The ugly security situation in Nigeria has continued to lead many out of their original comfort zones and homes in search of peace; this exposes citizens, particularly women and children, to an unhealthy and hazardous living conditions. ENE OSANG in this report takes a look at these scenarios.
Since the crises between farmers and herdsmen erupted across the country, many citizens have been forced into Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps, with women becoming widows and are forced to run from their homes in search of peace with children to cater for.
Some of such citizens are villagers from Guma local government area of Benue state and Lobi local government in Nasarawa state who were chased out of their homes following the herdsmen, farmers’ clashes across the state.
These displaced citizens are currently residing in a settlement called Ado-Simon, in Kishi, the headquarters of Irepo local government area of Oyo state, very far away from their hometowns due to the unending crises.
Ado-Simon is a growing community of IDPs of over three hundred persons consisting mostly women and children. A settlement which approximately should be a one hour drive from the town of Kishi, but due to the non-motorable condition of the road took almost three hours to get there.
Though there are traces of road path which show that the road was once tarred, it is rumoured that the rout is plied by smugglers who transport various items into neigbouring Benin Republic.
Ado-Simon which, according to the settlers, is very fertile for farming had laid bare over the years until its chief started his family and also welcomed his friends and relatives from Benue and Nasarawa who had been IDPs.
The settlement is actually named after the community head whose name is Simon Akwue, popularly called Baba Simon, for his fatherly role in helping the villagers find a place to dwell and do their farming businesses and to continue life’s journey again.
As a result of this, the people owe so much allegiance to Baba Simon who said he has been living in Oyo state since 1972, and decided to settle in the area; hence the community was named after him.
The residents all spoke about his kindness and how many have been invited into the community through relatives or by marriage: the sight of many children and pregnant women shows a larger community in the near future.
Not comfortable with their decision to cut themselves off from the larger society to live in the middle of forests, a grassroots-based non-government organisation (NGO), Paged Initiative, known for creating awareness and encouraging acceptance of changing gender roles in today’s society, took a team of Journalists on an investigative mission.
Rev. Fr. Odurinde leads the journey
The journey to Ado-Simon was led by a Catholic Priest, Rev. Fr. Sylvester Odurinde, the Parish Priest of St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, Kishi, in the Diocese of Oyo, who visits the community from time to time to say mass and do charity works.
Driving through bush paths got the team scared to the point that they almost made a return journey, but for the encouragement and persuasion by the cleric.
“It was like going to a land of no return due to the loneliness of the road: no incoming or going vehicles; we were just travelling inside the bushes with no idea of exactly where we going to, or when we will arrive at our destination. But Rev. Fr. Sylvester ensured that he calmed our nerves through the journey with his words of encouragement,” a member of the team said.
“But for the encouraging voice of Fr. Odurinde, who kept saying that the village is just a few minutes away, when the village was nowhere in sight, the team would have turned back and returned to Kishi.”
According to the Rev. Fr., “I use bike to go see the people. If we had taken a bike, it would have been faster. Let’s continue with the journey.”
However, members of the team became skeptical, especially when a member of the Nigeria Civil Defence who accompanied them said in a non-challant voice, when asked about the security of the place, “Security here, I will be honest with you is in God’s hands.” But the team decided to forge ahead and finally they arrived in Ado-Simon.
Arriving in the community, the team was welcomed by the chief and few people at home as most of the settlers were already off to the farm, but words got to them on the farm and in a couple of minutes they began to return home to meet their visitors.
The team was told that desperate search for peace and means of living brought them to their current home with no basic amenities to make their lives comfortable.
The houses at Ado-Simon were made of mud and had thatched roofs with just a few covered with zinc. The houses were arranged to make space for a ground where the people can gather to hold their meetings or church services whenever the priest is able to reach them. There is no electricity or pipe borne water. No schools in sight and no hospital.
Most of the villagers have taken solace in the fact that that they have lands to cultivate crops again, the women in particular are happy that they can at least feed their children and can eat and sleep without fear of being attacked by herdsmen even though herdsmen can be sighted in the community.
These farmers have basically cultivated crops such as rice, yams, tomatoes, cassava and other crops. They stated that though life was still tough, at least they have peace of mind.
Paged Initiative’s documentary
The Paged Initiative known for the screening of its documentary, Uprooted, aimed at capturing the voices of the voiceless, particularly those in remote areas who have been displaced from their homes.
The NGO also creates awareness on the changing gender roles in the society today and have succeeded in building awareness and promoting acceptance of women’s changing gender roles among a variety of audiences, including local women and men, civil society organisations, policymakers, media professionals and other stakeholders.
However, due to the short time left for the journey back to Kishi, the video was not screened in Ado-Simon, but the message and aim of the visit was passed on to the villagers through an interpreter, Mr. Humphrey, a university graduate who studied at the University of Agriculture, Makurdi , Benue state, and is managing one of the big farms in the area. He is also Rev. Fr. Odurinde’s assistant.
The villagers who were touched by the message brought to them began to share their stories and predicaments to the team of journalists and members of the NGO who took record of their experiences.
One of the women, Helen Matthew, got emotional said, “Our relations were killed, our houses burnt. Those herdsmen destroyed our farm produce and the governor asked them to leave the state and so they started killing our people. I had to run to the capital city in Makurdi.
“While in Makurdi, there was no help Life wasn’t easy for me there. There was no farm to cultivate and so I had to look for a better place to move on my life.
“I had to call my people down here and they told me to come. Even when I came, life was still tough. I spoke to Baba Simon who is our chief here and he gave me land to farm. We are trying to settle down fine here. The priest is also helping us a great deal,” she said.
Another woman, Esther James, narrated her own heartbreaking experience. According to her, her husband had died from a snake bite in Benue and she was managing life with her three children – two males and a female – when the attack started.
“My two sons were killed. I had to flee from the town with my remaining child, a girl. I can never return to that place because the trauma is too much for me. I don’t want to remember how my two sons were killed,” she said.
For Joshua Shonu, when the attack started, he was among those who found themselves at the internally displace persons camp, but the difficult life in the camp had him seek a better life which made him end up in Ado-Simon.
He added that though, he would have loved to go back to his village, he had called many of his relations who told him they were still unable to go back to their home town of Guma.
“I was a farmer there, when I arrived here, Baba Simon, gave me a land which I had cultivated. With time, I hope things will be stable for us,” he said.
Ado-Simon women’s health
Arriving in the community one striking thing is the number of pregnant women and children. How do the manage to live there with no pipe borne water, no electricity supply, health facility or school for the growing children formed the core of investigation by the team.
Many of the women are pregnant, how do they go to hospital for routine check- ups, who takes delivery of their babies, and other sick children are questions that readily come to mind.
The only local birth attendant is Baba Simon’s most senior wife, an elderly woman of over 70 years old; she takes delivery of all the children the women give birth to there.
When asked of her experience on midwifery she said she had no formal education on this, but for her late grandmother who she grew up with and used to watch how she helped many pregnant women back in the days.
“I don’t have any formal education or experience other than the experience gathered while growing up with my grandmother. She passed this gift to me. I only learnt this from grandmother during my growing up years, so many women in my village then did not go to the hospital, and it was mama who helped them during pregnancy.
“God has been merciful to us, since I have been helping pregnant women no one has died or lost her baby. All I always do is pray before anything and we just put our trust in God for safety and we have been fine.”
Continuing, she said, “The only difficult situation I ever had, the woman was in labour towards evening and it lasted for a long time, when the baby wasn’t coming forth I told the husband to go look for bike so he can take the wife to the hospital in Kisi.
“It was not easy getting a bike at that time of the night, but I kept praying to God for help and before the woman’s husband could arrive with a bike the woman gave birth. That was the most difficult situation I have faced.”
Women water needs
The community also lacks potable water which is a basic necessity of life; there is no sight of a river or any stream except for a pond a short distance from their mud and thatched roof houses.
“That is a major challenge for us here. As a woman I need water to do many things: drinking, cooking, bathing, washing especially because of our little children,” said Helen Mathew.
“When raining season is over life becomes more difficult. Our only source of water is that small stream; we even share this with cows. We have tried to divide the water since cows share it with us so that at least we can have clean water to drink but each time we do that the cows destroy it whenever the herdsmen take them to drink.
“Our children fall sick due to intake of unclean water yet there is nothing we can do, but to give them herbs and pray to God who has been so merciful to us for healing.”
The wives, children
The village head Baba Simon alone has four wives and so many children whom he lost count of their number. Some of his grown-up sons also have wives including other men in the community.
One of Baba’s sons, 27-year-old Daniel Akwue, told the journalists that, “You can write that we are 30 children. They do not know anything about family planning. They keep giving birth here… 21, 22 children.”
Daniel, who is also married, disclosed that the oldest amongst his siblings was over 40 years old while the youngest was a few months old.
He also said many of his siblings are also married and Baba who obviously has a few months old baby is still competing with his sons for bringing forth children, and jokingly said he might marry another wife.
The living condition of these children and women is one of the reasons the Paged Initiative took its advocacy down to this community.
According to the Managing Director, Ummi Bukar, their aim is to capture their voices and bring them to the front burner of national discuss to enable the government and other stakeholders to capture them into development plans.