• Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Suffer little children…

85 terrorists feared killed as Boko Haram, ISWAP clashes in Borno

There is a major humanitarian disaster in Nigeria that is mostly going unnoticed. As the horror unfolds in the North East, the crisis of displaced persons spreads like a virus on the map of Nigeria, reaching far beyond the core area of Boko Haram activity through Plateau, Nasarawa and Abuja. Desperate people are looking to escape the massacre of their families and the destruction of their homes.

The total numbers are not clear. Some agencies quote a figure of 1.5 million people, which would be close to 15 percent of the most effected three states. According to NEMA, the number of Nigerians displaced since 2010 is now about 3.3 million and includes those fleeing other ethnic violence and even those that escaped flooding in 2012. The Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reported that Nigeria has the world’s third-highest number of people displaced by conflict.

My column “We are not angry enough” started with a quote from a post from a former resident of Yimirshika near Biu on hearing of an attack on his village. Subsequently, a number of displaced persons contacted me in the hope that I would voice their stories and publicise the plight of their people. A plight that they are finding difficult to have recognised by the media or by the relevant authorities! According to these sources, a number of churches are providing material and spiritual succour to these refugees and even running impromptu camps.

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As I am an amateur in these matters, Kadaria Ahmed of Straight Talk (Channels TV on Wednesday evenings) and formerly Next Newspapers came with me. We met our contacts after their Sunday Service and found ourselves with some 200 refugees squeezed into a backroom with many more outside. There were several from Chibok but others were from a wide range of townships across all three states. Their stories were powerful and authentic and brought out a range of emotions. As always, it was the women who focussed on the pain and trauma. One nursing mother recounted her month-long journey by foot from near Chibok until she reached a camp in Yola. A stream of refugees hid in the bush and lived off berries and furtive visits into villages at night to beg or buy small scraps of food. As she and other mothers told their stories, often relating as much as three months in the bush, their children stood in front of us. I could not help but wonder what these babies had done to deserve this start to their lives.

There were several youths who were more vocal and angry, most were Christians but there were also Muslims. Several of them had been vigilantes and described fighting Boko Haram with their hunters’ weapons and traditional Dane guns. Eventually, outgunned by the better-armed fanatics, their losses and the deaths of friends and family forced them to flee. One man with his wife and six children somehow made it all the way to Lagos in search of relatives on a single ‘machine’.

The mind boggles at that journey. Their experience of the poorly-equipped Nigerian military was consistent with many of the stories we hear in the media. Often residents had warnings that attacks were imminent and sent word to the nearest base only to find that the response was too little too late. Youths narrated that when the army’s bullets ran out or the opposition firepower was too intense, they threw down their arms, ripped off their uniforms, including their army boots, and ran into the bush.

There seemed to be no end to stories of personal tragedy. Different speakers gave their own accounts and views on the causes and responsibility for what is happening. As a witness, I could form my own opinions but these would be unresearched and not subject to investigation and verification. What I can report, however, is that as individuals and as groups these displaced people feel let down by the authorities that should be there to protect them and by the society that should be there for support. NEMA runs some camps but reports I heard suggested poor organisation and lack of facilities and resources. NEMA’s website and Facebook page give an impression of an organisation that seems happier running social events than it does refugee camps. Attempts to reach the media fall pretty much on deaf ears while we are in election fever.

When we contacted Governor Fashola about the Lagos-based people, he was unaware and promptly promised to investigate. Maybe this is because these are predominantly from minority tribes with few connections in government or perhaps it is back to that wider issue. Maybe that to admit to these problems brings us too close to the painful inadequacies of everything we see round about us. It is easier to believe that our God will save us rather than being active in the best interests of the genuine, not the political, transformation that we need.

For more information directly, please contact Rev. Anthony A. Ndamsai of EYN Church, Ikeja on 0802 668 8809 or 0703 292 8557. Donations can be sent to the Church’s account: 0033446639 at Union Bank, dedicated to relief for the displaced.