they have made several entreaties to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) as well as its counterpart at the state level but have been ignored as well by these.
This claim was however denied by NEMA officials who blamed the plight of the IDPs on lack of “proper coordination amongst humanitarian service providers in the state.”
According to the UN, the Boko Haram conflict has displaced about 1.8 million people. Of this number, 80 per cent are in Borno State. More than half of the IDPs live in host communities outside the camps.
Each time Boko Haram strikes and takes over communities, majority of those who survive the onslaught head for Maiduguri, the safest city in Borno, with two final destinations in their minds – either the IDP camps or the homes of friends, relatives or willing helpers.
Majority of the IDPs find themselves in communities where they are hosted by their relatives or some kindhearted persons who would sometimes give them empty open spaces or uncompleted buildings to raise tents and live within.
Many of the IDPs who worry about self-dignity and seek to maintain a culture of family upbringing for their children would rather remain in the host communities than go to the poorly run camps.
Last month, PREMIUM TIMES reported how some IDPs in one of the government camps took to the streets in protest over lack of food following the withdrawal of an NGO that had been giving them rations.
Though the Borno State Government has been able to resolve the crisis at the Gubio road IDP camp, no one seems to be bothered about the situation in the host communities.
Aishatu Zailani, a retired civil servant and philanthropist who had taken the responsibility for the welfare of a group of the IDPs from Marte local government, now living in Jidari polo area, said “the situation is getting out of hand because the normal chorus one hears when you go to meet NEMA or SEMA is that there is no food.”
Mrs Zailani, an elderly woman who currently finds it difficult to walk due to arthritis, said she sometimes assists “with the little she has as a retiree, so that the women and children from Marte, her ancestral community, don’t starve.”
“But there is limit any individual could go in feeding the mass of people,” she said.
“That is why we are stepping forward on their behalf to go running after the government relief agencies and the NGOs to assist these poor people.”
On the spot assessment
PREMIUM TIMES visited a community hosting some of the displaced persons, a fenced land where the IDPs erect makeshift homes using planks and rusted old roofing sheets for shelter. This reporter met several hungry women and children being helplessly watched by their idle husbands and fathers.
Most of those who spoke with our reporter lamented that they fled their Marte about three years ago and they have, since then, been living in the mini-camp they created for themselves.
This was after a concerned philanthropist gave them the undeveloped land for them to occupy.
Fatima Muhammed, a 26-year-old woman and a mother of three children – the last one tied on her back – told PREMIUM TIMES that she could not go to the IDP camp because “she was told that life there was no better than those living within the host communities”.
“We came in from Marte about three years ago, and we have since been living here, within this fenced property belonging to one kind man who said we could live here,” she said.
“Even though we chose to live in the host communities, we were once informed by the government officials that wherever we chose to live as IDPs, we would get all the needed support. But look at us today, hungry, tattered, unkempt and our children are not getting the desired care and even medical attention for their minor illnesses.”
Gumsu Sale, a mother of four children, also said all the women suffer a common plight
“It is sad seeing one’s child going out to the neighbourhood to beg for food, and it is even heartbreaking for such a child growing up to know that his or her parents aren’t the ones responsible for their feeding and upkeep. It is something that breaks the heart.
“Back in Marte, we don’t beg for food. We all have our farms and food was in abundance because we grow what we feed on.”
Fanna Zara, a young mother, said Boko Haram attacked her home a few weeks after her marriage.
She gave birth to her daughter while in displacement. And ever since it has been a life of hunger, tears, and sorrow for her young family, she said.
“We have been living in this place without any job or business,” she said while hugging her crying daughter.
“Our husbands don’t have any steady means of income. They would wake up and all they do is to hope for luck to come to their way as they go out.”
Food, a mirage
Despite other lifesaving needs, the IDPs said lack of food still remains their major dilemma.
“Our major problem now is food and possibly some support to start a petty business because staying like this all day without something doing is killing,” said Gumsu Sale.
“But for now our major concern is food to feed the children and ourselves.
“We have not heard any news about our community since we arrived here. We are like in the dark. Here we are going without adequate food for about six months now because the NGO, Save the Children, that use to attend to us has left.”
Musa Jidda, a man in his late 50s, said they have no idea of where to turn to for help.
“We have no one to run to other than our senior aunt here in Maiduguri, Hajiya Yakura Zailani, who has been the one running after all the NGOs begging them to come and help us with food,” he said.
Mr Jidda said children constitute the largest number of the population in the makeshift camp.
“We have over 50 children on these premises but only seven of them are attending a public school here because we don’t have the means to send them to school.”
Haruna Jidda, the eldest man in the compound said, “even if we have schools to enrol the kids, how do we encourage a child with an empty stomach to go to school?
“When we got here, NEMA used to give us food items like rice, beans and millet and garri but they stopped giving us the food for about 10 months now,” he said
The IDPs said they would prefer to be assisted with food and a job to do.
“We need food, we want some space to farm, we want some support to start a business, and we need support for our children to school. But how can we talk about school to a child with an empty stomach” Mr Husseini said.
“We love our children to go to school because even back in Marte, many of our children were attending schools. Most of us dreamt for a better life for our children, that’s why we enrolled them in schools back in Marte. But here we are with the children growing up without proper plans for their future,” Musa Jidda added.
Meanwhile, Mrs Zailani described the situation as pathetic, “which deserves empathy from every person with a conscience.”
“The government must understand that the humanitarian crisis is huge both in the camps and in the host communities – it is even worse in the host communities.
“NEMA and SEMA should sit up in their responsibilities and attend to these helpless people. But it is even worrisome each time you go to their offices to ask for help, all you hear is that they don’t have food in their stuck.
“Honestly, this is not a good omen for the displaced people.
“The issue of food is not something that government agencies will say ‘yes we have heard you come back in the next one or two months’. Feeding is a daily necessity. We all need to eat in order to survive to the next day.
“Look at the hundreds of displaced children all over. How does one handle a child that is hungry and his or her mother is not sure of what to give to her or him?”
Meanwhile, the NEMA office in Maiduguri said it is not aware of the plight of the IDPs at Jiddari Polo host community “because it has no such information that any humanitarian outfit was pulling out there”.
PREMIUM TIMES spoke with Salisu Danjuma, NEMA’s officer in charge of food distribution, who insisted his organisation was unaware of the problem.
He said there was an ‘existing protocol’ that both NEMA and other humanitarian relief providers follow for all interventions.
“It is not possible for an NGO to just pull out without adequately notifying the relevant subcommittee of the humanitarian coordinator’s forum that they are pulling out for the community to deploy another NGO in replacement.
“There is no way a camp or an identified community can be left without adequate arrangement for their food. I still doubt if the forum has been informed.”
Officials at the Save the Children, one of the non-governmental organisations providing relief to the IDPs, told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview that all their interventions in any given community or camp “have specified time frame for execution.”
“Once we are done, we notify the Humanitarian Coordination Forum that we are pulling out,” said Laban Onisimus, a senior officer.
Mr Onisimus said he doubted if his organisation had pulled out of Jiddari Polo “without informing the humanitarian coordination forum.”
He blamed the plight of the starving IDPs “on the lack of proper coordination and information sharing amongst the humanitarian service providers in Borno.
“The ideal thing to do is when an NGO is done in a particular community, at least they should be kind enough to inform the food security community under the Ministry of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (RRR) that they are done with their work so that another NGO with funding for similar project can move in; and that is exactly what we do at the Save the Children,” he said.
“Every intervention that we carry is funded by donors and they have a specific period of implementation. Once you are done, you cannot remain in that community.”
Borno government’s reaction
The Borno governor, Babagana Umara, recently complained about “NGOs flocking the state with huge funding for interventions which do not benefit the targeted populace because of poor management and lack of proper coordination”.
The governor said his new administration would henceforth take the lead in all humanitarian interventions.
He said the government would ensure that all NGOs are duly registered and their operations monitored.
But until something urgent is done, hundreds of children will continue to go hungry while their equally famished parents look on helplessly.