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Inside Borno IDP Camps: Trauma, Aid Diversion

For Bakura Goni, hope has been a mirage for years. At 27, he has no skill or a job. He is a father of three and a husband to two women. To him, the best of times was seven years ago, when the tranquillity on the plains of Mafa sprang with hope. That was before the deafening sound of gunshots came near his homestead and forced him to flee.

Bakura Goni, from Mafa Local Government Area, is among the internally displaced persons who were driven out of their homes due to the raging insurgency in Borno State. The Farm Centre IDP Camp in Maiduguri, Borno, which has 4,324 households and 23,782 individuals, has been his home for the past six years.  

Met at the entrance of the main gate to the camp, he appeared traumatised in his rumpled Kaftan, unmatched with the colour of his trousers. He was dishevelled. He held a bag, apparently, with some clothes inside and seemed to be in a hurry. 

The exhausted Mr Goni, said: “I just earned my N1500 daily pay from a building site, in a community close by. The monthly ration of food items brought by the government is never enough.”

Sometimes he is able to get an odd job, many times he is idle.

“I am not a lazy person. I and my friends scout for menial jobs, if we are lucky, fine, if we are not, then we come back to the camp exhausted from walking around town,” he said.

The monthly intervention of food items and condiments brought in by the government through the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) and supported by National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is grossly inadequate, he explained.

“We get relief materials from NEMA and SEMA but it is not sufficient and consistent. We are provided with rice, maize, beans, seasoning, tomato and cooking oil. Each member of a household is entitled to a measure of these food items for a month,” he said.

Investigations have revealed that IDPs are involved in a scheme that includes selling part of the relief materials to meet other pressing needs amidst severe food consumption gaps and complete lack of access to their means livelihoods or farmlands. This is also coupled with dwindling interventions from International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs). 

A visit to the small market within the Farm Centre Camp revealed that grains and other nutritional products branded with “WFP intervention” were openly displayed on the ground.  

When asked, Bakura admitted to selling some food items he had “Due to the high cost of food items in the market one will not be able to buy from outside. We sell within ourselves at a cheaper rate.”

He added, “If I am given four measures of rice, I can sell three and buy six measures of millet or guinea corn, I can’t stand the luxury of eating rice and go hungry before the next intervention comes.”

“We can buy vegetables, meat or fish to supplement what our wives will cook. The truth is most of these items, even the seasonings and oil, finish before the month ends,” said Mustapha Hussaini, an internally displaced person living in the Farm Centre Camp. 

Mr Hussaini, who has stayed in the camp for 5 years, disclosed that the IDPs “Don’t get interventions from INGOs anymore here. It has been three years since we received any help from them. We used to get food from [the] Danish Refugee Council (DRC) those days we [had] enough to take us through the month.”

At the onset of the humanitarian crisis, government agencies and humanitarian service providers initially cooked food in makeshift kitchens within the IDP camps. This approach did not augur well with the IDPs, as there were widespread complaints about poor food quality and how camp officials divert some of the food items for their personal use. 

This forced the Borno State government and INGOs to review feeding arrangements by changing their approach and started giving out the food items directly to the IDPs. 

A BLEAK FUTURE

Despite several efforts to mitigate the effect of the conflict, Borno State still remains the most affected by humanitarian crisis since the terrorist activities of Boko-haram started in 2009. The conflict has resulted in the loss of over 32,000 lives so far.

According to the International Organization on Migration’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) released in May 2021, Borno is home to 75 per cent of all IDPs in northeast Nigeria, hosting a staggering 1.6million IDPs.

The lack of livelihood and economic opportunities, overcrowded camps, shrinking humanitarian efforts, growing food insecurity as well as several incidences of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) further impair the resilience of the internally displaced people in these camps.

Consequently, a situation report published in February by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs recorded that “Up to 5.1 million people risk being critically food insecure during the next lean season (June-August 2021), a level similar to 2016-2017 when famine was looming over Borno State.”

This implies that IDPs with huge responsibilities, like Mr Goni who has no livelihood support, might face worse social challenges in the near future. Mr Goni’s story is not unique. It represents the unpleasant and difficult reality faced by many IDPs caught in the crisis.

ORPHANED AND SHORTCHANGED

Despite the difficulties faced by IDPs in accessing enough relief materials to sustain them, there is growing concern over hostilities between IDPs and members of host communities who try to benefit illegitimately from some of the limited relief materials meant for IDPs. 

We gathered that mechanisms used in distributing the relief materials may have given room for easy diversion.

“I have been in this camp for the past three years now. Whenever relief materials are shared, we see men and women who don’t reside within the camp,” said Geidam Modu, a Bakassi Camp IDP. “They come into the camp and sit around on mats outside the gate and suddenly join the queue and some dubious camp attendants know them.” 

Mr Modu, who is an orphan from Baga Local Government Area, also said: “When I came, I only got relief material once. I got a bag with different items inside. Since then I haven’t gotten anything. They say I must identify with a family and I don’t have anybody. The camp officials pass me off as a crook whenever relief is shared.” 

According to UNOCHA, the Bakassi Camp is one of the oldest camps in Maiduguri presently housing 3,473 households and has a population of 14,774 IDPs. It is located within the “Bakassi Housing estate, originally built as part of the Borno State Housing Project.” The camp mainly houses residents originally from Monguno, Marte, Gwoza, Guzamala and Nganzai LGAs. 

Located within the camp are different organisations such as Grassroot Initiative for Strengthening Community Resilience (GISCOR), Gold Prime Nigeria (GPN) and the International Medical Corps (IMC). Efforts to speak with staffers of these organisations on the diversion of materials by members of host communities proved abortive.

However, a staff of IMC, who preferred anonymity simply, said “Each organisation assesses and shares what they have for the IDPs. All IDPs have a token that they present to access the materials brought for them. I do not know if some that reside outside the camps are IDPs or not but if they have the token, we can’t deny them the intervention being given.”

When contacted by phone, the Zonal Coordinator NEMA North-East Zonal Office Maiduguri, Wagami Lydia Madu, said NEMA has been in the Northeast since the inception of the insurgency. “NEMA doesn’t entertain anything like diversions. Our primary concern is to give succour to those that are affected by natural or man-made disasters,” she said.

The pattern adopted by INGOs and the government when distributing relief materials involves going through community leaders especially in informal settlements. According to IOM’s DTM report, 72% of IDP settlements are spontaneous, a total of 739,499 IDPs reside in host communities. 

This has shown that there is a huge number of IDPs that have settled in host communities and can be the reason for the growing concern of why relief materials may end up in the wrong hands.

A staff with Mercy Corps, who pleaded anonymity, corroborated the statement made by Mr Modu.

“We have to capture the IDPs who settle within the community,” the humanitarian worker said. “We go through the leaders of these communities known as Bulamas and Lawans. Even within the camps, we have them. They know the people who are affected and have those needs, we tell the leaders to bring a list of the people, but we also go house to house to verify those claims because sometimes there are issues of marginalisation.” 

The worker further disclosed that “There have been cases of favouritism, where relief materials end up with close relatives or friends of these leaders, that is why Mercy Corps conducts Technical Evaluation Monitoring to physically verify if households are in need of these things.”

Similarly, a camp attendant in Dalori who works with IOM and pleaded anonymity, said they suffered the same fate in Dalori camp, where some members of Kofa Community close to the camp usually pass themselves off as IDPs. 

“We were able to come up with strategies like asking for voters card, looking at the nature of the people, nature of housing, and also ask some technical questions, that way we are able to differentiate the host community members, from IDPs,” the IOM worker said.

In March 2021, the Governor of Borno State, Babagana Zulum, paid an unscheduled night visit, conducted a headcount and “uncovered 650 fake internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the Mohammed Goni College of Islamic Legal Studies camp in Maiduguri,” an official statement said. The governor discovered that out of 1,000 households in the records of humanitarian officials, 650 households were ghosts. 450 households were found to be real IDPs.

TOWARDS LIVELIHOOD 

Since the insurgency started, resulting in a humanitarian crisis, there has been concern that the conventional method of humanitarian intervention could entrench a culture of dependency among the IDPs. 

This prompted the Borno State government to initiate the process of returning IDPs back to their communities after a careful analysis of the area, officials claimed. 

In an interview with BBC HAUSA in June 2021, the governor said: “The IDPs are returning to occupy existing houses. The federal government is building 10,000 housing units and the Borno State Government has built thousands of houses and is now empowering the returnees with building materials and some tokens to build mud houses for the meantime.”

Similarly, NEMA North-East Coordinator, Ms Madu, said: “For the past four years NEMA has been in the Emergency Federal Government Food Intervention in the North-east, This has been on since June 2017.”

She went further to disclose that his effort is to ensure that the IDPs take advantage of the rainy season so that they can farm this year and be able to fend for themselves.

Support for this report was provided by Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism with funding support from Free Press Unlimited.

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