For years, the North-east region especially Borno State has come under incessant attacks from Boko Haram insurgents. In this report, Ugo Aliogo examines the efforts of international non-governmental organisations to address the needs of internally displaced persons in the state
Before his very eyes the heads of his two relatives and friend were chopped off. When the blood splashed and the heads rolled, the murderers jumped for joy, and laughed in amusement. They had won a major victory. He thought to himself if these persons had no regard for human life any more. This gory scene made him jumpy. There was something inhuman about the incident which he could not comprehend; the killing was done without empathy and remorse. There was something strange about their demeanour which frightened him; the murderers always put up a tensed look and they were ruthless in dealing with victims who did not compromise to their conditions.
When the murderers turned their attention to him, they brandished their knives before him; his body became cold with fear. He promised to cooperate with them, and shelve every plans of running away from their captivity. Aidami Bulakurmi was captured by Boko Haram insurgents after his village was attacked by the sect. When the sect unleashed their onslaught on the village, he ensured that his wife and children left the community in time to a place of safety.
Bulakurmi explained that before now, these insurgents lived among the people, but later they felt betrayed because they realised that the locals were reliable informants to the Nigeria Military. Therefore, they unleashed their killings on the people.
“I was captured in the process of trying to take some property along with me; I was captured by members of the insurgents group, alongside two of my relatives and a friend. They came to my house and arrested me. When they came to capture me, they asked me why I sent my family to Maiduguri. They felt I had a plan of escaping with my family; I tried to convince them that I had no such plan. But they didn’t believe me. The insurgents described communities with Civilian Joint Military Taskforce (JTF) as a ‘community of unbelievers’. They told me if I visited villages with civilian JTF, I will be killed because I am unbeliever,” he noted.
Though Bulakurmi escaped from their captivity and reunited with his family in one of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in Maiduguri, Borno State, but he has been struggling to put himself together from the hurt of seeing his relatives and friend murdered in cold blood. He is battling with the trauma of losing his property, peace of mind and happiness. He is yet to understand the reason behind the sect’s war of terror on the state and its people. Bulakurmi is not alone in this tragedy; many have lost families and property.
The only place they found succour after the rubble is the IDP camps in the state setup by International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs). Life in the camp is not very conducive, and food is rationed as there are many mouths to feed. When the food is not enough, most women send out their children to beg for alms to augment their feeding needs. Most times the food provided by the INGOs to the IDPs doesn’t last up to one month. These camps provide them with shelter, food, education, counselling and healthcare support. There are also Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) that also complement the efforts of these INGOs in terms of supporting the IDPs.
The IDPs are not alone in these struggles; the challenges are also shared by the Bulamas (community leaders). Many of the Bulamas are predominantly farmers who own large acres of farmland. These farmlands are given out by the Bulamas to some of the men in the IDP camps to farm, in order to reduce the pressure of hunger in the camps. While in some other communities, the Bulamas can adopt families in order to cater for them, while also tackling the need of others in the camp.
To understand in proper perspective the depressing conditions faced by these IDPs, THISDAY visited one of the IDP camps in Maiduguri and the Bulamas were available to talk to the media and share some of the challenges they are facing. One of the Bulamas who pleaded anonymity began his story on a very sad note. He was not interested in preambles. He kept a good facial countenance, despite the difficult times they were going through.
He said they have been facing a lot of challenges especially on the issue of overcrowding. He said the camp is overcrowded most times because those in the camps could invite their family members and friends to join during the distribution of relief materials. Another challenge which he pointed out is that due to the cooperation and support he receives from the INGOs, people think he is being paid for it.
“85 per cent of the IDPs are from Konduga Local Government Area. The total population of the community is 9,500 people, including the IDPs. For the IDPs, we have 4,500 people already. The first INGO that came to the community is Save The Children, and the second is Oxfam International who distributed food items.
“We have the International Rescue Committee (IRC) they are involved in hand washing and hygiene promotion. They are also creating shelters, public toilets and latrines. We also have the Protection Action Group (PAC). PAC selected seven members of the community who are known as PAC members. They work in the community to ensure that there are no cases of harassment, rape, and other challenges that they may arise from the IDP camps.”
One of the INGOs working in Borno State to tackle the challenges of these IDPs is Oxfam International. The INGO is operating in Borno and Adamawa States respectively. Recently, Oxfam organised a three-day tour for journalists to spotlight some of its activities in the region, while examining its efforts going forward. The INGO is currently working in Mubi, Pulka, Gwoza and Rahn. They have been conducting hand washing activities and they focused on everything around hygiene promotion, water adaption, and electricity construction in camps. They are also delivering food assistance, and cash transfers to some of the IDPs. They also conduct projection activities; this helps them to identify the projection raised by the people affected by the insurgency.
Speaking during the tour, the Oxfam Programme Campaign Manager, Aurore Mathieu, said the humanitarian needs are still very high, but Oxfam has been able to scale up in addressing some of the needs especially in some locations where other actors are not visiting or where they were not in the beginning.
She also stated that they have been able to respond to the different needs of the population even if there are still lots of works to be done, “I think our presence is very important in addressing the burden of insurgency on the civilian population.”
The biggest challenge the INGO is facing in the state is insecurity. Presently, there are a lot of places they are unable to reach which people are still living either because the insurgents are residing there or the military have not been given access to such places. Therefore, it is really hard to operate in such locations and there are also logistics constraints.
In Pulka, the security has not been fully beefed up and there is an influx of people coming into the camps, which implies that the needs of these IDPs are increasing and it is not easy to meet the needs of this exodus of people.
Another challenge is funding. Mathieu said huge funding is required to address the challenges the IDPs are facing in the camps. She argued that they have programmes in Damboa known as educational emergencies; which is an initiative Oxfam began a few months ago.
The focus of the initiative is to target kids that are not in school or persons that are too old to go back to school in order to teach them certain skills which would be helpful to them in going into the market.
The INGO has put in place their protection team which is focused on monitoring the specific risks which children are facing in this crisis torn region, then report these risks to the services referral for them to address them.
She espoused that Oxfam protection team is working with women to make sure that risks and challenges such as rape or kidnapping which they might face when they go to collect firewood from the bush are minimised.
She further noted that they ensure that the referrals are available to support these women and talk with them about the challenges they face, adding that they are concerned with the high number of people in the IDPs camps, “the camps are crowded by women and kids.”
According to Mathieu, “A lot of men are still missing and this is an issue we have been bringing to the attention of the humanitarian actors to help in addressing the cases of the missing persons in order for kids to go to school and women can actually start economic activities to provide for their families since the men are away.
“For Oxfam, we are not doing anything currently to address the traumatised conditions of these women; however we have raised this issue through our protection programme that there is high need for psychological support not only for women, but for children and men who have lost family members. There is a high level of traumatised people and it is important that resources are put in place to address it especially counselling programme in order for them to overcome the trauma they have faced.
“In Pulka, and Gwoza, people are living in camps and they are confined and they don’t have access to their fields. Because it is too dangerous, people cannot have access to their fields and they cannot start farming, they are still dependent on humanitarian aids. Therefore, instead of just giving food to them, we are re-enacting the market especially in areas where the market is working not everywhere. We give them cash to meet their needs and give the opportunity to have access to whatever they need. This is also a way to empower them rather than just giving them food and this helps to stimulate the economic life.”
Beyond its own initiatives, Oxfam is also supporting and partnering with other CSOs such as the Centre for Community Health and Development (CCHD), and National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN). These CSOs have been playing active roles in addressing some needs in the IDP camps.
CCHD is a humanitarian agency working in Maiduguri and they aim at addressing all forms of abuses pertaining to youths up to the age of 18. They work in almost 12 locations such as Pulka, Damboa, Bama, and other locations. The CSO which was established in 2002 has been working in Maiduguri since 2015 and they have recorded tremendous progress. When THISDAY visited the Maiduguri office of the organisation, it was gathered that from the little period the organisation has been working in the area, they have seen many children suffer in a very depressing manner as women and children are mostly affected by the insurgency.
The insurgency has made many children to become homeless, while some have lost touch with their parents and are under the guidance of caregivers, and relatives. The organisation’s Chief Executive Officer, Yuwa Samuel, noted that while some of these children have health challenges, others don’t have food to eat, therefore he said the organisation identified these key issues and ensured that they are addressed.
The key focus activities of the organisation includes family tracing and re-unification, the drive is how to trace some of these kids back to their parents and connect the parents to their kids who got separated during the insurgency. For these children, the organisation ensures that they manage them, identify them, see to their protection and needs, “we try to tackle some of their challenges such as shelter.”
If the organisation cannot provide shelter for the children, they ensure that they join them with a group or individual who can take care of them in the way of fostering them, “then we provide some basic needs for them by giving them food and other things. Then if it is health challenge, we refer them to agencies that are involved in tackling health challenges to provide them with support in that way.”
Samuel espoused that the organisation has a team, Family Tracing Re-unification Officers (FTRO) who are involved in tracing the parents and the kids in order to connect them back, adding that so far they have been able to do over a 505 re-unification activities. “Since our arrival in Borno we have been able to reach at least 6,000 IDPs in the state.”
He added: “We encounter cases of rape when we go to the camp. Initially, it was not too pronounced but lately we have encountered much of such cases. We are fully into cases of Gender Based Violence (GBV). But we manage those cases so when we identify such cases in any of the locations we are working, we try to register and manage them especially referring them to hospitals to carry out a check on them to see the extent of the damage caused. If they need to be treated we will see how that treatment can be done, then monitor the progress to see how they can get over the progress. We receive funding from UNICEF, but currently we are working with the Nigeria Humanitarian Fund (NHF) anchored by OCHA, we also get funds from Victim Support Fund.”