Vanguard (Lagos)

8 June 2013

Nigeria: How Over 50 Women and Children Died in Benue Refugee Camp

Makurdi — The recurrent bloodbath in parts of Guma local government area of Benue State has created what looks like the biggest refugee situation in the north central zone of the country.

At the last count, no fewer than three huge refugee camps have been established across the local government area, with each housing close to 6,000 refugees who fled the repeated attacks on their communities and villages by Fulani herdsmen across Guma and neighboring Nasawara State.

When Saturday Vanguard visited these camps, the situation on ground was heartrending and pathetic. At the Saint Francis Primary School, Daudu, which houses over 5,000 displaced Tiv speaking women, children, the elderly and youths for instance, the accommodation facility has been overstretched to the extent that the refugees now sleep in the open which exposes them to snake and mosquito bites; yet the inhabitants are not availed any proper medical attention.

The appalling situation is made worse by the lack of toilet facilities and potable water, thereby exposing them to deadly diseases which according to the displaced persons has in recent times claimed close to 50 lives - mostly women and children.

Recounting their ordeal to Saturday Vanguard, leader of the camp, Joseph Ugba who said he fled the fighting at Yogbo, lamented that the health condition of most of the women, children and the elderly has continued to deteriorate owing to the situation in the camp.

... REFUGEES IN THEIR OWN LAND

Ugba, who was flanked by some displaced women, children and the elderly, lauded the Guma local government council Chairman, Mr. Usa Adii, for his efforts at ensuring that the displaced persons were assisted within available resources. He however lamented that the situation on ground in Guma was beyond the scope of the state and local government council.

"You can see the camp for yourself. We hardly get food to eat, no water, no drugs even the accommodation in the school can hardly take a quarter of the refugees in this camp.

"Toilet facilities are not there, most of us are forced, most times, to defecate in the open despite its attendant consequences on the health of everyone.

"Maybe this accounts for the over 50 deaths we have recorded, which was mostly among the children and women in this camp.

We ran from death in our besieged villages in Yogbo, Udei, Antei and Ikyer Development Area of Nasarawa State but some are still dying here.

"Our situation is more like that of a helpless people who have been abandoned to their fate. For most of us, it's as if the world has turned its back on us. Our women and children are dying after we had lost our houses and farmland to the invaders.

"We need help because we actually have nothing to fall back to. Most of us have been in this camp for close to two years. Most of the young men you find here now move around Daudu village seeking for menial jobs to sustain their families. But how far can that take anyone in a village like Daudu?

"Our cry is to the world, public-spirited individuals and corporate organisations for help and assistance because the number of the displaced continues to swell by the day while our villages have been sacked and desolated.

"We want to go back to our homes, we cannot continue to live like this, our children are no more in school and we cannot carryout our daily responsibilities to our families. For how long will we continue to live like this?"he queried as he fought back tears.

Speaking to Saturday Vanguard on the situation in his council, Chairman of Guma Local Government Council, Hon. Usa Frank Adii, lamented that his council had been overwhelmed by the situation.

"Our meagre resources cannot cope with the heavy refugee burden, and despite the assistance from the state government and all we have done in the three camps, the situation still looks pathetic."

The physically moved Adii also disclosed that, "the number of the displaced persons keeps swelling by the day and if you go to most of the affected villages you will not find anybody there because they've all fled for fear of being killed by the herdsmen and their mercenaries.

"What that means is that the people will in no distant time be confronted by hunger and diseases because they cannot go to their farms anymore and their children are also not going to school.

"The truth of the matter is that the people of Guma need help and very fast too. We cannot pretend over our situation because the state government and the council have been pushed to their limits and if outside assistance does not come, the consequences could be far reaching and disastrous - especially among the children and women."

He also urged the Federal Government to create grazing routes for Fulani herdsmen around the country in order to avert the recurrent crisis and waste of innocent lives.

In his account, the paramount ruler of Daudu where the refugees are camped, Chief Akaa Dajo, disclosed that the fighting had created a huge problem for the town.

Chief Dajo, who corroborated the story of the displaced persons, lamented that the influx of the refugees from neighboring communities and Nasarawa State into his domain could pose a security risk to the lives and property of his subjects.

He pleaded with the international community to come to the rescue of the people whom he claimed had been trooping into the camps in the last two years.

"The world cannot close its eyes to the pathetic situation in Guma. If help does not come quickly, these people would be ravaged by diseases and the implication could be disastrous to them and the host communities," he added.

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