Daji Sani, who visited Maikohi IDPs Camp in Adamawa State, writes on what life looks like in the camp
Mallam Mohammed Bulama sat on a mat in one of the tents in Malkohi Internally Displaced Persons camp in Adamawa State looking into the future with fear and hope. With him on the mat were his two wives and seven of his 17 children. The ages of the seven children who sat on the mat with him range from a few months old to about five years. His other children are older and somewhere around the camp playing with their peers.
Bulama is the secretary of the IDPs in Malkohi camp and was displaced from Gwoza, when Boko Haram launched a deadly attack on the town. His fear was premised on the fact that he did not know how long he and his family would be in the camp where they depend absolutely on government and charity organisations.
Everyday he prays that the ongoing military campaign against insurgency would be successful so that security of lives and property can be guaranteed in his community. His hope lies in the return of peace to his community, as that would allow him and his family to go back to their home and return to the life they were used to.
Bulama and his family represent one of the consequences of Boko Haram activities in the Northeast whereby people displaced from their communities now live in IDPs camps in the affected states. As IDPs, they rely solely on government and charitable NGOs for feeding, shelter, clothing, medicals and other needs.
When the camps were first opened, the support and attention they received from government and non-governmental organisations were immense, though that didn’t mean there were no hitches encountered at the initial stage of their stay in the camps. But with rising number of IDPs and their prolonged stay in the camps, coupled with dwindling government revenue and reduced funding from NGOs, the support they get has started to wane and condition of living in the camps is also deteriorating.
Two years ago, Adamawa State government had mulled complete closure of all the four official camps that hosted the IDPs in the state. One of the reasons given by the government was that some of the IDPs had become comfortable and did not want to return to their homes even though their communities had been liberated by the military from Boko Haram terrorists.
Another reason was that there were rising number of marriages and childbirths among the IDPs, thus increasing the burden of government as its struggles to cater for parents and their children in the camps. The closure of two major camps, NYSC and St Theresa, forced some of the IDPs to return to their liberated communities.
Also, following the modest successes recorded by government in the fight against insurgency, the number of the internally displaced persons reduced drastically in all the official IDP camps in the state, from more than 20,000 to about 4000. Now, the camps have been collapsed into two officially recognised IDPs camps namely, Malkohi and Fofure.
IDPs from Madagali local government area in Adamawa State and Gwoza town in Borno State, two of the places still facing regular Boko Haram attacks, are currently the main occupants of the two existing camps.
There were expectations that with the drastic reduction in the number of camps and IDPs, the government, through its emergency response agency, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), would respond to the needs of the displaced persons promptly and adequately. But the situation in the IDPs camps is getting worse by the day.
In Maikohi camp, for instance, some boreholes are not working while most of the tents housing the IDPs are torn and leaking. Some of the children in the camp do not also look well nourished.One of the ramshackle tents housing IDPs in Malkohi camp
There are only nursery and primary schools in the camp and they are being run by the military and volunteer instructors. Most of the displaced children in the camp that are in secondary school have dropped out of school due to the fact that they are unable to pay their school fees.
While some of the children are orphans, having lost their parents to the deadly attacks launched by Boko Haram terrorists on their communities, others in the camp with their parents dropped out of school because their parents, who are currently unemployed, could not afford to pay their school fees.
The displaced parents in the camps had thought school fees would be subsidised for their children following their predicaments. But they were wrong. Those children who enrolled in secondary schools outside the camps were asked to pay the same fees like others in the host communities.
This situation in the camp may not be unconnected with the fact that some of the NGOs providing support have left, leaving the IDPs to rely on the support they get from government. Before now, they were getting a lot of donations but that has changed and it is affecting life in the camp. .
Some of the IDPs said it seemed they had been abandoned to their fate. Mallam Bulama said they started experiencing hardship in the camp early last year.
Attributing this to change of policy by the agency responsible for their care, he specifically noted that the feeding condition in the camp had deteriorated.
Explaining the poor living condition of IDPs in the camp, he said when they first came into the camp, cooking of food was centralised and food items were provided by NEMA. Bulama said at that period, IDPs were served three meals a day.
Things changed when the agency introduced what he described as ‘dry ration.’ He said, with the introduction of dry ration, NEMA started giving individuals foodstuffs on a monthly basis so that they could make their meals themselves.
“Now everybody cook by themselves. But this is forcing most of the IDPs to sell some of the foodstuffs in order to get money to buy cooking ingredients and as such their foodstuffs finish before they get another supply,” Bulama said.
He explained that the dry ration policy was causing hunger in the camp.
“We cannot eat three square meals anymore and before we get another ration, we have to starve for some days. imagine staying without food for some days and our children will be crying for lack of food,” he said.
Bulama also lamented that the clinic in the camp only caters for children from age 0 to five with few drugs available.
“Even the ambulance situated at the camp is overloaded with activities; it goes to Fofure camp and it is the same ambulance that services Yola North local government,” he said. adding that because of the workload, it is not regular in the camp.
“Our tents are worn out. As we are approaching rainy season we don’t know where to stay throughout the season. Our mattresses and our cloths are worn out too. They used to give us cloths but now they have stopped.
“What we are asking for is that let the government tackle the insurgency bedeviling our communities so that we can stop being a burden on them,” he added.
Bulama has a shocking detail of how couples fulfill their conjugal obligations, particularly sex, in the camp. He said because of inadequate number of tents, anytime couples want to have sex, they do that at night in the bush.
“When husbands want to meet with their wives, they signal them in the night to meet them in a nearby bush,” he said.
More than 400 children were born and more than 60 marriages had been conducted in both Fufore and Malkohi camps, he disclosed.
“Life must go on even though the living condition is unfavorable here,” Bulama said
Commending NEMA and NGOs supporting the IDPs, he called on government to see their plights and quickly come their rescue.Nicholas Samuel standing in front of one of the tents in the camp
Chairman of the Malkohi Camp, Mr Nicholas Samuel, said problems they were facing in the Camp were the same with IDPs in Fufore camp.
In the area of education, for instance, Samuel said primary pupils lack instructional materials. He also said there were feeding challenges in the camp but quickly added that they were grateful to the government and many organisations for supporting them since they were displaced.
He expressed hope that things would get better for the IDPs. His ultimate goal, however, is to return to his home and live a normal life with his family.