From TIMOTHY OLANREWAJU, Maiduguri
Two girls aged eight and 10 approached a car as it pulled up near a traffic light at the heart of Maiduguri, Borno State’s capital on this afternoon. They appeared wet from the heavy rain witnessed in most parts of the city which has just subsided. An unidentified man sitting beside the driver of the car then threw a few naira notes to the girls.
A horde of crowd mainly women and children on the highway about 100 metres from the scene suddenly pushed their way through to scramble for the money. “Stop it, don’t take our money, please, we’re buying foods with it today,” one of the girls who later identified herself as Auwa Baba, shouted. “We all need food,” a middle-age woman among the group retorted.
These are not street urchins, but locals who were forced out of their communities by Boko Haram after deadly attacks, as Saturday Sun later gathered. “Many of us fled to Maiduguri from different villages when Boko Haram started killing people,” 14 year- old Musa Tella explained. He and some displaced persons have been living in an uncompleted building somewhere in the city with the assistance of Good Samaritan from the neighbourhood. “People in our area were giving us food, but things became very hard and we decided to come here to beg for money to feed,” he said.
Statistics obtained from the United Nations’ Humanitarian Affairs office in Nigeria in July put the total number of people displaced by the nearly six year- Boko Haram violence in North east states at over 1.5 million. UN Humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, Mohammed El-Munir Safieldin, said the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM), a mechanism put in place by IOM and NEMA, reported a total of 1,808,021 million people displaced by the conflict-as at June. Again, earlier this week, the global body in another report declared that about 4.5 million people are starving and are in dire need of food aid in the Boko Haram plagued North east Nigeria.
“All indications point to an extremely grave situation,” Abdou Dieng, the UN agency’s Regional Director for West Africa declared on Tuesday. “As the rains set in and the lean season deepens, and more areas are opened up to access humanitarian aid, the full scale of hunger and devastation is likely to come to light.”
Reports by various UN agencies including the World Food Program (WFP) revealed that this figure continues to double with the number of people struggling with severe food shortage in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, hitting fourfold since March to exceed one million. The reports also estimated that at least 65,000 newly liberated people in inaccessible areas of Borno and Yobe are facing famine-like conditions.
Although, some Internally Displaced People (IDPs) are returning to their natural homes, they have found them uninhabitable and are, therefore, forced to return to the urban areas again as IDPs. “These families have to beg, get in debts or skip meals to survive. Many now eat only once a day. Also, if Nigeria’s economy continues to sink, this could push the number of people in need of food assistance in the North east by another million by September”, it stated.
Borno, the birthplace of Boko Haram and heartbeat of the insurgency, has 1.4 million IDPs, the highest among the four states hit by the violence (Adamawa, Yobe and Gombe). But Safieldin says the number often “changes rapidly” due to many factors.
With hundreds of such IDPs like Auwa and her peers refusing to move to IDPs camps for various reasons including food shortage, begging became the available activity. “This is the only way to get money to feed,” she told Saturday Sun.
Most of these IDPs living outside the camps have taken over some of the road junctions and busy areas including strategic places like restaurants, shopping centres as well as banking areas in the metropolis. Some residents also claimed shortage of foods and alleged diversion of foodstuffs by those managing cooking of foods at some of the camps forced many IDPs to hit the streets for handouts.
The state had witnessed two protests by IDPs in August with the last one almost turning into violence, save for intervention by the police. Three cars were vandalized, while the IDPs threatened to beat up officials at the camp. Since then, the numbers of IDPs begging on the streets have continued to increase even as more are arriving the capital from communities liberated by military forces.
“It is an eyesore. The earlier authority addresses the problem, the better,” resident Yohana Ali said. He also warned the government to step up campaigns against drug addiction by youths, adding that many youths are now involved in the act. He said some of the youths who were earlier forced to stay indoor with their parents and guardians due to the security threats then had now returned to their bad habit as freedom returned. “They are now back at their former dark spots with their old habit of hemp smoking and hard drugs,” he claimed.
Borno State government said it had procured more foods for the IDPs, maintaining that it would uphold the household distribution of foods. Governor Kashim Shettima while flagging off the food distribution recently at Mainok said “government will not shelve its commitment to the well-being of the IDPs and the people of the state.” He has also severally canvassed for the quick execution of the rebuilding, reconstruction and resettlement of the IDPs to their communities. He said the people had shown commitment to return home as soon as all security arrangement and resettlement programmes were completed, assuring that his government would rebuild all destroyed communities. “We will rebuild Borno block by block,” the governor vowed at a reception organized by his political associates, friends and relations to mark his 50th birthday last Monday at the Maiduguri Government House.