24 January 2019

Nigeria: Saving IDPs From Starvation

Photo: Monde Kingsley Nfor /Irin
Refugees from northern Nigeria in Cameroon's Minawao camp (file photo).

Kayode Fasua reports on the humanitarian tragedy arising from a recent overrunning of Rann, a Borno community sharing border with Cameroon by insurgents

Though the Nigerian military had assured all that they had reclaimed Rann, a Borno State community that recently was overrun by insurgents of the virulent Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP), the United Nations (UN) has chosen to dither in fully sharing the belief.

The global body through a distress note issued by its Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon, said at date, humanitarian workers had been prevented from reaching Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and other enfeebled locals in the area, with relief items such as food, toiletries, and other provisions stuck.

Rann, is a town in eastern Borno State, and is about 10 kilometres from Nigeria's border with Cameroon.

In an impassioned statement issued through Kallon, the UN had expressed grave concern over the interruption of aid delivery to tens of thousands of internally displaced people in the benighted community, warning that it could spiral the woes of IDPs and other benighted rural dwellers facing insurgent attacks in the North-east.

"The interruption in the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Rann is the direct result of an attack that started at dusk on January 14, 2019, on the military base and continued into the next day. At the time of the attack, an estimated 76,000 internally displaced people were living in Rann.

"A medical clinic, warehouses with humanitarian supplies and accommodation for aid workers were looted and destroyed in the attack. The market and shelters in the camp were burned down by the attackers," Kallon demurred.

He further stated: "Several civilian fatalities have also been reported, although the total number is not yet known, and thousands are reported to have fled to Cameroon. In addition, 14 aid workers, who were in Rann during the attack and able to hide, were withdrawn the day after by helicopter. At present, Rann is inaccessible to international humanitarian organisations, both by road and by air."

Kallon, thus observed that the attacks on Rann had become one too many, adding that it had begun to have a devastating impact on civilians taking refuge in the isolated town, "and severely affecting our ability to deliver life-saving aid to women, men and children in need."

He lamented also, that the attack had spread fear among an already vulnerable population, and humanitarian assets were also targeted, urging Nigeria's federal government to adopt fresh measures aimed at protecting civilians, including aid workers.

Going on memory lane, however, the UN's 'tale of the tape' regarding its experience in bringing succour to the endangered species in the north-east has been one of gloom. It particularly decried the seemingly unending conflicts, recalling that Boko Haram attacks since November 2018, had caused over 43,000 persons to flee their homes, with more than 32,000 taking refuge in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.

The Head of Communications at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA), Samantha Newport, particularly noted that renewed attacks had cut off access to humanitarian assistance to some towns in Borno State, which the aid workers could only connect through Rann, a border town with Cameroon.

The UN said immediately after the January 14 attack on the border town, 14 aid workers were withdrawn.

The world body, in renewing its plea for a more proactive measure from the government, stated that the conflict in the North-east, now in its 10th year, had triggered massive displacement and caused severe humanitarian crises, with more than seven million people in dire strait.

Rann, it would seem, has become a hot spot for both the Boko Haram and ISWAP insurgents, who see the seizure of the ravaged community as key to debarring aid workers from bringing succor to tens of thousands of IDPs and local populations in need of help.

For instance, on March 1, 2018, three aid workers were killed, and three others abducted in an attack on the town, forcing Medicines Sans Frontier (Doctors Without Borders -MSF) to suspend its activities there.

On December 7 last year too, another attack on an IDPs' camp in Rann took place, forcing the UN to withdraw its staff from facilities in the locale.

Recalling the horrendous impact of the Rann tragedy, in an article published on the MSF official website, a male nurse working for the MSF in Borno State, Isa Bwala, who was in Rann a day after the attack, said the community, which used to be a beehive of activities, was now a ghost of its old self.

Bwala, who was at hand to assess the medical needs of residents there before aide workers were officially pulled out, said he met "a town turned to a ghost of its former self."

"What struck me when we arrived was the silence. Many parts of the town have been burnt. There was still smoke drifting in the sky and the fires were still burning in places.

"I met a woman who was just back from the burial of her elderly mother, who had died inside her burning home. She got burnt to death inside because she couldn't escape the fire.

"MSF's base, office and pharmacy have also been burnt to the ground. All that's left are piles of ashes.

"Luckily, all of our staff from Rann are safe. Several have fled to Cameroon, along with the majority of the population of Rann.

"I saw a long line of people leaving for Cameroon-women, children and men, of all ages. Some had donkeys but many were just carrying their belongings. The ones I spoke to said they were leaving because they were too afraid to stay," Bwala stated.

Military Offers Hope

Meanwhile, the Nigerian military authorities have given a glimmer of hope, saying troops were able to reclaim Rann, less than 24 hours after it was overrun by the insurgents.

The disclosure came as the Theatre Commander (TC) Major General Benson Akinroluyo, and the Acting General Officer Commanding (GOC) 7 Division, Nigerian Army, and Commander, Sector 1 of Operation LAFIYA DOLE, Brigadier General Abdulmalik Bulama Biu, conducted a "long-range confidence building patrol, assessment and re-assurance visit" along Mafa, Dikwa, Logomani, Gamboru Ngala and Rann, to check operational readiness and situations within the area.

General Bulama reportedly met and interacted with community members in Rann's IDPs camp, which had earlier been attacked by the terrorists, who came in about eight gun-trucks and several motorcycles.

Recalling how the attacks took place, however, Colonel Ado Isa, Deputy Director, Public Relations, 7 Division, Nigerian Army, said in a statement that the terrorists burned some parts of the village and parts of the Non-governmental Organisation (NGO) stores and looted some items.

Bulama, gave the IDPs his assurance that security within their area would be strengthened, urging them to continue to support the military operation by giving information and identifying strange persons of questionable character.

He also enjoined them to go about their normal activities and remain vigilant. In the same vein, the GOC met and discussed with members of the Multinational Joint Task Force deployed in Gamboru Ngala, appreciating them, "for their effort and commitment over time in the fight against insurgency."

He asked them to maintain the existing synergy with the Ngerien troops deployed along the border, in order to put the insurgents at bay.

Borno Govt Intervention

In its effort to ameliorate the human tragedy arising from the Rann attacks, however, the Borno State Government, through the Borno State Emergency Management Agency (BOSEMA) said it had been making efforts to move food and other relief items to the attacked people of Rann, but lamented the encumbrance it was facing, owing to "the hostile security situation along the route to Ngala, a nearby town where some of the IDPs are also migrating to."

Ngala, which is the headquarters of Gamboru-Ngala Local Government area of Borno State, is about 75 kilometres from Rann.

An online news publication, Premium Times, had quoted the executive chairperson of BOSEMA, Yabawa Kolo, as saying her agency's personnel had been mobilised with relevant relief materials which they could not take to the displaced population, owing to security concerns along the roads.

"For now, we are doing our best to do discourage the (people's) movement to Cameroon. Our officials in Rann have been encouraging them to move to Ngala, which is easier for us to take relief to them.

"Presently, some officials of the UN-OCHA have moved to Ngala and some of our personnel too, as well as the camp manager, are there, doing their best to take care of the situations. For now, we are trying to find new shelter for them," Kolo said.

But at press time, there were indications that the BOSEMA had succeeded in reaching some of the marooned and traumatised locals of Rann, through military support.

Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, has particularly been undertaking rehabilitation works in rural communities ravaged by Boko Haram Haram and other insurgents in the last one and half years.

The governor recently resettled over 20,000 IDPs, especially from Bama, a community which the military also recently reclaimed from the Boko Haram insurgents. Shettima justified the resettlement, citing reconstruction and rehabilitation works going on in many Borno communities, in which damaged residential buildings, schools, hospitals, police stations and other social utilities had been re-fixed.

But the Secretary General of the Campaign for Democracy (CD), Pastor Ifeanyi Odili, is displeased. While praising the governor for the reconstruction efforts, he appealed for a suspension of the resettlement efforts, citing unpalatable security reports on the rural communities.

"We are happy with what the governor is doing. But there is no need rushing the IDPs to sure death in the name of resettlement. There is no need resettling them now when the insurgents are yet to be fully tamed. Human safety is paramount in all," Odili urged,

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