Rose Ejembi, Makurdi and Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
Following the outbreak of Coronavirus, which is now a pandemic, the Benue and Borno state governments are in dilemma as to how to cater for their teeming population of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
As at the moment, Benue State has thousands of IDPs in different camps across the state. That is aside over 10,000 Cameronian refugees who are taking solace in Kwande Local government area of the state for over two years now. In the era of social (physical) distancing occasioned by COVID-19, it has become a herculean task to keep these people who have been displaced from their homes apart especially with the increasing number of new entrants recently. James Iyorkaa, Commandant at Abaagana Camp, one of the eight recognized IDPs camps in the state, told our correspondent that culture of hand washing and other safety hygienes have been inculcated in the IDPs. He, however, lamented that the issue of social distancing had been a major challenge especially as the number of people coming into the camp keeps swelling by the day. “I’m sure you’re aware of some herdsmen attacks on some villages recently. Many of the villagers from those sacked villages around Guma are moving into our camp,” he said. This is even as he noted that aside the officially registered 8,210 IDPs, many more are daily coming into the camp after their communities were recently invaded by herdsmen. “These new entrants are in the process of being registered. So, the figure I have given you now doesn’t include the new IDPs who just recently ran away from their villages in Guma following herdsmen invasion,” he explained. He commended the COVID-19 Action Committee in the state and some non-governmental organizations who have taken it upon themselves to create awareness on all the safety precautions that the IDPs need to adhere to so that they don’t catch the virus. “We now have hand washing points strategically stationed in different parts of the camp premises where the IDPs can easily wash their hands with liquid soap, water and sanitizers as many times as possible everyday,” he said. Akaa Nicholas from Gbajimba, one of the IDPs at the Abaagana Camp, said that COVID-19 has created a hard time for them as many individuals, corporate organizations and other donors who used to donate relief materials to them in the past are no longer coming. “We are now at the mercy of whatever the state government can give us and the little we can get for ourselves by engaging in farming and other menial jobs we can lay our hands upon,” he lamented. Little wonder Akaa was filled with joy when recently, the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, (NCFRMI) came and donated food and other items to the state. The essential relief materials were donated to the state through the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) for onward distribution to all IDPs in the state to help cushion the effect of the lockdown on them. “I was invited by the camp commandant to come and get the relief materials for the IDPs in our camp. Five of us were picked to come and represent our camp during this symbolic presentation of relief materials. “I am happy to get this materials as this will help all of us a lot. I can only pray that the Lord will bless them for us because this COVID-19 is a hard time for us as nobody is coming to donate food and other relief items to us as before. “The state government is trying its best in providing for our needs, but the swelling number of IDPs almost on a daily basis is quite overwhelming,” he said. Also, Baki Dennis, who hails from Gbajimba, but stays in Abagana camp, said that he was glad that there had been no suspicious case of Coronavirus in the camp and prayed that the virus will stay off the state as a whole. “We don’t have any victim of Coronavirus in the camp. UNICEF came and sensitized us on how to keep to social distancing, hand washing and the rest of them and we have been keeping to those rules. “Although, new people are coming into the camp, but we are trying all we can do to ensure we all stay safe. We are taking all the necessary precautions,” Baaki said. Philips Usaater who has been in the camp for over two years now said he was displaced in January 2018, stressing that the experience in the camp has not been good. “There is no place like home. Despite the fact that our governor, Samuel Ortom and the state government are helping us, we would appreciate if our communities as secured enough for us to return home as soon as possible. “At least, by then, we can stay and farm conveniently in our place and we will not have to depend on anybody for our daily bread anymore,” he said. Asked if he is aware of the current pandemic, he said, “we are aware of COVID-19 and we are observing the rules and obeying them. “We have received sanitizers, jericans for washing of hands and liquid soaps. We have reduced social gatherings, but many families are sleeping in one room and that is where we are having challenge. “That is why we don’t want to stay in the camp anymore because if we go back to our villages, we will have more space to sleep. Hence the need for the government to improve security in our communities,” he said. Mama Justina Jime, mother of six and a widow, thanked NCFRMI and the state government for providing for their immediate needs in these period of lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, Mama Alice Yua was moved to tears when she saw the large quantity relief materials that were donated by NCFRMI. All she could say through her tears in her Tiv dialect was that ‘Aondohemba’ (God) will bless the givers immensely.
In Borno State, 49-year-old Abdullahi Bulama, forced by Boko Haram to flee his village in the central part of the state five years ago, to take refuge in Maiduguri, the state capital, said he was yet to understand why COVID-19 has shut down almost every aspect of human activities.
“Even these people (humanitarian organizations) that bring medicine, mats, clothes and other supports have stopped coming to our camp because they say they are avoiding crowd due to this virus they say is killing people quickly,” the father of five, told Sunday Sun at the Customs building camp for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
The camp provides temporary shelter to about 15, 000 persons; nearly 3, 000 households, according to figure provided by the Executive Chairman, State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Hajiya Yabawa Kolo.
Dozens of IDPs in Borno like Abdullahi said they are already feeling the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. Some staff of international humanitarian organizations providing intervention in the camps for displaced persons told Sunday Sun their organizations have suspended activities for now.
“We have been told to work from home. Only those working on WASH (Water Sanitation and Hygiene) are visible working with caution,” an official of an international organization said on condition of anonymity.
Until recently, some of the IDPs have been engaged in trading activities like sales of water, local seasoning and condiment, fire woods and daily menial works to sustain their living in addition to relief from NGOs and government.
The outbreak of COVID-19 has, however, forced them to remain at the camps. Government has recently barred visitation to the camps while IDPs have been restricted from going out of the camp to contain community spread of the disease.
The United Nations Humanitarian coordination office in Nigeria puts the statistics of persons displaced by over a decade of Boko Haram terror in the Northeast at about three million with Borno having the largest displacement of about 1.8 million persons.
Sunday Sun gathered that more than half of this population do not believe Coronavirus is real.
“It is fake; Allah won’t bring such plague to Borno after Boko Haram problem,” 36-year-old Mohammed Shuwa, told Sunday Sun at an IDPs camp at Ngala, a small town on the border with Cameroon.
His friend Ba’Goni shared the same view: “It is the disease of the white people,” he said.
For this reason, the government and organizations have launched campaigns to sensitize the IDPs.
Borno State Commissioner of Information, Babakura Abba Jato, said that the government runs some jingles on radio and television stations in the state to create awareness among the people. He said that though acceptance of the COVID-19 reality by the majority of the IDPs may take time due to ignorance, belief system, lack of western education and lack of exposure, the state would continue to sensitize its populace on personal hygiene, hand washing and social distancing.