The many agonies of Dikwa’s ‘forgotten’ IDPs

The present situation of IDPs, not just in Dikwa but across the Northeast, is the product of the decline in funding by the United Nations (UN) through the World Food Program (WFP), according to the Executive Chairman of the Borno State Emergency Management Agency, Hajiya Yabawa Kolo.

The Northeast had fallen from its sixth position in humanitarian crisis rating across the globe to a position yet to be disclosed by the UN.

This fall slackened the need for the sustenance of funding to the region, especially from 2016. This created a situation where the UN passed more burden to other international and local NGOs with less financial strength to sustain the global standard of humanitarian crisis management with regard to victims of the Boko Haram crisis.

Thousands of IDPs in Dikwa seem condemned to anguish, dying slowly in the vast semi-arid area. With the rains and sandstorm, they seem to receive the most inconsequential attention and care from the authorities due to  insufficiency of funds for standard shelter and relief items, most importantly, food.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) recently drew public attention to the deplorable condition of the about 4000 IDPs liberated from  about three years captivity in the enclaves of Boko Haram insurgents between Dikwa and Bama.

It was observed that everyone at Dikwa was an IDP in Maiduguri and other camps, returning nearer home just about a year ago, and there are about 100,000 IDPs in the town, an official of the Civilian JTF in Dikwa said.

Majority of this population is without shelter and wallow in pathetic condition in about ten IDP camps in the town.

Since over the nine years of the Boko Haram insurgency, those rescued from their enclaves who seem to form the majority of the Dikwa IDPs, were trapped by the insurgents in the bush, as far as the Cameroon border.

“Every day, hundreds of captives are rescued from the communities in the bush between Bama and Dikwa up to Ngala towards the Cameroon border,” the Civilian JTF official said.

“Every day I carry out operations with my boys in communities close to Dikwa, to this day, we rescue about 40 in every community, but majority of them are women and children because when we advance, the men flee, in some communities we see them fleeing with a few armed sect members.

“Yesterday (Tuesday, July 10), we carried out operations at Babashe, Gawa, Kacheri and Gamo towards Bama, and rescued tens of the captives, whoever we rescued, we told to maneuver through the bush towards Dikwa,” he said.

Borno State Emergency Management Agency officials said many of the Dikwa IDPs were not just liberated from the bush over the last few months, but some were transferred from Maiduguri IDP camps. Security agents and members of the Civilian JTF at Dikwa said many were rescued from the surrounding communities.

In the case of those rescued from the bush, the first few batches were rescued by soldiers of the joint task force between Bama and Dikwa during an operation.

The troops in their first operation before May,  ran into them in the wilderness, with some of the insurgents keeping sentry over them on trees.

The troops took them in 10 military trucks to Dikwa. The trucks ran into an ambush by the insurgents. A fierce of about one hour ensued, and the soldiers succeeded in evacuating them to Dikwa where they were kept in the open space for screening.  Since then, more are being rescued and brought in batches. The first batch comprised 840 women and children and 430 men from Malumkari, Bama, Bulongu and Antul.

Not long after, according to an NGO worker, there were other arrivals comprising three batches of 840 men, women and children.

“They are being screened by the military and the Civilian JTF apparently to pick out those suspected to be insurgents, because they may easily sneak into the crowd, and the FHI 360, a healthcare organisation, for their health status, “ an NGO worker told Daily Trust.

FHI (Federal Health Insurance) 360 has taken over the running of the Dikwa General Hospital for this purpose.

A Borno-based NGO, Herwa Community Development Initiative, Daily Trust learnt, is compiling a report on the situation in ‘Dikwa for submission to government and other concerned authorities to expedite action on the IDPs.

“Those screened are then admitted to tents erected by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), 40 are screened daily for a tent which means it will take more than two weeks to screen the 840, if you have not been screened for a tent, you will remain in the open space for long a time,” he said.

“Because they were so incapacitated by hunger and thirst and without any shelter in Boko Haram captivity in the wilderness over the years, as the last Ramadan met them in the open camp here in Dikwa, they were told not to observe the fast, because no one could guarantee adequate feeding and comfortable shelter.

“Majority of the children you see in the open camp were born out of sexual violence, we call them products of SGBV, because they are products of forceful marriages between the insurgents and their female captives, many of the children you see in the camp are motherless, because their mothers were killed during rescue operations.

“Now we are facing the huge problem of getting foster mothers for the teeming population of motherless children,  and there is no guarantee that NGOs can sustain paying them the monthly stipend of N20,000,” he said.

Daily Trust gathered that apart from the World Food Program (WFP) which assisted with a supply of beans, when the military complained of hunger on behalf of the IDPs neither the National Emergency Management’s Agency (NEMA) nor Borno SEMA or any other organisation has assisted with food items.

Many of them helplessly writhe in hunger within and outside the tents.

“For about a year, we languished in hunger and thirst,” Modu, said, adding, “I didn’t have a bath for six months, the boys (insurgents) gathered us in the open space in the bush, and they were guarding us, so you dared not move out of their sight.”

“We were so hungry in the bush that we often dug ant burrows to pick out grains to eat, sometimes we cut grasses and plucked all kinds of bush and cooked to eat, I cannot narrate even half of the hardship we encountered in captivity,” Fati, a widow, said.

“Yes, an insurgent called Muhammad forced me to marry him, and I have two children, both girls, but he has been killed,” she said.

“Majority of us sleep in the open space before we are screened for a tent, when it is about to rain we run to makeshift shelters which are always blown off by windstorm, we get drenched until the sun dries us up after the rain. About the food, an NGO serves us three measures of guinea corn and beans for a whole month, this is why we go to the streets begging,” Modu Musa said.

“It is not true that all the IDPs there were  recently rescued from the bush, they also comprise those transported nearer home from Maiduguri IDP camps,” Hajiya Yabawa said.

“The state governor was making provision for grains for the IDPs from the office of the deputy governor through local government chairmen, but they have been relieved of their posts since the last few months, so I don’t know why their secretaries have not taken over the responsibility, SEMA is only to provide condiments.

“So, this situation coupled with the drop in funding from the UN plunged the Dikwa IDPs into their debilitating situation. I am meeting the governor and the deputy governor over this problem, SEMA will also soon meet with NEMA, PCNI and VSF to find a way out.

“It is also not true that they are not being fed, that they are fed only beans provided by WFP, they are being fed by different organisations, otherwise, they would all have been dead by now, we will soon find ways out of the present situation of that gathering of IDPs,” she said.

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