By Shehu Abubakar & Omirin Olatunji, Maiduguri
There is hunger in most of the internally displaced persons’ (IDP) camps in Borno State. This is because food items meant for their feeding continuously disappear, leaving them helpless and hungry.
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that a special team, comprising various security agencies, who visited the state from Abuja to investigate the alleged continuous disappearance of the foods, as well as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which chairman threatened to investigate the matter, could not make any notable arrest.
Displaced persons at the Arabic Teachers’ College (ATC) camp in Maiduguri alleged that an ambulance belonging to the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) was intercepted by the Civilian JTF guarding the gate of the camp. According to them, it was discovered that the ambulance contained 36 bags of stolen rice meant for them. They said it was, however, later rescued by state officials, but the matter died a natural death.
One of the displaced persons in the camp, Modu Bulama, who claimed to be one of those instrumental to the interception of the ambulance, said they alerted the Civilian JTF at the gate, that the ambulance was used to steal food items from the camp into the town on the pretext that it carried patients.
“When the theft became a daily affair, we notified the Civilian JTF at the gate, telling them to check any ambulance blaring the siren and rushing out of the camp as if it carried a patient. That same day, as usual, the ambulance blared its siren while rushing out of the camp, pretending to carry a patient. But the Civilian JTF closed the gate and forced it to stop for checks.
“When the ambulance was forced open, there was no patient in it; rather it was stocked with 36 bags of rice. The driver wanted to force his way out of the camp, but the boys destroyed the windscreen of the ambulance. Unfortunately, no serious action was taken by anybody,” Bulama said.
Asked why they did not report the matter to the police in the camp instead of the Civilian JTF who may not have the power to intercept a government vehicle, Bulama said, “The police are not in any way better. Few days ago, they intercepted containers of cooking oil stolen from the camp. Those they caught with the oil told them that it was a SEMA official that asked them to take the oil out of the camp.
“The SEMA official met the police and claimed ownership of the oil, and the matter ended there. All these things are happening at a time they could not feed us continuously in this camp for three days. If the officials say they are not part of the stealing in the camps, why have they failed to stop it? They are all involved,” he said.
At the Bakassi camp in Maiduguri, Falmata Bana said she suspected active connivance among all agencies working in the camp to steal foods meant for the displaced persons. She added that they were suffering a lot in the camp. “As I am talking to you, this is the fourth day we have not eaten in this camp because they said there was no firewood to cook. The kitchens are dry.
“There is hardly any night that officials in this camp will not cart away a large consignment of food items. And nobody is talking. Since we could not cook for four days now, where are the food items we’re supposed to have cooked? Nobody is saying anything. The governor told us that we were entitled to three square meals daily, but they are only serving us once every day. The poor quality of the food is another thing.
“But female displaced persons who have personal relationship with SEMA and NEMA officials have surplus to eat and give to relatives. The officials steal the food, sale and give out to their cronies. They have never served us enough food.
“Whenever they fail to feed us you will see displaced persons roaming the streets of Maiduguri begging for alms and doing everything they could to get something to eat. You know, majority of us ran away from our various communities without taking anything; others were rescued from the insurgents. I am not sure if any displaced person in any of the camps has N5,000. Where will he get it from? It is the same stolen foods that some of the camp officials use to entice the ladies and go out with them,” she said.
But the state chairman of SEMA, Engineer Ahmed Alhaji Satomi, refuted the allegations, saying they came from people who did not expect that the state government would be able to withstand and manage the challenges in various displaced persons’ camps.
“Governor Kashim Shettima is willing to do everything possible to ensure that all the displaced persons in the state are well fed and properly taken care of. These are people who were rescued from Boko Haram captivity. They were in captivity for over a year and have not been well fed, no access to water and medical care; hence they are facing the challenge of malnutrition.
“Rather than allow ourselves to be distracted by jobless people who make unfounded allegations, we decided to face the welfare of the displaced persons and the issue of their resettlement. Where our attention is drawn to genuine cases of theft, we shall invite the police to handle them,” he said.
Also reacting to the allegations, the police public relations officer, Borno State command, ASP Victor Isukwu, said he had not been briefed on the matter, adding that the case might not have been recorded at any police station in the state.
The situation in camps outside Maiduguri, such as those in Bama and Dikwa, is more pathetic as the displaced persons have nowhere to go and beg. To worsen the situation, the federal government, through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), suspended the supply of food items for displaced persons in the state for about three months. Supply only resumed few days ago.
The federal and Borno State governments spend a lot to feed the displaced persons in the state, who are believed to be in their thousands. While the federal government, through NEMA, is providing food items like rice, beans and maize, the state government, through SEMA, provides cooking condiments.
At the resumed supply of food items for the feeding of displaced persons in the state by NEMA last Tuesday in Maiduguri, the North-East zonal coordinator of the agency, Malam Mohammed Kanar, said the agreement was to hand over all the food items to SEMA for onward distribution to various camps.
He said the items, which would be handed over to the state government through the chairman of SEMA, Engineer Ahmed Satomi, would cover a period of one month. He said that after the one month, NEMA would continue to provide the needed assistance to displaced persons in various camps, adding that the relief items included 8,000 bags of rice, 1,200 bags of maize grill, 3,200 bags of beans, 1,100 bags of millet and assorted cartons of nutritional supplements.
Kanar said the decision to resume the food supply was to complement the efforts of the state government and other humanitarian agencies. He stressed that with the sustained effort of the military to liberate many communities, more displaced persons are now willing to go back to their communities; hence the need to assist them.