TIMOTHY OLANREWAJU, Maiduguri
Malam Musa’s (not real name) kiosk at the Bakassi camp for displaced persons located at the outskirts of Maiduguri, Borno State capital is a centre of business activities. Apart from the dozens of IDPs that come to buy soft drinks and cooking condiments, the place is also a centre for an old trading system known as trade-by- barter. Here, many IDPs exchange their goods or services for another goods especially foodstuffs depending on their lack.
“I sometimes come here to exchange grains with cooking condiments. It is a normal thing for us here,” Mustapha Adamu told Saturday Sun. But why does he exchange foods with condiments when he can easily buy them at Musa’s shop or other places within the camp? His reponse: “I don’t have the money to buy, so I exchange what I have with what I need.”
Wikipedia describes trade-by-barter as a system of exchange where participants in a transaction directly exchange goods and services without using money or other medium of exchange. Bartering was a common trading system in the pre-colonial Nigerian society but the introduction of money as legal tender has discontinued this tradition.
Saturday Sun gathered that bartering is indeed booming in some of the camps. Many of the IDPs who spoke to this reporter said they found the trading system more convenient. “It is helping us a lot to get our needs and thanks be to Allah it doesn’t bring any quarrel among us,” Aisha Mohammad declared.
So, how do they determine the quantity of food-items for exchange? Aisha explained that a measure of maize for instance is also exchanged for a measure of beans. But for condiments, the exchange is determined by the market price of the foodstuffs. “If I bring a measure of beans, the person who is exchanging with me will cost the price of beans and give me magi, salt, groundnut oil and pepper equal in amount to the beans I brought,” she explained, adding that the trading system is done openly and thereby foreclosed any discrepancy.
Displaced persons in IDPs camps said they have developed strategies for survival for themselves having experienced shortage of foods. In the beginning, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in conjunction with Borno State government through the state emergency agency, SEMA have been providing foodstuffs to IDPs on the basis of number of households. While NEMA provided food items, SEMA on the other hand delivered cooking condiments to them. The arrangement was however short-lived as the statistics of displaced persons surged, forcing many of the IDPs to start petty businesses within the camp.
“We were getting foodstuffs regularly before but gradually the situation changed. Government began to ration distribution and food became inadequate. For instance, we are seven in my family and we only get two measures of rice and one measure of beans in three months. So I decided to start selling condiments, cold water and later soft drinks, with ice blocks sourced from the town,” Musa told Saturday Sun. Now he makes as much as N2, 000 gain daily from his sales to cater for his family expenses.
Home away from home
But is he aware that the camp is a temporary shelter and he and others will be relocated back to their ancestral homes someday? His answer was stunning. “This is our home for now,” he replied. He said they fled his Gwoza community way back in 2014 and have since lived in the camp. “I want to go back home to start my farming and other business but tell me when government will clear Boko Haram from our place?” he asked, and a big silence followed as the reporter has no answer to his poser.
At the Teachers Village camp located at the southern axis of the city, business activities are on the increase. The camp, which received over 30, 000 new IDPs mostly from Baga and Kukawa recently attacked by Boko Haram is witnessing trading activities. A section of the large camp where some of the newly displaced persons erected their fabric-made tents is high on commercial activities. Common among the items on sale are detergents, cooking condiment, sweets, biscuits, among others. Opposite the crowded tents are a couple of patient medicine sellers who displayed their wares on small tables and wooden boxes amid the dusty harmattan weather of the Sahel Sahara region. Some of them told the reporter they eke a living from their sales. When asked why IDPs would buy drugs from them since some humanitarian organisations and NGOs established clinics in the camp and even distribute medicaments, they said the influx of displaced persons into the camp boosts their business.
Down the road, Yagana Bukar places her aluminum pot on firewood as she prepares danwanke, a local delicacy made from beans and flour. Some children waited impatiently with their plates to buy the delicacy. “This is what I have been doing even in Baga. I started the business last week because I don’t want to be idle,” she disclosed. Beside Yagana is also another woman frying beans cake-akara or kose in local parlance.
Executive Chairman, State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Hajiya Yabawa Kolo said government was distributing food items to the IDPs in the camp though admitted the distribution was inadequate. “We should understand that IDPs especially from Kukawa Local Government keep coming into the camp. About 30, 000 people have arrived the Teachers Village camp alone from Baga, Doro Baga, Kukawa and Cross Kauwa. Over 10, 000 people are in Monguno alone bringing the population of IDPs there to about 58, 000. So the population is massive but government won’t abdicate its responsibility to cater for its people,” she explained. However, most IDPs maintained they will continue to engage in commercial activities as long as they live in the camp.