Thousands of children born and brought up in Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) camps, especially in Borno State have grown up over the years, with many of them craving for another life in the ancestral homes they were told about by their surviving or foster parents.
When Boko Haram insurgents ravaged towns and communities in the North East in 2013, especially in Borno State, thousands of people whose communities were attacked moved into various IDP camps in Maiduguri, the state capital.
Among the displaced were hundreds of pregnant women who arrived the camps and little did they know that years after, the children they gave birth to will grow to know the camps as their homes.
Since then, thousands of children have been born in the camps and majority of them have never been to their ancestral homes. Many are now between the ages of seven and 10 years old.
Officials of the Borno State Emergency Management Agency in 2017 had said that 13,000 births were recorded in IDP camps in the past four years, and between January and June of the same year, it was further revealed that there were 3,000 births at the IDP camps.
The number has equally snowballed in the last four years even though the Borno State government under the leadership of Professor Babagana Zulum had built thousands of houses in some local government areas of the state and relocated some of the displaced persons back home.
However, despite the relocations, still there are thousands of people living in IDP camps, including couples who while struggling to make ends meet; they continued to produce children who are now called “IDP babies.”
An eight-year-old boy, Bana, said, “This is my home…I was born and brought up here and I don’t know any other place.
“I was told this is like a barrack; my mother said we are living a regimented life but she assured me that all will change whenever we go back to our village.
“She said we would be going to farms and I would also join a formal school. She said we would also be going to the weekly market; I hope to see that day soon,” the boy said.
Looking at the population in the various IDP camps in Maiduguri, it is evident that children are at the receiving end of the perennial hardship the nearly 12-year Boko Haram debacle has thrown many communities.
The new landlords of NYSC camps
Presently, a total of about 1,865 children of seven years old and below are in the NYSC camp in Maiduguri.
Seven-year-old Ba’Gana Modu, who attends Islamiyya school in the camp, while speaking to Daily Trust, said her parents told her that they came from Damboa town but she has never visited her hometown.
She, however, says she enjoys life in the camp and wants her parents to remain in the camp so that by the time she is through with her education, she can work with a humanitarian organization.
“I love the life in this camp and I don’t want to go back to Damboa town because if I grow up, I will like to work with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), they give us food every time. I will like to go to school because their staff told me that if I finish my education, I can work with the IOM so that I can help people and that is my dream.
“I wish we have a good school in the camp, I and my six friends love to go to Islamiyya school but the school in the camp is not good. We are enjoying the camp; I play with my friends Zara, Amirah, Aisha, Khadija and Ya’gana. I love staying here because Maiduguri is beautiful.
“I don’t want to go back to Damboa because my father told me that Boko Haram insurgents are killing people there, so I prefer staying here. We do not have any problems here as we are well taken care of.”
Her mother, Fatima Isa, 30, who hails from Shuwari village in Damboa Local Government Area of Borno State, recalls how the journey began, noting that they were the first set of IDPs to arrive at the NYSC displaced person’s camp in late 2013 after insurgents besieged their community.
“I was eight months pregnant. Our villages were set on fire by the insurgents and many people were brutalized and killed. We had no option but to run to Maiduguri, I came to this camp with only the clothing on my body. Four weeks after our arrival, I put to bed my first child, Ba’Gana Modu.
“The whole experience was just like yesterday. Alhamudullahi! She is seven-years-old now.”
A data received from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) shows that Maiduguri and Jere councils have a total of 148 displaced camps, of which 13 of them are called formal camps and 138 others are informal.
These camps house no fewer than 700,000 persons from different parts of Borno State, who fled their places of abode to settle in Maiduguri and its environs as a result of the 11-year-old prolonged activities of Boko Haram insurgents.
Some of the formal camps include NYSC, Bakassi, Teachers Village, Mogolis, New Stadium camp, Gubio and Madinat.
Others are Farm Centre, EYN & CAN centre, Dalori 1 and 2, Custom House and Muna camp.
The permanent site of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) was the first camp set up in the Maiduguri for the displaced persons from Damboa Local Government Area and later, people from Bama joined them in late 2014.
Yamuna Muhammadu, 6, a Primary 1 pupil from Bama town is also among the thousands of children born in the NYSC camp shortly after his mother arrived Maiduguri on October 4, 2014.
Yamuna told Daily Trust that he does not know how life outside the camp looks like.
“My mother told me that we are from Bama town, but what I did know is that I have never gone out of the camp, sometimes, if strangers come, we gaze from the gate of the camp and see cars on the highway.
“From what my parents told me that Boko Haram killed many people in Bama, I don’t want to return to Bama if it is not safe. When I grow up, I will like to become a soldier so that I can kill Boko Haram insurgents, I want to be an army general so that I can kill all the Boko Haram members.
“I would love to remain in the IDP camp because there is no place I know or have been to apart from this camp, so I like it and I don’t want to go to Bama.”
Umaru Fannami, the 7-year-old Guzamala Local Government indigene expressed dissatisfaction with life in the camp, noting that his family is willing to go back to their ancestral home if the security improves.
“I want to go back if they are willing to provide security for us, we are tired of staying in the camp, I am from Gudumbali in Guzamala so I wish to go back.
“We don’t get enough food and other materials here, but if we go back, I will be able to support the family. Sincerely, I’d love to go back if the soldiers ask us to,” Umaru said.
At the Bakassi IDP camp, more than 34,000 persons fled their homes to the camp from different locations with majority being underage children.
Although some of these families were forced to leave their houses with nothing, some were able to establish small businesses to recover from the trauma of the attacks.
Others find it difficult to meet up with their basic demands of food, health and clothing, making the children more vulnerable.
In every single household, for instance, one could count no fewer than 3 to 7 children, superseding the number of parents per house.
The young children help their parents with chores, some play games, others hawk items while a few of them attend school within the camp. They have adapted to the environment they now find themselves in.
Daily Trust interacted with some of the children who were born and raised in the IDP camps to know their aspirations and hope for the future.
In front of their trampoline house was 7-year-old Ramat Tom. Ramat’s only knowledge of his father is through the stories he was told because his father was killed even before he was born.
His father, Musa Tom, was said to have been killed at his Marte residence by suspected Boko Haram members.
In a solemn voice, Ramat said, “I don’t know my father, my mother has been the one taking care of me since I was born.
“I don’t have the opportunity of living life outside this environment, but we go to school here, we have taps to get water from, but we seriously lack food; we eat once or twice in a day.
“I was born under the tent, brought up among displaced people and my family get food through donors, so I know what it takes to be an IDP.
“My mother keeps encouraging me that this life will change for the better, she tells me that one day we will all leave this environment and go to our own houses, I pray for that day to come,” Ramat said.
“I want to be like those people bringing us intervention, so that one day I would be supporting people with livelihoods too.”
Five-year-old Aisha Musa was also born at the camp without knowing her father. Her father was shot dead by Boko Haram insurgents when her mother was 8-month pregnant.
Aisha is not exposed to any other place except the trampoline house she knows as home. She said she likes going to school and playing with other kids.
When our correspondent caught up with her 24-year-old mother, Hauwa Garba, she burst into tears, noting that life has been nothing but challenging since they left home.
Asides losing her husband, Hauwa disclosed that her parents are currently held hostage at a prison facility.
She said, “When the insurgents attacked our hometown in Gwoza, we all ran into the bush, but my parents accidentally got into the area soldiers had cordoned off and from there they were picked with other Boko Haram members. We learnt they took them to prison.”
Having given birth to three children in the camp, she said, raising children there has not been easy because the children are not getting adequate support.
“We have to struggle to feed them; I knit cap for sale and from the proceeds, I provide them food because what we are getting here isn’t sufficient for us.
“The last time we got food from the camp was over 40 days ago and what we were given lasted for one week at the maximum.
“We can’t return to our towns at the moment because they are not yet safe, we feel safer here.”
Reacting to the development, the Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) Dr Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, said that the development is one of the painful realities of conflict, which is why preventing conflict and building peace is essential.
According to him, it is psychologically damaging for children to spend their formative years in an environment like IDP camp.
“For the hundreds of thousands of children currently stranded in camps across conflict zones, CHRICED calls on relevant government agencies to stand with them in these difficult times. We also call on the security forces to strive to restore normalcy in the towns and villages so that these children can return to normal lives in their homes,” Zikirullahi said.
Olatunji Omirin, Ibrahim Baba Saleh (Maiduguri) & Abbas Jimoh (Abuja)