The depiction of Bama in Borno State is that of a town where so many have died of starvation and acute malnutrition. This gory tale has brought both national and global attention to the town. Michael Olugbode who visited the town, reports that the situation has drastically improved

When a non-governmental organisation, Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) reported a “catastrophic humanitarian emergency” on 22 June 2016 in a camp for refugees fleeing from Boko Haram near the town of Bama, the world could not but shake. The news of the NGO that starvation and illness mainly from malnutrition and diarrhoea have claimed the lives of 188 persons (almost six per day) between 23 May 2016 and 22 June 2016, was pathetic and got every notable humanitarian organisation working to arrest the ugly tide.

When THISDAY visited the camp about two weeks after the MSF report, the situation was pathetic to say the least, the entire camp smelt of death, one have to be very careful not to step on faeces or even get a leg stuck in shallow toilets which were not covered. A large population of sick and malnourished people, both young and old were seen including a large expanse of land where newly dug shallow graves were seen and the shanties which were not fit for human habitation stood sorrowfully.

The general complaint by the displaced persons then was inadequate food provision even as they slept in an environment where disaster was barely waiting to happen. Some of the people seen then were so frail and looked very unkept.

But that seems to be history and there is marked improvements going by the latest happening at the camp, though it seems relatively overpopulated and the displaced persons may not be looking frail but definitely not robust. But the zinc houses have given way to improved tents, there is no more open defecation as many covered latrines have been built, the water and sanitation situation looked improved as boreholes have been dug, food was seen shared to different households and the Dangote Foundation was around to give the inmates clothes and shoes.

Also during the visit, thousands of children were seen learning in schools built by United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). Most of the kids who had no contact with western education before they got to the camp, were noticed reciting the Nigeria National Anthem and the 26 English alphabets, they even counted number 1 to 50.
According to the people at the camp, the cases of deaths are close to zero and the healthcare of IDPs are taken seriously.

One of the displaced persons at the camp who spoke to THISDAY, Mohammed Ahmadu said: “We thank God for now, the situation in the camp is better than it was before when we first came here. I was part of the camp from beginning and it was difficult but now it is better but it can even be made better.

“We are feeding better than before, at least every month we are given rice and other provision, three households (with an estimate of 30 individuals) are given three bags of rice, one bag of beans, three gallons of palm oil to share.

“The dead are no longer buried within the camp. They are taken outside to be buried and the number of deaths has drastically reduced,” he said.

Perhaps the situation was what the United Nations Assistant Secretary General and regional humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel, Mr. Toby Lanza saw during his visit to Bama when he led a team of UN delegation and officials of the Borno State government to celebrate the 2016 World Humanitarian Day. He admitted that much more needed to be done for displaced persons in the town but that the situation was better than the last time he paid a visit to the town during the first week of April.

He explained that the organisation chose Bama to celebrate the humanitarian day for obvious reasons as there was humanitarian crisis in the town and in order to further draw the attention of the world to the town.

The UN under-Secretary who flew into Bama, a town that was virtually razed down by the insurgents after their occupation, in a helicopter, said: “On August the 19 every year, since 2003 is the day when the United Nations and its partners mark the World Humanitarian Day.

“It is the day that in 2003 the UN office in Baghdad in Iraq was attacked by a suicide bomber; we lost 20 of our colleagues in one strike. And I know that you here across the North-east of Nigeria particularly in areas such as Bama have identified with the sufferings of the incident of that nature because of the horrors Boko Haram inflicted on the communities in Borno State.

“So my hierarchy and I decided that for me this year there will be no better place to celebrate the World Humanitarian Day than Bama. So I am here with you and I am happy in sharing this moment with you.

“I am delighted to be back, I was here with his Excellency the governor in the first week of April. The Bama I witnessed in April is not the Bama of today. I sense progress; I can see that the army has made Bama more stable and secured. I am happy with what the United Nations and her partners have done a little bit to help.

“But I think we still have quite a road to travel. I am still not satisfied entirely and I will be calling for more assistance whether in demand for education, whether it is to make sure that all of your sisters and wives can give birth in a clean and safe environment; to make sure that people have roofs over their heads, food in their stomachs or have access to their affairs so that they can help themselves.”

On the past and present Bama, the zonal coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Alhaji Mohammed Kanar, said the situation was not as bad as was reported then. He explained that the agency has been in Bama all the while, he said they started bringing reprieve to the people of Bama after the military regained it from the insurgents, then the people at the camp were between 4,000 to 5,000 people. He said though the military were responsible for the management of the camp in Bama being one of the 16 satellite camps in the state, the agency in conjunction with the Borno State government ensured that food and every other logistics were provided. He noted that contributions from both NEMA and Borno State government are taken to all the satellite camps, with Bama as no exemption, monthly.

He said the situation however reach an emergency level when the military liberated villages around Bama that were controlled by insurgents. “The people who were under the control of insurgency for almost a year were liberated and they found their way to Bama and the numbers of those liberated was growing daily. The problem of malnutrition then was because the people were just liberated from the insurgents and then it would be recalled that all routes to the insurgents enclave have been blocked by the military and that was the genesis of malnutrition. So the problem of malnutrition then was that the people brought by the military from the newly liberated villages were malnourished and because of the concerted efforts by all stakeholders the situation was brought under check.

“The camps have always had enough food but the case was that those malnourished were newly liberated, they were acutely malnourished on arrival and we were able to bring some of them down to Maiduguri to be treated, this people have fully recovered. We are not likely going to see the problem of malnutrition in Bama or elsewhere again.”

He added that: “The camp in Bama is going to be divided into three because the present one is just too large with over 20,000 people. So as to have proper management of the camp in Bama, we are going to have three camps within the town.”

Definitely things are looking up for the displaced persons in Bama camp, though there is yearning for more.