For the thousands displaced from their homes and quartered at the IDP camp at Mbawa, life seemed to have moved from ‘meat bam’ to ‘meat ban’…
Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
It is almost a year now since they fled their ancestral homes following a vicious herdsmen attack that took several lives of their kinsmen and women while leaving scores of others maimed and wounded.
But life in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp where they found themselves after the New Year attack is nothing to write home about for Geoffrey Torgenga and the over 3000 persons currently taking refuge at the Mbawa Community IDP camp, located by the roadside close to Daudu town in Guma Local Government Area of Benue State. The IDPs who come from different parts of Nasarawa and Benue States live inside makeshift tents in squalor and abject poverty with some of the children already looking malnourished.
Torgenga, a father of four children who hails from Torgenga village, located on the boundary between Benue and Nasarawa recalled that by this time last year, planning for Christmas and New Year was in top gear in his village.
The ‘meat bam’ culture and New Year attack
There is a common Yuletide tradition popularly known as ‘meat bam’ in Benue State whereby people group themselves together at the beginning of the year and start contributing towards buying of a cow to share during the Yuletide. He disclosed to Saturday Sun that this time last year, his village was already bubbling with the Yuletide season even as his group had commenced the butchering and sharing of their own cow.
“By this time, I had bought Christmas dresses for my wife and children. I had also bought foodstuffs and gotten my own share of the cow meat from my meat bam. We had a good Christmas and New Year celebration.” But their celebration was short-lived as, according to him, the suspected Fulani herdsmen struck exactly a day after New Year, killing seven people in his village, including one of his uncles.
“The attackers took us unawares. We never expected that they would invade our village because we had no issues with Fulani. But it seemed they were just out to wipe out the Tiv nation at that time.”
He said how he managed to ferry his family away from the troubled village was still a mystery to him till date as they had to travel several hours through bush paths and around other villages that had also been attacked before they could get to Daudu town.
“Because many villages around us were also attacked at the same time with ours, running to safety became more difficult. In fact, at a point, I almost gave up running. We suffered hunger and thirst for many hours and it was difficult watching my little kids crying for food.”
Sadly, by the time they got to Daudu, the two camps in the area were already filled up with many people just squatting in every available space. Not comfortable with that, Torgenga said he got wind of a secondary school in a nearby community known as Mbawa community where IDPs were also moving to and he wasted no time in moving his family there.
Moving into the IDP camp and ‘meat ban’
We were at Mbawa Community Secondary School for about 10 months before the leaders of the community decide to move us to this open space on October 3, 2018. We were asked to vacate the school to allow the students resume. Torgenga who is Secretary of the Mbawa Community IDP camp revealed that over 3,015 IDPs that were moved from the school premises, for lack of where to go, decided to build tents for themselves on the open space that was given to them by the community.
Although, the camp is not officially recognized by the state government, some of the IPDs acknowledged the efforts of the state governor, Samuel Ortom whom they said usually passed by to donate some money for their upkeep.
They also appreciated the efforts of different organizations such as the Rotary Club of Makurdi and other well meaning individuals who drops by every now and then to donate relief materials to them. “I am from TorgengPa village and there is no peace yet in my place. The place is still deserted. The herdsmen are still occupying our villages that’s why we are still here. “Why will I want to stay under this terrible condition when I have my village?” He asked even as he urged the federal government to ensure security in their villages so that they can return as soon as possible.
For all intents and purposes, for the thousands displaced from their homes and quartered at the IDP camp at Mbawa, life seemed to have moved from ‘meat bam’ to ‘meat ban’ as there is no cow to collectively kill and share its meat this year as that time-honoured and mostly cherished culture of collective contribution to buy a cow seemed to have been temporarily put on hold by development and the unfortunate circumstance in which they found themselves.
“I feel sad celebrating Christmas and New Year in IDP camp because there is no money,” Torgenga said with a sigh and a hint of sadness in his voice. “I’m praying that we should be empowered enough to go back to our homes as soon as possible.”
Life in the IDP camp
Like Torgenga, Pastor Samuel Ikyav, a clergy with Glory Connection, Numgwaji in Guma Local Government Area is sad that he is still in camp after almost one year without being able to open his church for worship or attend to his farm. Also, Shiga Daniel, a farmer with two kids from Uyina village in Mbagewn Council Ward of Guma wishes to return home but regrets that he can’t do that for now because he has nothing to return to.
Mrs. Margaret Ahungwa, mother of five from Keana who disclosed that she had been in camp since January lamented that the situation had hindered her children from continuing with their education.
“Even though I was not very rich while in my village, I lived comfortably with my children and I never imagined that one day we would live in tents like Fulani and be at the mercy of droplets from well-meaning Nigerians. I really wish peace can return to our villages so that I can go back home and pick the pieces of my life together. The condition under which we live here is not good at all. The only thing we hang unto now is the fact that we still have life and like they say, when there is life, there is hope.”
Mrs. Eunice Aya, mother of five and farmer from Imenger who is happy that people have started returning home in her village noted that the situation has improved even as troops of the Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS) have continued to patrol the area to keep the invaders at bay. She, however, stated that she cannot immediately return because she had to wait a while to fix her dilapidated house before going back.
Aya commended security operatives who fought to restore peace in her area and promised to return home any moment. Mama Mbakpera from Tongo in Nasarawa State said she has been in camp since January and may have to continue staying under the precarious condition in camp because she has no home to return to.
“We are here in this environment without anything to eat and we practically live on charity. We have no home to return to because nobody is yet in my village for fear that the Fulani might still return. Mrs. Scholastica Nambe is the President, Rotary Club of Makurdi. She recently led members of the Club to the camp to deworm about 1000 children as well as present some relief materials to the IDPs as part of activities marking its association’s disease prevention month. She lamented the deplorable condition at the camp and urged the government to do everything possible to ensure that the people return to their homes.
“This shouldn’t even be happening at all,” she said. “But now that it has happened, all I can say is that government should ensure that they return to their villages. They are living under unimaginable conditions here. Government should find a way of resettling them in their houses.”