Babara Kim, a 20-year-old victim of rape, carries a three-month-old pregnancy. Her village in Guma Local Government Area of Benue State was sacked by suspected armed men last year. A few months ago, she was at the farm to harvest cassava when two young men accosted and raped her.
Babara, who lives with her grandmother at an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp, said she returned to the farm because there was nothing for them to eat.
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“Two boys raped me in the farm in March this year when I went to harvest cassava. I cried and returned to the camp but didn’t do anything about it.
“I didn’t report the matter or tell anyone because I didn’t know who to report to. I didn’t take any treatment either because I wasn’t aware of what to do. I am now three months pregnant as a result of the incident,” she narrated.
Babara’s story is one of the numerous rape accounts of women in Benue State, who have been chased out of their villages and are now left to fend for themselves and their families in IDP camps.
In a state where armed conflicts, occasioned by communal clashes and invasion by bandits have driven thousands out of their ancestral homes to now live in government designated camps, the women who attempt to return to their farms are often targets of sexual assault. However, our correspondent gathered that most of these female victims often suffer sexual violence in silence due to the stigma associated with it.
On June 19 every year the world marks the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict to remember victims of the increasing cases of sexual violence. The United Nations (UN) has defined the term “conflict-related sexual violence” as rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, enforced sterilisation, forced marriage and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women, men, girls or boys, directly or indirectly linked to a conflict.”
According to the UN, the term also encompasses trafficking in persons when committed in situations of conflict for the purpose of sexual violence or exploitation.
Practitioners in the field estimate that for each rape reported in connection with a conflict, 10 to 20 cases go undocumented.
The UN resolved that victims of trafficking and sexual violence committed by terrorist groups should be eligible for official redress.
Many victims of rape in Benue State narrate how they were often sexually assaulted, usually at gunpoint, during the invasion of their villages or while they went in search of food at their farms earlier abandoned.
Sandy Dodo, who said she was yet to fully recover from a horrendous experience in the hands of three men who sexually violated her in May, explained that the incident occurred after she went in search of food and was returning to the camp.
Sandy, 24, who now lives in a displaced persons camp with her four children, said that prior to that horrific experience, she had earlier been raped last year when armed men sacked their village. She added that her husband later absconded as life became tough for the family at the camp.
“Sometime last month, my children and I hadn’t eaten for days because there was no food in the camp and my husband had abandoned us, so I went out looking for food, but on my way back, three young men held me down and raped me.
“Two of the men held me down while the third raped me. They wanted to take turns but they heard footsteps and ran away. When I returned to the camp, I told my neighbour, who took me to the clinic for medical attention,” she narrated.
Like Babara, Sandy did not report the matter to the police. She said, “I am physically fine now but still have palpitation as a result of the experience.”
Another female victim said women were often raped whenever hunger became unbearable at the IDP camps and they attempted to return to their farms in deserted villages to harvest crops. She, however, said there were cases where indigenes engaged in sexual assaults as those who violated her spoke in a known language.
“I don’t know them, so I decided to suffer my shame in silence instead of reporting it and people will begin to make mockery of me,” she said.
Buttressing the stories of the victims, a camp official who craved anonymity, admitted that there had been increased cases of rape by men in host communities, as well as the IDP camps.
A health worker in one of the IDPs camps in Guma Local Government Area who spoke to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity disclosed that the camp had over 50 rape cases, adding that majority of the perpetrators were bandits.
“Sometimes these women go to the farms and they are attacked and raped. The attackers will always kill the men, even if they are two months old, then rape the woman, beat her and let her go, regardless of whether she gets pregnant or not. We have cases of many pregnant women who were raped and beaten,” he said.
Explaining why the women fall prey, he said most of the victims had been taken away from their means of livelihood, such that when they become hungry they often have no choice but to return to their farms where they may have some food to be harvested. Sometimes they are lucky and would not meet the attackers, but in most cases they are unfortunate to meet them.
“When these rape cases occur, we have community focal persons who confidentially refer them to us. We provide transportation for them to come, even if they are far away. When they arrive, we first of test them for HIV, sexually transmitted infections, then ensure that they don’t get pregnant against their will because of the rape.
“After that, we provide psychological support care, which involves counselling. There are cases where the women are brought to us without clothes, so we provide them with clothes. We provide other items they will need, like toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, underwear, wrappers and so on. We handle them through medical and mental health intervention.
“If they come within three days they will never get pregnant because we provide what will prevent it, as well as HIV, but after three days the drug can’t prevent it,” he said.
When contacted, the executive secretary of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Dr Emmanuel Shior, did not respond to calls on his phone for comments on the matter.
He also did not respond to calls put through his telephone on Friday to react to allegation of lack of food by the IDPs.
But Shior, in a recent interview with newsmen while flagging off the monthly distribution of relief materials to IDP camps across the state including Abagena, Daudu 1 and 3, Anyiin and Agasha among others decried the pitiable situation of the displaced persons.
“Federal government appears not to be interested. Federal government talks about the IDPs in the north east. And when you want to classify the states in the north, Benue State is often included.
“At my personal level, as an informed person, and also as a university teacher, I want to challenge that classification because if you say that Benue State is part of the 19 northern states, and the federal government is not demonstrating that in terms of supporting the state government to look after the IDPs, what does that mean? We are only identified in terms of that classification, and that, for me, is a high level of injustice. That for me, is unacceptable,” he contended.
He further expressed worries that the state government alone could not cater for the nearly two million IDPs in the state, stressing the need for the federal government to pay attention to the Benue displaced people’s plight.
“When we talk about the total population of IDPs, it is difficult to give at the moment, given the continuous coming of the IDPs as a result of the continuous attacks. But we said that the population is about two million. The implication of that you have about two million voters. So, even if the IDPs don’t have anything to do, they are also warming up and saying that well, we are entering into another season of general elections,” he added.
Shior listed the food items to be distributed to the IDPs for the month of June, to include five trucks of rice, 4,000 cartons of noodles, maize, guinea corn and millet.
Meanwhile, the Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) for Benue Command, SP Catherine Anene, said the command is not aware of sexual harassment going on at the camps.
“I am not aware that there is increase in rape cases at the IDP because there are no reports of such cases,” Anene said.
The Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF), in one of its bulletins, expressed worry over the rising cases of sexual violence involving IDPs.
The deputy head of missions of the MSF in Benue State, Mohammed Ali, stated that there was an alarming number of survivors of sexual violence that come to the reproductive health clinic, which the organisation is supporting.
“We see an average of 24 patients per month, who have been raped or subjected to sexual violence,” Ali said.
On his part, the MSF project coordinator in Benue State, Mitch Rhyner, in an emailed response to our correspondent, noted, “Our clinics provided care to 294 sexual and gender-based violence survivors during the first five months of 2022. Most, but not all, were IDPs.”