You might have wondered where the pictures of the internally displaced persons, IDPs are, and why you have hardly seen any videos of the camps. Even when Nigeria’s president recently visited, not much in terms of imagery came out. The IDP camps as certainly not prisons or detention camps, but sadly the lives of many of the occupants are not quite different than that of prisoners.
Our visits to the Borno IDP camps, is one that filled our hearts with sorrow. There are over 1,000,000 internally displaced persons mostly concentrated in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. Most of the 27 local governments of the state are under full or partial Boko Haram control.
The people (victims) typically fled their homes without taking anything. Many of these farmers and fishermen arrived in Maiduguri with only the clothes on their back. These are the clothes many of them still have on. They have no cell phones; they have nothing but hope and the will to survive. A few leave the camps to beg but apart from that they mostly remain within under control of and at the mercy of the government.
Some are fatherless, motherless, childless and all categories of separated, hoping or broken victims. There is a lot of documentation where new comers fill in records of those who they might have witnessed being killed by Boko Haram. The numbers of deaths as recorded in the camps is grossly higher than the numbers circulated in popular media. It is a tale of death and suffering in abandonment. Perhaps one of the worst pogroms and catastrophes in human history, with the early January massacre and displacement of Baga and environs notably giving this crisis the world record for single event terror deaths and numbers of displaced for the entire decade. Over 150,000 were displaced after the Baga massacre of 2500-3000.
The Borno state government is responsible for moving and securing the IDPs from the various towns captured or destroyed by Boko Haram. The state government is responsible for the IDP’s alongside NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency) which also assists in providing relief materials.
For effective coordination and identification of the camps, the government provided a camp for every town. For example there is Bama camp which is solely for the people of Bama, and Gwoza camp for the people of Gwoza. The camps are operated on the system of their local governments with officials and security operatives.
Schools in the state, which has had to cancel any form of formal education due to the spate of terror over the past deadly years, have been converted into the makeshift camps. The IDPs in their thousands are provided with food, shelter, clothing sheets, mats and mattresses etc.
IDP in the Middle of Dirty Politics
Running the camps is not without the typical problems of political interests among the major players in the political arena of the state. Namely, the state government party and the former governor of the state who is in the opposition at the state level. As a result of the various interests at play, the state government employs the camp officials, the local government heads and the security to secure the camps and shield the IDPs from anyone or body without the state government’s approval. Any donation or contribution to the IDPs goes through SEMA which is the state emergency management agency.
It has been alleged that donations of food items that goes through SEMA will be collected processed and repackaged with the brand of the state governor to be distributed among the IDPs in their various camps with pictures of the state governor on them. We were unable to officially verify this allegation.
There are also reports of corruption and financial irregularities within the camps among the officials. The state government claims to be spending N600M monthly; while those who are able to voice their opinions complain bitterly of the government not doing enough for them. They complain about the quality of food served and some complain of sleeping on the bare floor without sheets or mats.
However other IDPs claim to be fully comfortable with the efforts of the state government. The opposition is demanding that the state government come out and explain to the people what they did with the N200M donated by Aliko Dangote.
There is also the claim that senior government officials and camp officers are helping themselves to relief materials meant for the IDPs. It’s been reported that some senior officials cart 100s of bags away; and that some of the officials indulge in selling materials meant for the people. There are reports also that the state government through its various officials is witch hunting people suspected to be working for the opposition or with allegiance to the opposition party. One or two cases have been cited of people who collected or welcomed the former governor of the state Mr. Sheriff were expelled from the camps and ordered to be arrested whenever they come to the camp under the pretext of Boko Haram membership.
The opposition is accusing the state government of using human lives for political gains. The state government has been pushing IDP voting, while the opposition governor interestingly promised that he (the Federal Government) will soon liberate the local governments occupied by Boko Haram to allow the people go home and vote from there. How and when Sheriff intends to do so is not known.
Abuja: N60 Billion Victim Fund Unaccounted
The Goodluck administration in August of last year raised N60 billion at the inauguration of the Victims of Terror Support Fund. The money is meant to be used to assist the millions of victims, however little if any of this money has found its way to the oppressed people.
There was no electric power in Maiduguri and most of Borno for the past 7 months however after much clamor from rights groups and the people of the state, power has been restored to much of Maiduguri and hopefully the displaced persons will see some electricity at last in the IDP camps on the grid.
The IDPs are seriously in need of assistance without political interference. They need primary health care and proper medical assistance, proper, humane living condition and other benefits and assistance. The state and federal government needs to do more.
The IDPs also desperately hope for a serious military plan and mission to recapture their occupied territories so they can soon begin to go back to pick up the pieces in their localities across erstwhile peaceful Borno. But that is no more than a dream as of now.