8 August 2014

Nigeria: Boko Haram - Untold Tales of Death, Tears in Displaced Persons Camps

Weeks after they were chased out of their homes by the rampaging Boko Haram sect, the over 5000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Damboa currently taking refuge in camps far away from their homes, are still in grave danger. They may have to keep running to avoid being killed by cholera, or any of a number of the other problems they currently face.

LEADERSHIP Friday has it on good authority that the IDPs, especially in Biu and Gombe towns, are on a daily basis haunted by the fear of two lethal realities - one, the fear of further attacks by Boko Haram insurgents, who have vowed to kill them even in the camps and two, the fear of being killed by cholera.

Early this week, reports from various camps where thousands displaced by Boko Haram attacks are being kept in Borno, Gombe and Yobe states, revealed the difficult conditions most of the people are living in.

On Monday, hundreds of people at the Government Secondary School, Biu IDP camp had to flee after three weeks of being there, following an outbreak of cholera that is fast killing those among them already infected with the disease. Official records state that out of the 375 persons that contacted cholera, 27 have died so far.

The state commissioner for health in Borno State, Dr Salma Anas Kolo, confirmed to LEADERSHIP Friday in a text message that of the 27 cases of death recorded in Biu, 16 occurred in the camp, while 11 other infected people died while being treated at a hospital.

Though Borno State government officials insist that necessary medical measures have been taken to save the situation in the camps, the already traumatised refugees that could not stand the thought of being killed by cholera due to the poor sanitary conditions in the camps had to put their lives at further risk by fleeing.

LEADERSHIP Friday can report that cholera is not the only problem the IDPs have though. There are many others.

In Gombe, IDPs had to flee the camp provided for them by the state government at the Police Transit Camp into the neighbouring towns, due to the insecure nature of the place. Many of them, according to investigations made by our reporter, opted to go into Gombe town to rent apartments, because they feared that the Boko Haram sect may make good on their threat to hunt them down wherever they may go.

"We thank the governments of Borno and Gombe states for giving us all that we needed in terms of food, drugs and medications, but our lives are not safe there, because the camp is not secure at all. It is just an open place. We have heard the sad tales of how Boko Haram gunmen were still killing some of our villagers who ran to villages around Damboa and they have vowed to chase us anywhere until they finish us all, because they said we cooperated with security personnel in Damboa to betray them," said an IDP who is in his late 30s, but wished not to be mentioned in print for his personal security.

Some of the IDPs in Gombe are still lamenting over their missing family members. According to their tales, they lost contact with some of their relatives while running for their lives when Boko Haram gunmen came to take over their town. Many women and mothers still cry for their missing husbands and sons with whom they have lost contact.

Hajiya Hauwa, a mother of four cannot find her husband and 13-year-old son. According to her, she lost contact with them after her husband asked her to take their three daughters and run with other fleeing women towards Gombe, while he would take their son towards Biu so that the insurgents, who target the males especially, would not kill the boy.

"I and my younger sister who was with me fled with the three children until we got here (Gombe) and since after that time, we didn't get to hear from our husbands and we learnt that the Boko Haram people are still chasing the men and killing them in the surrounding villages where they ran to take refuge," said the distraught mother.

In Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, IDPs from various communities who fled to the city for refuge after Boko Haram attacked and burnt down their homes, businesses and farms are now being camped in about three different locations. Their fears may for now have nothing to do with cholera or attacks at the camps, but they do worry about their future.

With thousands of their children out of school, their farmlands left uncultivated and their homes razed by the sect, the over 2000 IDPs in the various camps in Maiduguri say they want temporary measures put in place by the government to address their pressing problems.

According to some of the IDPs currently housed at the NYSC Orientation Camp in Maiduguri, majority of them (about 600) came from attacked communities around Konduga and Bama local government areas of Borno State. It could be recalled that sometime in June, gunmen had a field day, attacking villages like Konduga, Ajiri, Balteri, Kolori, Malamburari, Bulaburin, Modu-Kawri and others. The attackers did not only kill large numbers of the villagers and set homes ablaze, they also ensured that the people fled the villages, which they then took over, hoisting flags to stamp their authority there.

One of the leaders of the IDPs at the NYSC Orientation Camp, Muhammed Makinta, a fisherman, said that since the deadly attack by Boko Haram gunmen who stormed their village, Balteri in June, most of them still live in fear and are traumatised by the way the attackers killed their relatives.

"They came at night and ordered all of us to come out and listen to some sermon they came to offer to us. We all filed out and by the time almost everyone was gathered, they suddenly opened fire on us while we were sitting down. 48 persons were killed instantly, while many others managed to flee with injuries," said Makinta.

Similar attacks were carried out on Ajiri and Kolori areas within that period.

Lawan Bukar, a community leader who spoke on the incidents in Balteri, Kolori and Ajiri on behalf of the village head of Ajiri said, "Many of us could not go back to our homes, because the Boko Haram gunmen now live in our villages. We could not go back to till our farms or weed some of the already cultivated lands. They took over everything from us, burnt our homes, our barns and some of our business premises in the market. Now we are left idle here doing nothing, our children are left without schools to attend, we have no privacy because now we have to share space with other families. Our grown up daughters are now mixing up with young men, which is not supposed to be, because there may arise social problems."

Bukar told LEADERSHIP Friday that they have resigned themselves to the fact that it may be impossible for them to return to their homes any time soon, but that as farmers, they needed some alternative arrangement from government, to allow them have access to land around Maiduguri where they can carry out their farming activities.

"Though the state government gives us enough food, bedding and drugs, we still need to do something for ourselves, because we know for sure that given the large number of displaced persons around the state, government cannot cater for our needs when the time comes for us to return home. So we plead to be allowed to use some of the lands around Maiduguri to carry out some farming activity, so that when we are to go back, we should have something to fall back on. We from the attacked axis of Borno State are responsible for about 90 per cent of all the vegetables and grocery supplies in the state. But now none of us is in the bushes, except the Boko Haram who are not producing anything, but harvesting and destroying some of our already planted crops near the rivers," Bukar said.

Adamu Mustapha, a 40-year-old farmer from Kayamla Village, whose community was attacked and several persons beheaded said, "Though women and children were spared during their attacks, we had to flee with our wives and children, because some of them that witnessed such incidents always have nightmares."

He went on, "Apart from burning most of our houses, they had also burnt down the schools there. So even if our children are there, they cannot go to school, because even the teachers there had out of fear fled long ago. That is why we are in need of makeshift classrooms for the children here in the camps since there are buildings around, so that our kids can at least continue their schooling for the time being."

LEADERSHIP Friday was told that about 150 school-aged children were in the camp when we visited, and that the state ministry of women affairs was collaborating with UNICEF to train some of the educated IDPs on how to give the children some lessons through the period of their stay there.

The number of displaced persons in parts of Yobe State like Gujba, Gulani and Katarko where Boko Haram recently attacked and even bombed a major bridge linking the areas with Borno and Adamawa states has also soared.

LEADERSHIP Friday investigations revealed that just as it did in neighbouring Damboa, Boko Haram, in a bid to relocate from their hideouts in forests like Sambisa and Alagarno, which become marshy during the rainy season, to those in the Damboa/Gujba/Biu axis, had resorted to attacking upland areas like Gulani, Gujba and Katarko. Their aim is to take over such areas until the rains are over. It was also gathered that to make the area inaccessible, they blew up major link bridges.

The attacks on the villages sent hundreds of displaced residents running through the marshlands by foot to far places like Dumbulwa in Fika local government area, where the state government is currently camping them.

Sources in Gujba and Katarko said that they were able to escape death because security operatives advised some of the residents who had not left to flee, as they intended to embark on and sustain a counter-hostilities attack against the insurgents, who had taken over the areas.

But the IDPs in Dumbulwa may soon be faced with a humanitarian crisis at the camp due to the lack of social amenities, even though the state government had ordered the immediate drilling of a borehole there.

One of the IDPs, a local government worker who pleaded anonymity, said many people, especially women and children, who had spent nights running through the marshlands had developed fevers and colds.

"Our major problem here now is that many people have had fever and cold, to which some of the government officials from the ministry of health are attending. But our major fear now is that we are all exposed. Young girls and married women face the threat of being raped or other indecent sexual relationships, which has been a major concern for parents."

Recently, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) office in Maiduguri expressed concern over the increasing number of trauma related cases among displaced people as a result of the Boko Haram crisis.

As a result, the Borno State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development and UNICEF have collaborated to provide psychosocial support and protection services for vulnerable groups in the state.

Commissioner for Women Affairs Hajiya Inna Galadima, who spoke during one of the training sessions attended by various stakeholders, said the services would be provided to women, children, the disabled and other vulnerable persons in 12 local governments of the state.

She said the local governments are Bama, Biu, Konduga, Kaga, MMC, Gwoza, Damboa, Chibok, Mafa, Ngala, Hawul and Jerehave "which have suffered the adverse experiences of emergency situations more than the remaining local government areas".

Galadima said the insurgency in the northeast sub-region, particularly in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states had escalated in recent times and prompted the need to assist the displaced persons.

"Part of benefits derivable from the intervention includes helping those who are destabilised by conflict to recover, reducing vulnerability, awareness creation among children and families on the need for psychosocial support in reducing the chances of developing mental health problems."

She said that to achieve these objectives, a total of 55 volunteers would be trained by master trainers and would work in 27 identified affected communities of the 12 selected councils of the state.

To ensure that the programme succeeds, the organisers have involved clerics, senior officials of the state and local governments in the awareness training on the importance of providing psychosocial support.

A senior UNICEF expert on psychosocial support for displaced persons, Dr. Alfred Mutiti, emphasised the need for the provision of immediate support for victims of conflicts like the Boko Haram insurgency, most especially women and children.

Mutiti, who spoke to LEADERSHIP Friday during one of the training sessions in Maiduguri, cited examples of similar humanitarian crises in Uganda, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and other African countries where, he said, displaced persons, especially women and children needed the psychosocial support services, in order to rebuild their traumatised lives.

"The Boko Haram insurgency has led to the destruction of social institutions responsible for the development of children in Borno State, hence the need for urgent provision of local social infrastructure in camps, to replicate what the displaced have in their communities, so that they would live a normal life. And children most importantly must be the number one focus," Mutiti said.

However, with the increasing attacks on communities and Boko Haram taking over several towns and villages across parts of Borno State, many have expressed doubt that it will be possible to take such support to the displaced, even in the organised IDP camps.

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