Some internally displaced persons in Benue State want to return to their ancestral homes, writesÂ Alex EnumahÂ
It was the very first day of the year, January 1, 2018. Mama Umem Shiga from Tse Nongo Village, in Guma Local Government Area of Benue State though that at the ripe age of 102 years she was full of life and expressed gratitude to God for the grace to see year 2018. And as the usual tradition, gathered her children, grand children, great grand children and relatives not just to celebrate and feast but to pour out what may probably be her last blessing on them before joining her ancestors.
That accomplished Mama went to bed in the evening hoping to wake up to a betterÂ tomorrow, but sooner than she went to bed that she was woken up in great commotion as herdsmen were said to have attacked her community, burning houses, barns and killing anyone on sight whether young or old.
But for the timely intervention of her children who could not abandon her in the flight, Mama would have joined her ancestors through a gruesome passage. Yes, she says she is glad to be alive and to have her children around her but the pain and the trauma is just too much to bear, worst still when there is no hope of returning soon to their homes.
Mama Umem, who is the oldest inmate in one of the camps, lamented her condition, stressing that she was saddened by the fact that herdsmen sacked her from her home at a time she was getting closer to her grave. Speaking in her tiny weak and frail voice, she lamented that even though she was taken to healthcare facilities situated some miles away from the camp, she still feels something in her throat like a frog.
Almost inaudible, she said she was pained because her children lost everything they laboured for in the farms to the crisis. â€œI thank God that many of my children are alive but the pain is too much especially when you remember that you have a home but cannot immediately go back and you are forced to live in a camp where there is nothing to be happy about because of lack of everything.
â€œIt is sad that this happened to us at a time when things are so difficult and our children are managing to make ends meet. So many of our children have been killed and those who survived do not have homes anymore,â€ she said.
However, she is not the only one longing for the comfort of their homes, the over 10,000 inmates of the two major camps in Daudu cannot wait for a peaceful and permanent resolution of the crisis so that they can commence the process of rebuilding their lives.
Eighteen years old Mrs. Joy Hilenenge who gave birth at the camp on 19, January 2018 to a bouncing baby girl narrated her ordeal and how she was able to escape the night the herdsmen invaded their residence.
Lamenting the poor quality of food usually served them at the camp, Hilenenge appealed to the federal government to look into their plight by coming to their aid as well as ensuring that the menace is curbed to a barest minimum. She also said that she is already home sick.
“The night the herdsmen invaded our community, a pastor was killed, I was able to escape through the back door and run for safety.
“I was running with my husband in the bush when we turned and saw a thick flame from our compound. As I am talking to you right now, our compound is razed down. Even if we leave this camp today, there is nowhere to go again because for us, there is no home anymore,” she said, while narrating her ordeal. But she was quick to add that they are already missing their homes, insisting that there is no place like home
The husband, Francis Chirga Hilenenge, who corroborated the story of his wife, called for assistance from the federal government. “Though last Sunday, food was shared in the camp, it was barely enough for the families camped here. We lack toilet facilities; so everyone defecates in the open and we all know the implication of that. In no distant time we may be recording outbreak of diseases. We need help. Government is doing its best, but the situation is actually beyond what the government can cope with. If help does not come as soon as possible, we may be recording deaths in this RCM School camp.â€
The IDP camps, located at the RCM Primary School, Daudu and the Shelter Camp, built by the United Nations agencies few years ago, provide safe haven for the distressed families.
Unlike the Shelter camp where some form of comfort is seemingly available for inmates, the RCM Primary School camp, housing about half of the displaced persons, could not boost of toilet facilities for use by the inmates. The situation left the inmates with no option other than to defecate and take their bath on the field adjacent the camp in public glare. Most of the inmates sleep on bare floor in some structures that lacked doors and windows.
The situation is made worse by the continuous flow of new inmates into the camps and the lack of adequate food to cater for the huge number of the displaced persons. Medical attention for the sick and pregnant women also was posing a challenge.
Another of the victims Sedoo Ujah recounted how she escaped from the herdsmen who caught her and her five children at Asamgaba Village Mbakuran Umenge.
â€œIt was God who saved me and my children, because when we heard that herdsmen had come to attack us at aboutÂ 5a.m.Â ofÂ January 2, I hurriedly gathered my children and we made attempt to run away but the armed men who came in their numbers caught us.
â€œWhile they were questioning us, there came the sound of rapid gunshot from a nearby village and the men left us and started running towards where the sound was coming from. â€œIt was at that moment I told my children to start running and, for close to 30 minutes, we were running until we came to the road where we saw some families that were also running away on motorbikes and they offered to assist us get to Daudu.
â€œSurprisingly two of the men who attacked us were people who used to come to our village to graze their cows and I know them very well. One of them even asked of the whereabouts of my husband who, on the that day, was yet to come back from Makurdi,” she added
The chairman of the camp, Vaakaa Francis Shiga who spoke with the NBA team, who had paid a visit to commiserate with the victims and also get a first hand information on how to proffer permanent solutions to the crisis, lamented the poor condition in which they have been subjected to since their displacement.
He lamented the poor food quality and called on the federal government to come to their aid by providing food, mattresses and blankets.
He commended the NBA team for taking out time to identify with them and charged them to come to their aid by ensuring that they get justice.
SEMA officials who were on ground told the NBA team that food items and non food items are usually distributed to the victims on a daily basis.
He said that the materials which are usually supplied by the state government and other NGOs have been judiciously used for the purpose they are meant for.
NBA President Abubakar Mahmoud, while consoling the victims said the association has been following the development in Benue and the entire country and thought it is important for people to forebear and show restraint so as not to aggravate the situation.
â€The NBA has followed the development in Benue and the entire country and we thought it is important forbearance is to come and see for ourselves, see what is happening and hear from the victims, to express our condolences and to show our concern so that has been one of the major objectives of the visit and I think it will be very useful.
â€œThe second major objective is to see how we can assist them in the current problems across the country. We have done this before in other states that had similar problem, Southern Kaduna we are actively involved in the conflicts confronting the North-east, Nigeria Delta,â€ he said.
Mahmoud, in company of his wife, Justice Patricia Mahmoud who led members of the bar on the fact finding mission in the state said that the bar had been associated with the principle of rule of law, and it is committed to bringing the circle of violence to an end.
Donating relief materials to victims at the two camps, the NBA boss assured that the NBA will carry out a detailed table review of the issues raised by the stakeholders and come up with a logical conclusion.
He said, “The Bar has been consistently associated with the rule of law. We are concern that whatever our contribution is, it will be concise and practical.
“We are also concerned in bringing this circle of violence to an end. The NBA will look at the evidence and content of facts, careful analysis of all the facts and come out with a logical conclusion.”
Addressing the stakeholders during a one day town hall meeting, the NBA boss assured that justice would be served at the end of the day.