I, alongside my colleague, Olatunji ‘lanre-b, Christie of NigeriaInfoFM, Modupe Odele (Lawyer and Writer), and some patriotic indigenes of Adamawa State, recently took a trip to Adamawa State to visit some IDP Camps as part of initial plans for our Adopt-A-Camp project, an initiative we are commencing to assist Internally Displaced Persons especially those in the North East. One major thing the trip revealed is that the reality of the plight of Internally Displaced Persons is nothing compared to what we read or see in the news, it is hugely underplayed; hence the need for us to see things for ourselves.
Hereunder are some facts and perspectives:
1. Recent data capturing exercise confirmed that there are over 400,000 IDPs in Adamawa State and may be up to 600,000 in view of recent attacks in neighbouring States that caused an influx of displaced persons. Of all the IDPs in Adamawa, 95% – 98% of them are living with host families. An average host family has between 1-70 IDPs living with them, a lot of whom they don’t know before. Feeding is a huge issue; and their general living condition is so inhumane.
Relief materials are often donated to the government camp, especially by Red Cross, ICRC, individuals, government officials, political office holders, etc. However, there are reported cases of diversion of some of these relief materials meant for IDPs. This should be investigated and corrected. Also, government should endeavour to identify, register, and extend help to IDPs in host homes. This would help have a true picture of things and also inform how much of help that must be gathered for us to take care of IDPs both from Nigerians and the international community. If the government keeps reporting that we have 19,000+ IDPs, Nigerians and the international community would believe our government is capable of taking care of them. Even governments in neighboring countries where Nigerian refugees are hosted are complaining of how unbearable it is to cater for them.
It is imperative to state that data capturing for the purpose of 2015 elections would be unfair and wicked because after the elections, chances that they’d be forgotten is high. IDPs must be shown care before any other agenda. One of them angrily told us that they’d stone any government official that comes to ask them to vote as they are disappointed in the government. It is also crucial not to take advantage of their impoverishment by giving them money in order to lure them for selfish gains. One IDP at the government camp called us after we left their camp and told us how N500 was collected from him by a government official who came to register them for National ID Card. This happened on Thursday, November 20. It should be investigated and the needful done.
2. There is only one Government established/recognized IDPs camp in Adamawa State, yet the State is one of the few places in Nigeria where IDPs flee to. We were told that the second camp is currently being set up. The government camp we visited is at the NYSC Orientation camp, Lapondo Road, Damare, Old Gongola. This camp accommodates 6,526 IDPs. The living condition is terrible. Most of them sleep on bare floor. 13 IDPs recently died due to cholera outbreak, although the Camp Commandant told us measures have been put in place to avoid future occurrence. There are pregnant women and over 10 babies have been given birth to in the camp. The babies are malnutritioned and unkempt. There are children there who were picked and brought to the camp by well-meaning citizens. There are people searching for spouses, children, brothers, sisters, relatives, and friends. The child in blue in one of the pictures is yet to be identified by any parent. We don’t know if the parents are still alive or whether they are also searching for her.
3. There are only 64 Doctors under the employment of the Adamawa State government. This begs to question the doctor to patients ratio as these doctors cater for the entire populace not to talk of the IDPs. Of the 64 doctors, only 39 of them are active as several are demotivated due to below-standard total compensation package. The insecurity in the land is a major factor as to why private medical practitioners outside the state are unwilling to volunteer even though some are still able to. In fact, the NMA State Coordinator told us that even if Boko Haram infiltrates Yola, they’d still stay and assist people medically while complying with whatever the insurgents want just so they can save lives. How patriotic!
4. In furtherance to (3) above, of the 64 Doctors, there are only 2 Specialists – a Psychiatrist and a Community/Public Health practitioner. This worries me because one huge need of IDPs is Psychosocial support. With the shortage in the number of specialists, how can this be done? The State Coordinator of the National Medical Association who we met at the Federal Medical Centre, Yola said they are trying. I suggested that they should look into the possibility of conducting a crash capacity building exercise for some medical practitioners on how to offer basic psychosocial support so that gap is not left open. It is also pertinent to include Doctors and Medical Practitioners in Committees set up to look into IDPs rehabilitation plan so that their inputs will form part of the holistic framework. With the horrific experiences of these IDPs, we can’t wish they will just get over it without deliberate and concerted effort to ensure their psychological recovery.
Each IDP has a unique story and peculiar perspective. Their experiences are quite gory that thoughts of it leave me restless and sad. One IDP told us how there are several corpses that are decaying in houses, cars, on the road; while dogs eat some; this is because everyone fled with no one to bury their dead ones and those that are able to quickly bury their dead do so hurriedly in shallow pits. One IDP who lost his son in the camp said he is consoled because he is able to bury his son and not that his corpse is eaten by animals. What a reason for consolation! One woman narrated how they were 53 that fled Michika, but during one of the days of their sojourn in the mountains, an Airforce helicopter bombed the area they were in thinking they were Boko Haram members. Only 10 of them made it down to Yola. Bottomline is, that Nigerians, especially those who are direct victims of insurgency, have developed tough skin does not mean their strength should be taken for granted. It’s never easy for someone who watched friends, families, and others killed to just go on with life as though all is normal. We certainly don’t want walking zombies.
5. Consistent in their responses when we asked what their greatest need was is that they want insurgency to end so they can return to where they know as home.
6. Although the IDPs said education is not a priority, we cannot overemphasize the impact of education in the process of not only their full rehabilitation, but also as a way to ensure IDPs don’t end up becoming a menace to the society.
7. There are several income-generating opportunities in Adamawa State that if the IDPs can be empowered, then we are certain they will not be IDPs for long while improving their living standard as well as becoming huge contributors to the nation’s economy.
8. The worst camp we visited was the one we went to last before leaving Yola. The camp is in a community somewhere on the outskirt. (Permit me not to mention the exact location for security reasons). Their picture is seen here. They live in tatch houses. When it rains, it rains on them and they endure the scorching sun. In those tatch houses are minimum of 7 IDPs per room; and they are over 200 IDPs in the settlement. They farm beans and are able to eat it and also sell, even though exploited by some buyers. Their greatest need is shelter.
9. Adequate measures must be put in place to ensure welfare and national security, especially in the North East. Adamawa State, being my focus in this piece, must be heavily fortified, particularly Yola, as any infiltration by the insurgents will be a.huge national disaster considering the over 400,000 IDPs.
This piece is not to expose government’s ineptitude, but to reveal the gaps that exist for us as citizens to fill. Undeniably, government has a huge role to play. In fact, government is supposed to be taking the lead while citizens support; unfortunately it is not so. This means we, as citizens, have to step up and fill the gaps. This is not the time for blame-trading, as we loose lives and people continue to suffer each time this is done.
I have started an initiative called ‘Adopt-A-Camp’ as a vehicle to get supports from well-meaning individuals and organizations to IDPs. This will be a way to complement what other organization are doing like the American University of Nigeria (AUN), Catholic Church, LCCN, State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA/ICRC), Jama’atu Nasril Islam, Red Cross, etc.
The Adopt-A-Camp initiative seeks to adopt host families and cater for their needs in an holistic manner to cover 4 scopes of intervention: Health (basic and psychosocial), Education (Formal and Literacy classes), Empowerment (Life and Vocational Skills), and Basic Necessities (Food, Clothing, and Housing). We do hope that with this holistic framework, we’d be able to have IDPs ‘graduate’ from being IDPs to ‘placed’ citizens having met some milestones after a certain period of time. A documentary is being worked on, which was captured during our trip. You’d see more when you watch it.
On how you can support IDPs through the Adopt-A-Camp initiative, please be patient as we launch www.adoptacamp.org.ng in less than 10 days. In the meantime, you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. May I point out that even without the Adopt-A-Camp initiative, if you know any host family, several of whom are in Adamawa, Borno, Yobe, Nasarawa, Abuja, and other places, please reach out to them and assist. The burden of catering for IDPs is huge on host families/individual. Nothing will be too small. Expectedly, yuletide is a season when people give, please do so and go beyond just just a seasonal support. All assistance must be done with utmost genuineness and nd sincerity of heart. Insurgency will end in Nigeria and our dignity restored, when that time comes, can you beat your chest to say you are part of the change process?
Do have a great day and never forget to lend a hand of support while praying for IDPs, families of dead ones, and and the nation as as a whole.
God help Nigeria.