Bama, a once thriving commercial town, barely had a single building standing after it was recaptured from the Boko Haram insurgents who annexed it in 2013. Its commerce is now history and the stories from the town are all about malnutrition and starvation which have ravaged a town already down in the doldrums, Michael Olugbode reports
Bama, is a town in Borno State, North-east Nigeria. It has an area of 4,997 square kilometres and according to the 2006 census had a population of 269,986. It is a commercial town, located about 60 kilometres from Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State. It is one of the most prominent towns in the North-east.
But the story of the town started changing in 2013 when it suffered series of attacks from the Boko Haram terrorists. The town was subsequently captured by the insurgents on September 2, 2014 and many people were killed and corpses thrown into the rivers or wells. The insurgents hoisted their flag on the town showing their conquest and domination in the once peaceful tow. Many of the residents who survived the attacks fled to safer towns while many who could not flee were either slaughtered or subjected to the inhuman rule of the insurgents until the Nigerian military liberated the town on March 16, 2015.
Before the army could liberate the town, the insurgents who had gotten information of the move of the military, totally razed down the town; they left the town in total ruins with many buildings including the magnificent palace of the King (Shehu) torched. The town was deserted without civilian occupiers.
But the story changed when military liberated of surrounding villages and parts of the Sambisa Forest. The liberated people who had no other place to seek refuge came to Bama and when they arrived there were no good shelters. They camped at the facilities which once housed the general hospital in the town.
The returnees had to build their own shelters; they went into the town to pick from the ruins, burnt zinc, nails and woods. They could only afford to build make-shift shanties worse than the once found in ghettos. In fact, they have little places to defecate and sometimes do it in the open. They had little to eat and it was even a privilege to have a meal a day. Sadly, malnutrition and starvation crept in and started killing them, both old and young. The camp now has two sets of occupants, the living (but dying) and the dead.
The dead were buried in shallow graves while the living sleep in huts and shanties which are not fit for animals. They were at the mercy of the harsh weather.
No wonder on June 22, 2016, a non-governmental organisatio known as Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) reported a “catastrophic humanitarian emergency” in a camp for refugees fleeing Boko Haram near the town of Bama.
The NGO claimed that more than 1,200 people have died of starvation and illness at the camp. They also reported that between May 23, 2016 and June 22, 2016, at least 188 people have died at the camp (almost six per day), mainly from malnutrition and diarrhoea.
The situation at the camp was pathetic to say the least when THISDAY visited the camp a week ago in company of the aides of the President. The camp stinks, you have to be very careful not to step on faeces or even get your leg stuck in shallow toilet which is not covered. A large population of the sick and malnourished both young and old were seen and newly dug shallow graves were also visible. The shanties were not fit for human habitation.
The general complaints have to do with inadequate food and they were not aware of the impending epidemic waiting to happen.
Some of them who spoke to THISDAY passionately appealed that food should be sent to them. Abba Mohammed who is about 40 years old, said: “See the graves over there! We have buried over 270 people there mostly children. We have little to eat here. Before the start of Ramadan, we are given a meal per day but during Ramadan we have two meals per day.”
He lamented that even the meals not nourishing enough “to fill the stomach.”
Hassanatu Ibrahim, a woman in her thirties looking very frail and was carrying a malnourished baby, said: “I have seen many babies buried and pray that I do not lose my own child. I have no breast milk to feed her on, how do you expect me that has little to eat to have enough breast milk to feed a baby,” she asks, adding “Someone needs to help us please.”
The Brigade Commander 21 Armoured Brigade Bama, Col. Adama Garba Laka who conducted the Federal government delegation led by the Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment, Mrs. Mariam Uwais, round the Bama IDPs camp said the Bama IDPs camp came into being since March 2015.
He however told the delegation that most of the Internally Displaced Persons at the camp were rescued recently from various Boko Haram enclaves and have suffered malnutrition in the camp of the terrorists.
Col. Laka highlighted some of the health challenges in the camp which include poor sanitary situation, lack of adequate shelter for the IDPs who live in zinc houses under the scorching sun, inadequate potable drinking water and lack of toilet systems as most of the IDPs defecate around the premises.
He said that there are cases of malnourished children between 0-5 years most of whom came out of bush already malnourished. “As they come out from the bush, no medical official was around to cater to the health need of the victims and the only food is what the camp has for them. The facilities here cannot cater for these IDPs and if the situation continues, we will evacuate them to Maiduguri if this persists.”
He said that there are pregnant teenagers and malnourished adults in the camp of 25,000 displaced persons.
Uwais, in her address to the IDPs, acknowledged the enormity of the challenges which they faced on a daily basis and assured them that President Muhammadu Buhari was concern and committed towards addressing their plight. She said: “We are here to see for ourselves the situation on the ground here and to report back to the president, the Federal Government would continue to lead the efforts towards helping you as well as other internally displaced persons until you are finally resettled back to your communities.”
Uwais also commended the military for their gallantry and dedication to securing and caring for the displaced persons, while acknowledging that “this is a crisis situation”, and assured that the Federal Government would work with the state government, international community, local partners and civil society groups to ensure that all the needs of the inhabitants of Bama camp, and the several others are speedily met.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on IDPs, Dr. Mariam Masha, who was also in the entourage assured that alongside the humanitarian work, the federal and state governments are also focusing on the longer-term work of ensuring that the reconstruction and resettlement are effectively hastened to enable the IDPs return to their homes and communities, and rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
She added that as the military continues its task of liberating hitherto isolated communities from the grip of Boko Haram, the scale of the humanitarian crisis is certain to increase, and called for increased support from all partners and stakeholders.
The North-east zonal coordinator of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Alhaji Mohammed Kanar, disclosed that the federal government through the Presidential Initiative For North East had commenced the construction of 500 new tents each in some identified camps in Maiduguri as well as all the satellite camps including Bama, Dikwa, Moguno and Konduga.
He assured that NEMA would continue to deliver food items to the IDPs and ensure that they are made comfortable at the camps.
The Borno State Health Commissioner, Dr. Haruna Mshelia, explained that 1,800 of the most vulnerable persons in the camp had been relocated to Maiduguri for medical attention and specialised feeding, and that the relocation is ongoing.
He added that a permanent health team had been working in the camp since May 2016, and that the existing team still required a lot of support.
Mshelia who denied the report of acute malnutrition in the camp and deaths, said they were exaggerated as the state government with the supports from the federal government and other development partners had been doing their best to assist IDPs in the Bama camp and throughout state.
He revealed that during the visit about 50 additional persons identified with cases of malnutrition in the camp were immediately transported by the assessment team to Maiduguri.
He said that three truckload of food items and drugs from NEMA were also delivered to the IDPs during the visit.
Although the IDPs have started receiving attention from government, but one question now is when will the tears and blood in Bama stop from flowing?