Thousands of people who were displaced from their homes following attacks by insurgents and bandits are taking refuge in temporary camps in some states.
Daily Trust visited some of these camps and reports how they celebrated Christmas far away from the comfort of their homes.
Christmas is usually a period of joy, happiness and celebrations for many Christians all over the world as the day commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ.
It is that period of the year when people engage in sharing gifts and visitations to neighbours and loved ones.
However, the story is different in various camps where thousands of people displaced from their homes across the country are currently taking refuge.
Edo IDPs celebrate Xmas amid hunger
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) taking refuge at Ughogua camp in Ovia North East Local Government Area of Edo State celebrated this year’s Christmas without food.
The camp now serves as home for the over 3,000 people displaced by Boko Haram insurgency in the northern part of the country.
As the world celebrated this year’s Christmas, their priority was for restoration of peace and tranquility in the country to enable them return to their homes.
Our correspondent who visited the camp observed that the only celebration was the church service held to offer prayers to God; it was devoid of the usual activities and fanfare associated with Christmas celebrations.
Clad in their old cloths, the displaced persons were seen doing their usual sports and relaxation activities in the camp.
Some of them told Daily Trust on Sunday that they were not too concerned about the celebration, saying their worries were how to get food, drugs and educational materials for the over 3,000 of them at the camp.
The coordinator of the camp, Pastor Folorunsho Solomon, told our correspondent that the inmates celebrated Christmas as usual with prayer for the nation and its leaders.
“We are just here as usual. There is no difference, but we are hoping that someone could just come and make a difference because our store is empty; there’s no food.
The children gathered to pray for peace and security in the country because the birth of Jesus Christ brought peace, love and kindness to the world.
They prayed for the president and governors so that they would govern the country very well,’’ he said.
He added that aside praying for peace and security, they also prayed to God to touch the hearts of those in government, individuals and corporate organisations to remember displaced persons and bring food for them, as well as fund their education.
Pastor Solomon said his focus was not the celebration but how to feed the inmates and sponsor their education.
“Sixty of them wrote the post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and 45 of them scored 50 and above.
We need money to sponsor their education,’’ he said.
Some of the inmates who spoke to Daily Trust lamented that they were celebrating the festival without food, saying what they had was not enough to satisfy everyone.
One of the displaced persons, John Ayuba said, “People are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ all over the world, but for us here, all we need is food and drugs because you can only celebrate when you have something to eat.
We want people to help us with food, medical items and books, among other things because after the celebration we will need food and books to go back to school.
“Celebration is only good when you have something to celebrate with.
“All we have now is only God, and that is why we offered prayers to him and called on the people to help us with food and other items,” he said.
Esther Joshua noted that spending Christmas in the camp was a different experience for her.
“If we had something to eat, we would thank God because our store is empty. We rely on what people give us to celebrate the festival.
“All the same, we are in festive mood but without food to eat. We need food, meat and new cloths to celebrate well,” she said.
Also speaking, Amos Ishaku said they were in need of support in terms of food and other items, adding that children are only happy when they have new cloths to wear and enough food to eat during Christmas.
He called on well spirited Nigerians and organisations to come to their aid.
How 2,635 refugees celebrated Christmas in Southern Kaduna camp
No fewer than 2,635 Christian refugees celebrated their Christmas at the Mercy IDPs Camp, located at ECWA, Zonkwa, Zangon Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State.
Notwithstanding their situation, however, coupled with the harsh economic condition, the people at the camp were in high spirits when Daily Trust visited the camp.
While some of the people complained of lack of money, others were worried that they were spending the yuletide outside their communities.
According to the camp coordinator, The Reverend Gambo Waziri Ashafa, they decided to be with the displaced persons at ECWA a day before Christmas to make them feel at home, even though it would be difficult for them.
“We spent a lot of money to make sure we entertain the refugees, by cooking foods, renting canopies and chairs, as well as inviting pastors and traditional cultural dancers to make the event lively,’’, he said.
He said the aim of the celebration was to make the displaced persons happy.
The victims, mostly women, children and the aged, came to the camp from six communities – Gora Gan, Apinbu, Boto, Gidan Gankon, Gora Bafai and Kurmin Gandu.
Some of them who spoke with Daily Trust on Sunday before the commencement of the celebration said this was the first time they were spending Christmas far away from the comfort of their homes.
Alas Steven, a mother of seven, who hails from Gora Gan community, said their houses and foodstuffs were totally burnt down when the attackers invaded their village.
Alas, 51, said even if they were to leave the camp, they had nowhere to go and celebrate Christmas as they are now homeless.
She recalled that on Christmas day, they used to cook different kinds of food, wear new cloths and visit loved ones.
“Today, we are celebrating Christmas in a camp with our little children.
“But we thank God that he spared our lives to be among those who witnessed this year’s Christmas, as many of us have gone to be with the Lord,” she said.
A woman with a nine-month-old pregnancy, who hails from Gidan Gankon in Gora, Liatu Kefas, said she lost her husband, and their house was burnt when the attackers invaded their community. She said she had never imagined that she would one day celebrate Christmas in a camp.
Kefas recalled that her husband lost his life as he was returning home to save them.
“They were searching for males and asking for the whereabouts of my husband. They asked me to go and hide in a pig’s hut when they realised that I was pregnant. They said if I came out they would kill me, together with my baby. As we were hiding, I heard the voice of my husband shouting my name, but there was no way for me to answer him or come out from the hut.
My baby started crying when she heard the voice of her father. She tried to come out, but I told her that we would lose our lives,” she recounted.
She said one of the attackers shot her husband in his head and ran away.
She further said that even if they were told to return to their village, they had no place to return to as their house was completely destroyed.
Lydia Julius, 41, from Gora Gan, said her husband was killed, leaving her with six children to cater for.
“Our breadwinner has gone. Who can look after our children now?’’ she asked, crying.
She said celebrating Christmas outside home was a terrible thing she never wished would happen to her.
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that few days to Christmas, the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) donated food items, including rice, maize, beans and cooking oil to the displaced persons.
Delivering relief materials to camp officials, the national president of the SOKAPU, Jonathan Asake, lamented that communities in the area had been on sustained attacks since January this year.
He called on government and security operatives to redouble their efforts to protect the lives and property of the people.
Asake explained that though the SOKAPU did not have the resources to cater for all the needs of the victims of the attacks, it had consistently cried out to well-meaning sons and daughters of the area and non-governmental organisations to come to the aid of victims.
He particularly thanked the Victims Support Fund and the TY Danjuma Foundation who supported the victims with 100 bags containing various food items, which they delivered to the displaced persons.
Responding, the camp coordinator, The Rev Ashafa, thanked the SOKAPU for always standing on the side of the people, and prayed God to raise people that would always support them.
Narrating how the attacks were carried out, one of the victims, who lost five of her in-laws, appealed to the government to provide enough security in their communities to enable them return.
Jubilation in Borno camps
In Borno, thousands displaced persons at the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and Shuwari camps in Maiduguri joined their counterparts all over the world to celebrate Christmas. However, it was mixed feelings as they said they would have been happy if they celebrated the festive period in their homes.
Our correspondent who visited the camps in Maiduguri observed that the displaced persons were in a festive mood, wearing secondhand cloths, while cows were slaughtered for them. Many of them exchanged pleasantries and gifts as part of the festivity.
A displaced person from the CAN centre, Asabe Ayuba, whose husband was killed by Boko Haram insurgents in 2014, said they were grateful to God for sparing their lives to witness the 2020 Christmas.
She thanked the Borno State Government for donating cows and foodstuff to alleviate their suffering.
“As you can see, I and my children are in a festive mood, wearing the cloth I could afford. We have received many gifts and assistance from the Borno State Government and religious bodies. Few days to Christmas I was thinking about what to do.
The Borno State Government even sent us cows, rice, cooking oil and many other things to celebrate with. We didn’t expect it, but surprisingly, the cows arrived in our camp yesterday and there was jubilation everywhere.
We would have loved to celebrate this Christmas with families in our community in Bayan Dushe of Gwoza Local Government Area, but the community is not safe for civilians for now. We just want to go back home,” she said.
A displaced person at the Shuwari camp, Mr Filibus Yohanna, said they were happy the state government came to identify with them during this festive season.
“There’s no place like home. We appreciate government’s efforts, but I call on the Federal Government, security agencies and the military in particular to intensify efforts so that we would soon return to our respective communities.
We hope and pray that by the grace of God, the insurgency would soon come to an end so that we would go back to our respective communities to celebrate future festivities. We will continue to pray for our military, other security agencies, federal and state governments to help us achieve a lasting peace,” Yohanna said.