We don’t see hope of returning home – Benue IDPs | Dailytrust

We don’t see hope of returning home – Benue IDPs

Anya Francis and his household
Anya Francis and his household

For 10 years, Anya Francis, 61, and his family, have lived in different internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Benue State.  

In 2012, they were first displaced from their village, Tse-Orkar in Guma Local Government Area. They were made to move into a camp in Ukpiam, near Daudu community. In the company of other people like them, they later moved to Ugba town in Logo Local Government Area to find shelter in shanties.

Francis told our correspondent that earning a living became tough for his family between 2012 and 2014 while they were on the run from one makeshift tent to another, shuttling between Ugba and Mbawa camps in Guma Local Government Area, such that sometimes they had to beg for food.

In 2015, they relocated to the Abagana camp, along the Makurdi-Lafia highway, where his family of 13 children continued to live on the goodwill of philanthropists, which is not adequate to meet their needs.

He added that as they ran from herders’ attacks, his family expanded and equally encountered untold hardship. They made several attempts to return home but retreated to the camp for safety.   

“It started in our village in Guma in 2012. That was when they started pursuing us. We fled to Ugba in 2013. We were there until 2014/2015, then ran to Abagana. Since then, I have remained in the Abagana camp. I have not been able to return to my village since 2012. 

“I live here with my family. Some of my children got tired, so I had to send six of them to Ibadan. I am still with seven of them, including my wife. We are now seven in Abagana, including my grandchildren.

“Within the camp here I am the only one from my village who have stayed this long, other displaced people have migrated to Benin, Niger, Illorin and other places in search of better life,” said said.

Francis further explained that the frequent change of camps in the past was occasioned by attacks, adding that whenever the attackers came, they killed people and didn’t even spare the mentally ill, so they had to be on the run constantly.

He added that even Abagana was not very much secure for them because some time ago, the attackers invaded the camp and its environs, during which they killed some people and left others maimed.

The 61-year-old told our correspondent that his grandchildren were born in the camp, including twins. He is worried that the kids are not getting proper education.

Luckily, he now occupies an improved temporary shelter offered to his household by a United Nations (UN) agency, but it cannot be compared to returning home.

“We don’t have problem of water because the Red Cross Society provided water for us in this camp, but there is acute food shortage. Our children are not schooling because volunteer teachers have withdrawn due to lack of benefits.

“I want to go back to my village because there is no land here to farm and produce food,” he added. 

Also, a widow, Asebe Jebu, has spent a total of eight years at the camp, having been displaced from her Mbawa locality in Guma Local Government Area in 2014.

She lived at Mbawa Community Primary School with her household for four years. The school served as shelter for displaced persons until 2018 when they were moved to the Daudu camp 3 after the state government opened the place for use; and since then, they have remained there for another four years.

Asebe lives with her first son’s wife and eight children in their small tent at the camp, inhabited by over 40,000 people.

“This hard condition led to my first son’s death when he went somewhere to look for food as he used to do. I was told that he woke up one certain night and started vomiting blood till he died. His wife who gave birth to twins shortly before her husband’s demise is here with me and her other two children, as well as my four children, bringing our total number to 10.  

“We don’t have food here, let alone our children going to school. And we cannot go to our houses to carry food because militia herdsmen have taken over our houses. They lay ambush to kill us anytime we try to go and get firewood.   

“During the last Daudu market, they killed my brother’s son who went to Tse-Faasema to plant corn. When people like you come and talk to us, we think it is part of efforts to provide security for our villages so that we will go back, but we are not seeing hope.  

 

“We are facing untold hardship in the camp here. We grind rice and eat it together with the chaff. Our apartments have spoiled, especially now that rainy season has set in. Most of the apartments have been destroyed by rainstorm and there is nowhere to stay. For the tents that are still standing, water flows into them and we become compelled to stand up from our mats. It is not a place where human beings should be sleeping at all,” she narrated.  

Life has also taken a toll on Comfort Ajo, who hails from Keana Local Government Area of Nasarawa State but has been living in displaced persons camps for the past eight years.

Ajo, alongside her husband and five children, first took shelter at Mbawa camp in 2014 on arrival to the state from the neigbouring Nasarawa before they proceeded to their present camp at Daudu, where they have spent four years, bringing the years they have spent as displaced persons to eight so far.

The mother of five said, “My children are not going to school because of hardship. Volunteer teachers who were teaching them in this camp have left because they were not getting anything. 

“I went to my home a couple of days ago after it rained so that I would at least make a small farm to plant millet but met a herdsman grazing his cattle on the land. I cried and ran away because I was afraid he would kill me. We are indigenes of Nasarawa State at a border with Benue.

“The governor is trying but we are many in this camp. When they bring food items, our population is usually more than the supply. It is 4pm as we speak and I have not eaten since morning. That’s why I am sleeping with my little daughter under this tree; our food has finished.

“Ordinarily, whenever it is Daudu market day, some of us would go to sweep the market in order to get something to eat while some of us who still have energy go to the bush and cut firewood to sell and get food, but it is not even easy to get the firewood.

“Now that it has started raining, our men will work on people’s farms to get paid when farming job is available. There is no drinking water as our boreholes have spoilt. The number of apartments destroyed by windstorm is more than the ones left. We don’t have a clinic here. If your relative falls sick and you don’t have money, the person will die. Last week, a man died here, leaving his wife and the children. That’s a summary of our everyday living so far for the past eight years.” 

Mrs Kwasedoo Juku’s husband, Steven, was said to have died in the camp for lack of fund to adequately tackle his ailment, even as the camp seems to have become a permanent home because they have lost hope of going back.

Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that the displaced persons had spent several years living in open spaces and under trees before the state government began to set up camps across the state in 2018 after the New Year attack that claimed the lives of 73 persons in one night.

Their lofty dreams over the years had been shattered and they are now living in despair, especially as their situation had torn their families apart with most of their underage children taken to live with people outside the camp.

Most of the displaced persons told our correspondent that they had not been able to leave the various camps because of the inability of the government to secure their homes from attackers. They unanimously appealed to the federal government to deploy more security forces to the affected places to enable them go back to their communities.  

Daily Trust on Sunday recalls that the state government had in the past set datelines to take them back to their communities but that never came to fruition.   

However, at the onset of the Operation Whirl Stroke (OPWS), headed by Major-General Adeyemi Yekini between 2018 and 2021, a good number of the displaced persons went back to their villages as security operations were stepped up in the affected communities in various local government areas.  

It was learnt that many of them returned to their homes, a situation that resulted in the closure of some of the camps, but they have since returned to the camps following renewed attacks since mid last year.  

At that time, Yekini was said to have approached Governor Samuel Ortom, requesting the closure of displaced persons camps in the state. However, the request was considered inappropriate due to enormous humanitarian challenges confronting the state.

The governor also invited General Yekini and other stakeholders, including civil society organisations, domestic and international non-governmental organisations, to a security meeting to also consider the request. At the meeting, it was advised that the camps should not be closed pending when certain things would be put in place to enable the people go back. 

Also, the federal government, represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, had visited Benue and promised that housing units would be constructed in three local government areas of the state – Logo, Guma and Agatu as part of resettlement arrangements, but since then, nothing has been heard about it again. 

Sequel to the promise, the state government donated a vast parcel of land for the resettlement of the displaced persons, but the process has not been concluded; hence they are still in the camps.

As the displaced persons continue to yearn for their homes, they suffer rape, unwanted pregnancies, stealing, among lots of other vices. 

The state government has consistently raised the alarm that the feeding of the huge number of the displaced persons is draining its purse.

Speaking on the plight of the displaced persons in Benue, The Reverend Father Solomon Ukeyima, a priest from the Makurdi Catholic Diocese, who has been working with them since 2011, said that apart from emotional and psychological pains, they were vulnerable.

“They have been there as far as 2012 and 2013. In 2015 when we went to distribute items to them, we discovered that some of them came from Daudu to St Mary’s in North Bank, where we had camps. Governor Ortom, then a minister, brought in some trucks of food.

“So some of them are right to say they have stayed up to 10 years in camps. That they will ever go back home again depends on the government. These armed herdsmen are nothing to our army if they are really given the green light to do away with them. 

“We do not have creeks, mountains or forests here where they will hide, so if our soldiers can go out there into other countries and prove themselves and come back, what’s herdsmen to them? It is just that they (governments) are not sincere; they know where they (attackers) are being haboured in our neighborhood. As soon as government is sincere about it, these attacks will end,” the priest said.

Commenting on the matter, the Executive Secretary of the Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Dr Emmanuel Shior, said the displaced persons, who spread across nearly 20 camps in the state, want enduring solutions to the attacks to enable them return home.

He said the current number of displaced persons in various official and unofficial camps was close to two million, adding that some of them stay with their relatives or in uncompleted buildings.

“On when they will return home, we said earlier that the Benue State Government had made a disengagement plan. We have also put in place, the Benue State Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP). But the plan is not what can be rushed because it involves so many things. 

“The federal government would need to help the state secure where the armed herders have occupied. They need to be removed from those communities, first of all. The destroyed infrastructures need to be replaced. We have requested the federal government to support the quest of the displaced persons to return home,” the SEMA boss noted.

Our correspondent observed that most of them have resorted to clustering under trees during the day to play cards, hoping that respite would come their way.

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