The cry of Internally Displaced Persons in Benue state presently is when the state can be safe for them to return to their ancestral homes. JOHN SHIAONDO reports.
Over five years after the attacks by herdsmen on various communities in Benue state, the future of the Internally Displaced Persons IDPs have remained bleak.
While the state government seems to be in a dilemma on how to handle the situation, available records show that the federal government is seemingly less concerned about their plight.
It is on record that while the herdsmen attacks were at its peak, Vice President Yemi Osinbanjo visited the state. On behalf of the federal government, he promised 10 billion naira which he said would be made available for victims affected by attacks from herdsmen in order to resettle them in IDP camps, but years after the vice president visited the state, nothing has been done about it.
The number of IDPs has rather continued to swell as a result of continuous attacks, a situation which is becoming a cause of concern to many.At least, 1.5 million people across 11 local government areas out of the 23 local government areas in Benue have been sacked from their ancestral homes with the heightening of the crisis.
Speaking with newsmen while distribution food items to IDPs during the Christmas season, the executive secretary State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Dr Emmanuel Shior said the continued stay in IDPs camp is overstretching the state’s meagre resources.
Shior also said to worsen the matter, Benue is also in addition to the IDPs caters for over 8,000 Cameroonian refugees currently in Kwande local government area.
He urged the federal government to released the N10 billion promised to reconstruct some of the destroyed areas and urged the government to establish military post to provide security in such areas.
According to him, the continuous stay of the IDPs who are majorly farmers at camps may result in food crisis.
He further stated that the state would have been glad if all the IDPs left camp to their various ancestral homes.
A recent visit to an IDP camp along University of Agriculture Makurdi has revealed the pathetic situation of the displaced persons.
The displaced persons, who were sent out of their ancestral homes by herdsmen, are currently living in makeshift houses at an unofficial camp at Tse-Yandev, near Agro Miller along University of Agriculture road in Makurdi the state capital.
The camp, it was gathered, has been existing in the location for over a year and is being sustained by religious group and well- meaning individuals.
Chairman of the camp, John Azenda, who spoke to newsmen said, they have been living under pitiable condition without good shelter, water and food since they came to the camp.
He described the situation in the camp as pathetic, saying they were exposed under harsh weather conditions.
“You can see the situation yourself. We manage to gather grass to construct the small huts we sleep in.
“Some of the families who have between two to five children force themselves under the small tents in this harsh harmattan wind.
“We don’t pray for any misfortune but if there is any fire incident or rain now we are doomed.
“We want to return to our ancestral homes, but for now, we want government to provide shelter, water and food for us,” he added.
Mrs Yanguchan Ukerchia, one of the IDPs whose husband has died said she has been living and fending for her eight children until an NGO took two of them to sponsor.
She appealed to the government to come to their aide so that they can return to their ancestral homes.
At Abegena Camp built by federal government, though with a roof on their head, the IDPs are faced with high risk of insecurity, food shortage and medical supplies.
Apart from harsh living conditions, the camp has continued to harvest death from attacks by marauding herdsmen and other natural causes.
A visist at the camp revealed that apart from the recent attack which claimed over 10 persons, no fewer than 28 IDPs, including 20 adults and eight children have died within two years.
Manager of the camp, Mr Iliagh Terhile, who spoke to journalists during a recent visit, lamented that since the last attack on the camp community in which seven people were killed by suspected armed herdsmen, they can no longer sleep with their two eyes closed.
He recalled that after the incident, some of the IDPs fled the camp to other places but were forced to return to the camp as a result of hunger and lack of accommodation for them in town.
He said they have continued to live in fear hence the need to build a police post to enable police officers respond swiftly in cases of emergency.
“The security of the camp is not guaranteed. We want government to provide security outfit close to the camp to be able to respond to any emergency.
“I sleep here in the camp, but we have not been sleeping with our two eyes closed. When herdsmen attacked this area some months back, and some of our IDPs were also killed, some had to flee but after a while returned to camp because they have nothing to eat out there,” he said.
On whether they would want the IDPs to leave the camp, Terhile said, “The issue of camp closure is a complex one. The security of IDPs is not guaranteed now if they return to their ancestral home.
“If they must return, security measures must be put in place at their various communities. They also have to be helped with finance and seedlings else, you have just succeeded in breeding criminals.
“The psychological well-being of the IDPs should also be ascertained and managed before they are reintegrated into the society to avoid enmity and violence among them,” he said.
Mr Terhile who listed lack of food and Water, Hygeine, Sanitation (WASH) supplies as challenges in the camp, said they have cases of infectious diseases like ring worm, scabies, diarrhea, among others.
“Our common challenge now is food supply. The population can’t even access farmlands and some of them are from Nasarawa state. Their major challenge is for them to return to their ancestral homes to continue with their lives and this can only happen when their security is guaranteed.
“Most times especially during farming seasons, some tried going back to farms, but the herdsmen would always come and feast on their produce at the end of the farming season.”
He therefore solicited better health cares for IDPs, particularly women and children.
Ortom calls for help
Speaking on the issue, Governor Samuel Ortom, solicited the support of Nigerians to cushion the effect of the humanitarian crisis in the state occasioned by the continued stay of people in Internally Displaced Persons’ IDPs camps.
He said the humanitarian crisis has overstretched the resources of the state; therefore appealled for the intervention of good-spirited individuals, governments, corporate organisations and civil society groups in meeting the needs of the displaced people.
The governor also called on Nigerians to continue to pray for President Muhammadu Buhari and other leaders in the country to enable them provide leadership that would engender peace and unity in the country.
He acknowledged the support of the Church especially the Bishop of Makurdi Diocese, Wilfred Chikpa Anagbe, the governors of Rivers, Taraba and Akwa Ibom states, other donors and faith-based organisations as well as individuals who have been assisting in catering for the plight of the over 1.5 million IDPs.
But as Ortom’s administration is left with sixteen months to go, the questions on the lips of many people is what the new government would have in store for the IDPs.
Many people including the IDPs themselves have continued to expressed worry over their continued stay at the camp without any hope.
But as the activities to elect a new person that would lead the state in 2023 have continued to gather momentum, many people advocate for someone with good plans for the IDPs and a good knowledge on how to tackle insecurity in the state.
Moses Iordam, a displaced person from Moon District in Kwande local government area of the state said they would vote only those who would ensure their return to their ancestral homes.
“We are tired of fake promises from politicians who are only interested in enriching themselves. Only IDPs in Benue are over 1.5 million, so we have the capability of deciding who become our governor in 2023.
“This time around, we would choose both at federal and state only those that have the will to confront the challenge of insecurity in the state and the country at large. We are tired of staying away from our homes.
“Since 2017, most of us have been displaced from our ancestral homes. We are suffering but nobody seems to care about our plight. We would no longer vote those who come here with fake promises,” he said.