How NGOs thrive on Borno IDPs’ plight | Dailytrust

How NGOs thrive on Borno IDPs’ plight

FILE
FILE

Following the relative peace currently being enjoyed in Maiduguri, over 100 NGOs have entered the city, providing humanitarian services to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who are taking refuge within and outside designated camps.

Their presence is noticeable to almost every resident as they are always present at the airport, motor parks, banks, hotels, restaurants, markets, business centres, groceries and shopping centres as well as filling stations, suya joints, social clubs and the many car lease stands. At least 50 charity organizations – local, national and international, are located at the Bakassi Camp, one of the many Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Maiduguri.

Their representatives provide assistance of various types to the more than 43,000 IDPs from five local government areas of the state.

Since 2014, when Boko Haram insurgents began invading towns and villages, killing people and burning properties of those who opposed their ideologies, millions of displaced persons have fled to Maiduguri, the state capital.

Then various forms of humanitarian assistance began in various premises of primary and secondary schools that were occupied by fleeing residents.

As displaced persons kept fleeing into the city, government emergency agencies and the Red Cross became the first set of aid groups that attended to them. The following year, the Borno State government designated some IDP camps and started profiling victims who fled to the city for refuge, including those who found shelter within the host communities.

Besides those well-established camps with a proper database, other aid groups began trooping into the state.

“The donor agencies were just allowed coming into this town without proper documentation by relevant authorities,” a resident of Maiduguri said, alleging that many donor agencies had other missions apart from offering relief to victims.

“Our people have been impoverished by Boko Haram members and by the so-called donors who want the crisis to continue so as to keep making money at the expense of our people’s lives,” he added.

Another resident, Bala Geidam, in a chat with Daily Trust Saturday, described the existence of international Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) as a huge relief not only to the IDPs but to other residents.

“I was a mere commission agent before the arrival of these NGOs, but I am now a landlord myself. I now own properties and people working with me also have some good things for themselves.

“I’m a direct beneficiary, I helped many of the NGOs get home and office spaces as well as event centres, car hire and security guard services. I also helped over 200 of their volunteers to own properties within the city.”

He said on October 1, being a work free-day, about six NGO staff went round to check properties that they intend to buy.

He put the number of NGO beneficiaries who patronised his estate agency office to buy properties at over 2,000 within five years.

“Even more than that number get their livelihoods from the NGOs,” he said.

He told our correspondent about a contractor who got N1 billion turnover between January and September this year, even as he couldn’t boast of N10,000 before the NGOs came to town.

Referring to someone walking into his office, he said: “That man is in charge of over 100 vehicles on lease to NGOs, and each driver is  paid N50,000.” Geidam emphasised that the jobs created by the NGOs had lifted thousands of people out of poverty in the state.

“But aside from the many positive developments brought by the NGOs, there are some strange behaviours they introduced that turned out to be harmful to the people. Many young people who were employed by the NGOs are now into smoking and drinking because of always being together with their masters, the white people on their part don’t see anything negative about this.

“Another bad conduct being introduced to the married female staff of the NGOs is divorce. Most of them are now into the habit of divorcing their husbands. I once had to intervene in a case like that. A woman had a husband who took care of her and sponsored her up to masters degree level, all from his earnings as an agent at a cattle market.

“The woman later got a job with an NGO and started receiving N300,000 per month as salary. She was later brainwashed by her colleagues to dump her husband and move on which she did despite appeals to her.

“Many women working with these organizations are now being encouraged to stay as singles or divorce their husbands. You see, birthdays are now being celebrated in most homes across the city, something that was not very common with our culture before the arrival of NGOs,” Geidam said.

A trader who retails foodstuff at the Monday Market in Maiduguri, Malim Abdulrahman, said the dozens of NGOs in the city were responsible for the continuous rise in prices of foodstuff and other commodities.

“They buy things in very large quantities and store them in various warehouses rented in town,” he said, adding however that he had also made money from the NGOs.

A customer at the market who gave his name as Mammodu said:  “Thousands of people fled into this city, and facilities and structures are now overstretched due to overcrowding. Public servants and private individuals no longer have enough money to provide for their wives and children and the many displaced relations they now host. NGOs came into the city in the name of aiding victims of the insurgency but ended up unsettling stabilized ones.

“Everybody in this town knows that the prices of commodities and services have been rising continuously these days. The coming of NGOs has worsened our situation by making things unaffordable. Because they have money, they never mind the cost,” Mammodu said.

He also observed that hundreds of youths in the city have been recruited as either full or part-time staff by the NGOs. An IDP youth, Baale, 25, who got employed, said: “When I fled my village in Konduga LGA to Maiduguri in 2014, life was so difficult, I hardly had three square meals a day. But now, I thank God that I’ve been employed by one of the NGOs. I was with my wife and two kids in the IDP camp, and the NGO gave me money to rent an apartment into which we settled.”

“The NGOs trooping into Maiduguri have been able to turn life around. They have even made the city lively,” Abubakar Haruna, a Yobe State civil servant living in Maiduguri said, adding that before now, he was reluctant to spend the weekend in Maiduguri.

“There were no interesting events and everywhere was dry then, but with the coming of the NGOs, one finds everywhere lively, sees more cars moving on the roads, and when one visits a restaurant or a shopping mall, he now has to join queues before being served,” Haruna said.

Reservation officers for flight tickets of airlines operating in the city and those of the numerous hotels confirmed that patronage has increased. Many airport and motor park cab drivers interviewed in Maiduguri equally confirmed getting more customers than ever before.

An operations manager of a hotel who sought anonymity said: “We are always having guests now. I have even forgotten when last we had a single room unoccupied. Rooms here are being booked long before they are vacated. Most recently, we had some guests who made reservations for 60 nights. No one other than the NGOs trooping into Maiduguri, They always make us lose our usual customers.”

Others enterprises that are currently making a brisk business from the NGOs include roadside traders, boutique operators, supermarkets and the GSM village ( Jagwal ).

Miss Ruth Paul, a sales woman at Milk Shop, a shopping area in Maiduguri, said: “The presence of NGOs in Maiduguri has been a blessing to me, they make life better for me because they saved my job.”

She added, “This store would have been shut months ago if the NGOs had not come. They have increased our sales by 70-75 percent. If the NGOs hadn’t come, we would not see the money now circulating. You know, the state government has not been paying salaries to all workers because of the ongoing verification. So, God in His infinite mercy sent the NGOs, taking care of IDPs, providing jobs for the people and increasing our sales.”

A widow, Hajja Fatima, who inherited her late husband’s huge estate, said she never made money from her business before as she does now.

“I never hesitated to rent out all my unoccupied apartments to the NGOs. Initially, when my estate manager told me that some NGOs wanted to occupy some apartments, I objected,  thinking that they would stay there for free because I was told NGO workers are volunteers.

“My estate manager was able to convince me that  NGOs that are coming into Maiduguri are not like those I knew before, saying these ones are very rich and can pay whatever amount we ask them. I then agreed and they paid what others could not pay, they sometimes paid three to four times what other people could pay.  And that has made me able to cater for all my dependents,” she said, desiring to continue having NGOs as tenants for as long as possible.

Alleged misuse of funds by NGOs

The former governor of Borno State, now Senator Kashim Shettima, had accused the NGOs of misusing the resources allocated to them meant for alleviating hardship among the people.

According to him, due to their extravagance, the NGOs were able to pay N18 million to rent a single apartment, and drive exotic cars and live flamboyantly.

“They made homes in Maiduguri too expensive than in Maitama, Abuja. We have become a cash cow and people are smiling to the banks from the agony of our people, this is unacceptable. People that are really ready to work are very much welcome here. But people that are here to use us to make money may as well leave. We don’t need them since they are only here to use us to make money,” Shetiima said.

 A girl riding bicycle at Bakassi IDP camp in Maiduguri Photo: Olatunji Omirin

A girl riding bicycle at Bakassi IDP camp in Maiduguri Photo: Olatunji Omirin

He, however, commended a few NGOs, saying, “The World Food Programme is doing a very good job, the ICRC is doing a very good job. We also appreciate the efforts of the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Danish Refugee Council. The International Organization for Migration is doing a good job. The UNHCR is also doing a good job. Apart from these eight NGOs, the rest merely exist. I have a list of 126 NGOs in Borno State,” Shettima said.

Checks by Daily Trust Saturday revealed that about 1,483,566 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) taking refuge at various camps in the state lack food and facilities despite over the $1 billion that was reportedly received from international donors at different occasions by humanitarian agencies within five years.

Many international aid groups were accused of diverting funds meant for the upkeep of IDPs for personal use.

Volunteers, field workers, programme officers, managers as well as directors working at dozens of such NGOs were said to have been taking care of themselves instead of the victims.

“The local CSOs in Borno State represented the affected population at the Oslo humanitarian conference on the Lake Chad where $675 million was realized and of recent over $2 billion was realized,” said Ambassador Ahmed Shehu, the Chairman of Borno State Network of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs).

“However,” Shehu continued, “The question is despite all the funds generated, the local CSOs were not prioritized, instead, the funds are allocated to international non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies.

“The same criteria was set for NGOs and INGOs and UN Agencies to access the funds, this is not fair. Currently, there is an absence of accountability to the affected population and the absence of prioritization of the needs of the affected communities.

“The Local NGOs are the first respondents when there is an emergency, they live in the communities and provide emergency support before the arrival of other actors. They have the advantages of understanding the situation and easy access to the affected population and communities.

“We have been using local resources and efforts to support our people even before the insurgency hence supporting the process is our objective.

“The influx of skirmish local and international non-government organizations has brought a lot of concern to the humanitarian cycle. Some of their activities are embarrassing to the sector,” Shehu said, adding, “The local NGOs are one of the first groups that started advocating for support to the affected people. We did that by advocating local communities and philanthropies to believe that there is an emergency and need for support.

“All the problem that is happening is as a result of lack of effective coordination and accountability to the communities. We are urging the government to set up a coordinated mechanism that will streamline all interventions and partners into a whole for an effective outcome.

“All NGOs must respect the law of the land and account for their interventions to the communities. The federal government should identify its priorities and ensure that all partners key into it if the interest is to support the nation all needs should be defined by the government and advised all support to be deposited in the same basket,” Shehu said.

“You can see many of those aid workers living flamboyantly, buying expensive houses and posh cars, while paying little or no attention to their primary assessments that gave them mandate to access the donated funds,” said a resident of Maiduguri, Abubakar Haruna.

He also observed that IDPs at most camps in Maiduguri were displaced by flood during a heavy downpour in August due to negligence.

“We don’t have any food to eat, they are just starving us, it was Action Against Hunger that used to give us food but due what happened between them and military we couldn’t get any intervention. AAH had problems with the Army and it has affected us, they are supposed to give our monthly rations but unfortunately, we could not get it. You can read it from their faces they are seriously hungry,” Baba John, an IDP at the CAN Centre.

He added: “I have contacted WWF and Christian Aids for assistance, people are starving. There’s no single NGO working in CAN Center IDP camp, there is no way I can speak about how they spend the money received from donors because I don’t have data, however, we see how they (INGOs) live luxurious lives here and IDPs are suffering.”

Another IDP and a community head from Gwoza LGA, Bura Ahmad, who has been in camp for five years, said: “We have suffered a lot from INGOs, they would bring a big Ghana must go bag when you open it, what you get will surprise you. People from Gwoza LGA are 13,000 IDPs, we always have issues with our people because they would bring items that are for less than 10 per cent of the population. They always play with our intelligence, we can’t continue like this, something must be done to address some fraudulent activities by INGOs and local NGOs in Borno.”

A women leader from Marte LGA, Lami Bulama, said: “Most times we wonder if they are truly here to assist us, they would invite us for focal group discussions from 9 am to 4 pm, they ask us to sign for payments but they would not give us a penny. This is what they have been doing to us.

“There are a lot of scams going on in Borno, many of INGOs and NGOs would gather us for 2-3 months training, in the end, you would not see them again. Not like the start-up packs they promised us initially. The government must do something to curtail them when you go to their offices and see the type of cars they use at the expense of our plight, you would not believe it.

“We listen over radio hearing huge amounts of money they receive on behalf of IDPs but it doesn’t get to us, large amounts of these funds are spent on them, not us, so it is important that government rises to the responsibility by monitoring activities of these NGOs,” she said.

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