The sorry state of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Borno has reached an alarming proportion that requires urgent and concrete attention. ALIJO SYLVESTER, who recently visited the State to assess the situation, reports on the chilling stories of deaths and man’s inhumanity to man among others.
To say that the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Borno State have been traumatized and miserable would not appropriately capture the situation they are currently facing at the various camps. An attempt to situate the true position of things concerning the IDPs would be to describe them as a dehumanized people, exposed to abysmal living conditions by their state government. Yet to overcome the trauma brought upon them by the dreaded Boko Haram, the IDPs are now contending with the worst state of low human value as their unfortunate situation is turned into a money spinning venture by public officers charged with the responsibility of catering for their welfare. From the point where the upsurge was seen as a mere revolt by miscreants, the situation snowballed into an insurgency of international dimension that has become hydra headed and difficult to contain. Over the years, government’s inactions led to the escalation of the crises, spreading not only to the neighbouring States within the North-east geo-political zone, but gradually to States like Kano, Kaduna, Niger, Benue, Kogi and the nation’s capital – Abuja. In its wake, the crises left massive destructions of lives and properties running into billions of Naira. While other states that were initially infiltrated by Boko Haram took stringent measures to curb the insurgents, in collaboration with the Federal Government, the same was not the case with Borno that merely paid lip service to the serious concerns. Observers attributed this sad development to lack of sincerity and lackadaisical approach on the part of the state government. Worse still, the Governor Kashim Shettima-led administration is seen as having displayed crass lack of understanding and direction in handling the crisis, in addition to its inability to effectively liaise with the federal government on ways to tackle the insurgents. Expectedly, it did not take long for the terrorists to overrun about 20 out of the 27 Local Government Areas in the state and declared them as their caliphate while also sacking towns and villages to render the aborigines homeless and forcefully turned them into IDPs. While in most parts of the world, IDPs are treated with human feelings and dignity; those in Borno are merely seen as a cash cow from where government officials feed fat and the unfortunate victims are exposed to starvation and untimely death due to acute malnutrition. Sadly, despite claims by the Borno government of spending more than N600 million per month to feed the IDPs, the pathetic situation has suddenly turned some female IDPs into sex slaves, exchanging their bodies for food from officials assigned to distribute the food items. Following the devastating activities of Boko Haram terrorists, over two million people are believed to have been displaced from their homes, thus helpless and unsure of the future. Their hopes that the state government would and should take care of their basic needs have been dashed. The unfortunate victims having managed to find their bearing to Maiduguri after days of hiding and sleeping in bushes away from the terrorists heave sighs of relief that are only short-lived as their experiences in the various IDPs camps that should have given them succor, is turned to hell in waiting. As usual, Governor Shettima’s promises of catering for the IDPs as part of his constitutional responsibilities have not materialized. Also, it has been abuse personified concerning all the assistance solicited from public spirited individuals and corporate bodies on behalf of the displaced persons to enable his government cater for them. But touched by the IDPs’ pathetic situation, support has come from both within and outside the country as part of efforts to ameliorate the hardships faced by the IDPs in the state. However, the situation took a negative turn for the IDPs despite the continuous flow of kind gestures and goodwill by individual and corporate donors who supported the cause both in cash and in kind. As soon the State government started receiving support on behalf of the traumatized IDPs, its officials began perfecting strategies to divert and pilfer the food items meant for the IDPs they were supposed to cater for. Rather than confront the ugly development frontally to arrest it, spokespersons of the government chose to devise means of vehemently denying what is clear even to the blind on the street of Maiduguri and other locations of the camps. Denials by the state government notwithstanding, unfolding events have confirmed the tragic situations in the various IDPs camps, described in some quarters as “Camps of Death.” This confirms reports by this magazine on the IDPs’ dilemma in Borno State. Significantly, the practice in these camps is clear cases of outright stealing of the supplies for the IDPs; greedy diversion of items for the refugees; deliberate denials of meals and other medicaments; and worse still, open segregation and nepotism by the government against some IDPs. This is in addition to the inflation of headcount figures of the IDPs, sexual harassment and denial of basic necessities of life. Tired of the unwholesome practice and denials by Governor Shettima’s appointed officials, the IDP, having been pushed to the wall and unable to bear it any longer, took the bull by the horn, storming out of their camps and protesting on the streets of Maiduguri against the shabby treatment they are daily subjected to by the state government and its officials that now turned them and their pathetic situation into cash making mill. For the IDPs, it is better for them to die by the bullets of terrorists than subjected to slow death through starvation while government officials use them to get richer and fatter. The action of the IDPs took place few weeks after reports of starvation and acute malnutrition went viral in both local and international media in which concerted and urgent efforts were made to address the situation before it gets out of hand. Jolted by the embarrassment the protest might cause his administration, Governor Kashim through his spokesperson moved to have the media play down the protest story or give a black out but it turned a difficult assignment as the social media was awash with the story, thus rendering the spirited attempt to kill the story, like many others before ineffective and the local media had no choice than to report it accordingly. Following the failed attempt to kill reports of the IDPs’ demonstration, the State government quickly took the next step to save its face by disbanding the monitoring committees accused of fueling the protest without any punitive measures taken against those believed to have stolen from the IDPs. The demonstration staged by the IDPs followed allegations of sale of 10 trucks of food items on the orders of the Deputy Governor, Alhaji Usman Mamman Durkwa, who admitted that he acted on verbal instructions from Governor Shettima to carry out the sale to enable the state government purchase condiments for use by the IDPs. Yet, it is a government that claims to be spending more than half a billion Naira monthly on the IDPs. Curiously, few hours after the IDPs protest, truckloads of food items were supplied to the camp of the protesters as a means of calming and quelling the raging fire ignited by the protest. The development raised questions as to how the State government was able to suddenly mobilise foodstuff within a few hours from its strategic store when the protesting IDPs had been starved for more than a week. Senators Baba Kaka Garbai and Ali Ndume, both from Borno State disclosed at a recent Senate plenary that out of the 115 trucks of food items allocated to the Borno IDPs by President Buhari, 62 trucks got missing in transit, saying the IDPs situation in Borno is an emergency that is worse than insurgency itself. Similar situation of disappearance of truckloads of food item took place during the regime of former President Goodluck Jonathan when 100 out of the 600 trucks of food items were declared missing. To say the situation in the Borno IDP camps is becoming unbearable begs the issue as facts point directly that the IDPs clamouring for a return to their original homes since the military, with the support of President Muhammadu Buhari, has succeeded in restoring peace to the State with the decimation of the Boko Haram Sect and recapturing of all the local government areas hitherto under the control of the terrorists. The IDPs are concerned with not only their own wellbeing but also the future of their Children who have been out of Schools for close to three years now with no sign of the State government doing anything to remedy the situation. With the rainy season showing good prospects for bumper harvest, the IDPs, who are predominantly farmers, believe they can go back home, engage in farming activities to feed themselves and their families without necessarily going through the humiliation they have been made to experience on daily basis. Without any iota of doubt, the IDPs in Borno are believed to have reached their wit ends just as they seem tired of the government’s rhetoric that has engaged itself more on blame game each time they complained of lack of attention. More worrisome is the situation of IDPs in Monguno, who are said to have been totally forgotten in spite of their large number. Checks by FOREFRONT indicate that Monguno has over 150,000 IDPs, making it the largest IDP camps in the State but remained abandoned by the Shettima administration owing to obscurity of its location. Some of the displaced persons, who spoke to FOREFRONT, averred that being an IDP anywhere in your fatherland is enough tragedy, but being one from Borno under the regime of Governor Shettima is really “hell on earth”. The unfortunate victims of circumstance are however consoled by the fact that one day; all mortals, irrespective of status here on earth, will face an impartial Judge to account for his/her actions on earth, including those that may have sold their souls to the devil.