New Kuchingoro internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp, which is located in a settlement in the heart of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), is home to more than 2,000 Nigerians, mostly from Borno state, displaced by activities of the Boko Haram sect. In this report PAUL OKAH recounts experiences and expectations the IDPs shared with Blueprint Weekend during a recent visit to the camp.
“We want to return to our homes in Borno state,” was the response of many IDPs when asked what they wished for the most, during recent visits to the IDPs camp in New Kuchingoro. This is not surprising, considering the level of poverty and sub-human conditions in the camp, where more than 2,000 IDPs, including months-old children, live in subhuman conditions.
For houses, they have identical wooden structures with tarpaulin as roof which leaks in several parts in this raining season. This condition of living, Blueprint Weekend investigations indicated, has left many sick; especially as a result of exposure to cold.
More disheartening is the fact that many of the IDPs, mostly unskilled farmers, artisans, and traders, lack means of livelihood as they lack land to farm or capital for start businesses. Many of them rely on relief materials from NGOs and other well meaning individuals for survival. However, the sole wish of this people is for peace to return to their homes in the North-east so they could return to their homes and resume what is left of their lives as many had lost family members to insurgency.
Interestingly, the camp is a pilgrimage ground of sort to many religious and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who throng the camp with relief materials on regular basis. Our correspondent, however, reports that this kind gesture is viewed with suspicion by some of the IDPs. They argued that some of the NGOs as were exploiting their situation as use pictures taken at the camp to obtain huge grants and aids from foreign donors.
Blueprint Weekend interview with one of the IDPs simply identified as Precious, one those who could speak English in the cam predominantly occupied by Hausa speaking residents.
The IDP, who was taking care of her frail and fatally sick mother lying on a mat in their suffocating room; narrated their experience since coming to the camp.
Almost in tears, the 18-year-old told our correspondent that, “I came to this IDP camp in 2013, from Goshe in Gwoza LGA of Borno state. I lost my father to the insurgency. I was in SS2 when I left the state, though I later went back to Maiduguri to write my WAEC.
“I am learning how to sew at the moment. I just wish to go back home and live a normal life. There is no help from government, except NGOs. Like today, an NGO came and gave rice to us. My mother is sick and cannot do anything to help me financially. If I go back to Borno, I can find something to do to earn money.
“I am 18 years now. I have not been to Goshe since the incident happened. Even now, I am willing to go back if peace is restored in my village. I want government to chase away the Boko Haram and rebuild our houses, because they have all been burnt by the insurgents.
“They should build schools, hospitals and provide social amenities for us to go back home. We have only a clinic here, but without adequate drugs. Because of the weather, my mother is sick and we don’t have the money to take her to the hospital.”
Another IDP, Yakubu Musa, a farmer in his early thirties, said that they have been abandoned by government. He claimed that prominent politicians visit the camp to make unfulfilled promises, even as he reiterated his desire for a change in their conditions.
“I finished my WAEC and was waiting to write NECO when we were displaced. If possible, I want to continue my education, though I just married and had a child two years ago..We are farmers. We use to go to a village in Nasarawa to rent land to farm since we were displaced in 2014. It is double trouble for us as we rent land as IDPs. Former Speaker of House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, came here in 2017 and promised 1,000 wrappers to women and other things, but we have not seen anything.
“In December last year, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo came here with other politicians and said he provide assistance to us as IDPs, especially money to rent land to farm in village in Nasarawa and other farm chemicals. However, he has not done anything since. Even the former Senate Preident Bukola Saraki was here too to make promises, but nothing so far. Individuals and churches are trying, but we have been abandoned by government.”
Distraught mother weeps
Also speaking through an interpreter and on behalf of a group of elderly women gathered under a tree, Janeth James said she was tired of looking up to the failed promises of government and wanted to return home to continue life in her village, Goshe.
She said: “My husband farms in Nasarawa state and my children are with him, though I lost my 22-year-old son to the Boko Haram insurgents in 2014. I am here without income. More than 98 per cent of us want to go back to our villages. I no longer want to talk about government, because they have failed us.
“I can’t remember the number of times government officials and politicians come here to make promises, but nothing comes out of those promises. It is all bleak hope, so we are tired of looking up to government for help. Let them restore peace in our villages so that we can go home. I am not trading or farming here, so it is disheartening living on charity.”
In an interview with Blueprint Weekend, the Coordinator of Sharing Prosperity Nursery and Primary School, Mr Enoch Yohanna, who hails from Gwosa in Borno state, said the school has Nursery 1 and 11 as well as Primary 1 to 4.
Yohanna, who came to the camp in 2014, after his parents were killed in insurgents attack, said the school had 1,063 pupils last session, but the figure was increasing daily as parents were bringing new pupils for registration in the new session.
Enumerating problems faced by the school and the camp, he said: “Orientation is as a result of our level of education, which is why we set up Sharing Prosperity Nursery and Primary School in the camp. Life of IDPs has been that of sharing; education is based on volunteer teachers. We don’t have N-power teachers. We have some IDP graduates like me, so I discussed with them, as the head of the school, to invest in the society and they agreed.
“We have Primary 1-4, Nursery 1 and 2 as well as playgroup. We have about 2,000 pupils now. Last session, it was 1,063 pupils. We are admitting new pupils and we may end up having 2,000 plus this year.
“We don’t have manpower to facilitate a secondary school. The teachers are totally IDPs. We don’t have any volunteer teacher from any government organisation. I am the coordinator and head of volunteers, so I should know if there is any volunteer sent by government.
“Some of the children used to attend LEA primary school in Durumi, but they were having problems in crossing the road and were always knocked down by motorists. Some of them are back in the camp with us, because the parents would rather keep them at home than risk accident. We affiliate with government schools so that those that are due for primary six can write the Common Entrance exam for secondary school.
“Some of the IDPs are 15 years, but still in primary three or four. You can’t expect someone to be happy in such a situation, especially girls. In fact, one of the girls married at fifteen, because she thought that school is a waste of her time. If we can’t keep them in school, then bad elements in society will claim.”
Areas of need
Continuing, Yohanna said: “The camp consists of more than 1,500 people, apart from the new born babies. In 2015, we had more help, during the visits of some churches for evangelism in the camp. Also NEMA, FEMA and individuals used to help us, but we now have multiple challenges, especially in the parts of education and health. People focus on sending help or food items, but more attention should be paid to education and health. A lot of people in the camp lack formal education.
“I studied statistics and graduated in 2014. My dream of obtaining a masters degree was shattered when my parents were killed in 2014. The school here was hitherto coordinated by an NGO, Life Builder Initiative, but there was no standard. It seemed the IDPs just go to while away time in school, because a JSS 3 student couldn’t read or write, and that pained me a lot, knowing that Boko Haram itself started as a result of illiteracy.”
He added: “A lot of NGOs have spoilt everything by siphoning funds meant for IDPs. They will write proposals, but will not do what is in the proposal. It is our Kingdom Expansion Ministry that provide school uniform, sandals and socks for the pupils. When we need anything, we approach NGOs to help in our plight. They come up with all necessary help they can do. In fact, a foundation renovated the classrooms for us.
“The government has ceased to help us. We wish that government should come for our aid, even in tracking our missing family. We need standard bio-data and database, so that we can know how our families can be linked. Note that after the crisis, there will be another crisis because of people trying to recover properties. However, with a database, that will be averted.
“I want to encourage the government and Northeast Development Commission to take this as a bold step, not only in the Northeast, but the nation entirely, because the crisis is escalating. Boko Haram is evolving, but the pattern of their operation, tactics remains the same. Many of us have spent so much in our education, but cannot access the dividends of our education, while others are enjoying it. The youths are traumatised. The anger is growing up. One day, it will escalate to another problem.”
Succour for IDPs
The Potter’s Children Global Foundation (PCGF) is one of the NGOs that have brought succour to the IDPs. Founded in May 2017, by a group of students and led by The Coordinator, Mr Olayeri Abiola Samuel, with the motto: “Showing kindness, giving care,” the Foundation has continued to assist the IDPs.
Speaking to our correspondent during one of the visits Abiola said PCGF in partnership with other NGOs was offering scholarships and distributing learning materials to school children in the camp.
He said, “Our five books and a pen project is centralized on enhancing the education of less privileged children. We normally use the opportunity to tell the children the importance of education. We give them at least five books and a pen, pencils, erasers, sandals, school bags, socks and other educational materials. It serves as motivation to the kids.
When children come to school and see others with sandals, characteristic of children, they won’t attend school the following day if they don’t have sandals. But when you give them the necessary items, it increases their self esteem to want to come to school and they will start participating well in class. So, we came with five books and a pen for each of the 120 pupils. We also gave them two pencils, two erasers each. We gave 18 scholarships to pupils here, though we will give 30 to other schools.
“We already have some students under our scholarship scheme. It is just for a year. We single out the best students after a test and award the scholarship. We also observe those without good sandals and socks and kit them up. The kids are happy. Even those that have not started writing are eager to have books. Nevertheless, we want government to intervene in the condition of the IDPs.
“In government schools, PTAs subsidies fees for the students. We pay N3,000 a child for a year in government schools, but here we pay N9,000, because no one is paying anything for them. Even the teachers here are volunteer teachers. At some point, they get tired, because of lack of motivation.
“I believe government can actually send teachers to IDPs camps; so that the pupils can have quality education. When a teacher is not motivated, there is nothing much he can do.”
Also, speaking to Blueprint Weekend, the Co-founder of the Foundation, Elizabeth Ayua, said their vision was to take as many kids as possible off the street and reintegrate them to schools, even as she said she hopes for a better condition of the IDPs.
“We cater for indigent children such as those on the street, IDPs camp, children in school, who can’t fend for themselves, amongst others. We provide scholarships for them. We also cater for orphans in orphanages. We spend time with them on Children’s Day and other days.
“The four classes here have 30 pupils each, so we awarded those who did well in Mathematics and English language and provided others with school bags, sandals, socks and writing materials. My interaction with the kids exposed a lot.
“They still have a lot of trainings to undergo. They are not trained for a formal environment yet. They need stable teachers. They need more structures, especially a library. The classes are not standardised yet.”
… SDGs too
In an interview with our correspondent, the Coordinator, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Thursday, Moyo Okereji, said, “SDGs Thursday is an initiative of IBI Foundation, which started in 2018. It is a network of over 50 organizations and over 150 individuals that promote SDGs. What we did today was to collaborate with PCGF and Girl Space Charity Foundation to give out scholarships and writing materials to the pupils.
“The IDPs have been through a lot. I couldn’t imagine human beings living in such subhuman conditions. I cried the first time I came here. This is not a place someone should stay. They use canopies as huts: under the rain or sun.
“They have families and children without a good source of income, so how do they survive? They only live on the benevolence of NGOs.”
NGO makes case
Speaking to this reporter on his efforts so far in the education of the IDPs, the Founder of Girl Space Charity Foundation, Mr Beedof Abireh, said that the IDPs deserve better than they are getting, even as he disclosed the rationale beyond his activities in the camp.
He said: I have been here for four months now. My foundation, Girl Space Charity Foundation, makes sure that marginalized, displaced and rural community girls get access to quality education. I adopted this camp and set up my learning centre, where I teach different subjects with about 27 volunteers every Saturday. I have had partnership with many organizations that see what I am doing and want to partner with me.
“Education is the oil that moves any car. If they access SDG4 quality education, it will help these children to become who they want to be. For now, we don’t have a sponsor. We just do everything based on passion. I grew up in a rural community. I know what it took me to access education. My parents were not able to afford school fees, so I had to do menial jobs to pay my fees. I pushed wheel barrows, I farmed for people, moulded sand and cement blocks just to go to secondary school.
“My major driving force is that my mother never accessed education, but she was the woman leader in church, so in 2001, I paid for her to access adult education and she started reading and writing within six months. I told myself at a point in life, I will do this for rural community children, who can’t afford extramural classes and I see that I am imparting in the young girls every day.
“Since these people came from Borno, they seem rejected and abandoned here. I am not sure government remembers there is an IDP camp here. I asked two of the kids here in Primary 5 why they are not in school and I learnt that only N1,000 was keeping them from school. So, government is not doing anything.”
NEMA shifts blame
When our correspondent visited the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) the acting PRO, Mr Manzo Ezekiel, said that FCT Emergency Management Agency is in a better position to speak on the fate of the New Kuchingoro IDPs, as it would amount to taking over FEMA’s responsibility to say or do anything about the IDPs without due consultation with FEMA.
However, a top executive in NEMA, who preferred not to have his name in print, claimed that many of the IDPs are criminals and like to whip up sentiments to elicit pity from unsuspecting Nigerians, even as he said the IDPs have refused efforts made for them to return home.
He said: “If you are talking about the IDPs, I want you to know that their situation is not as bad as they make it. NEMA has been doing its best to make sure that this people are comfortable, but many of them simply want to claim to be IDPs, even when peace has been restored to their villages. Many of them hide in the camp to carry out criminal activities.
“Have you wondered why many of them crossed many states from Borno to come to Abuja? If you look very well, you will see cars and electronic gadgets in the camp worth thousands, yet they call themselves IDPs and want to elicit concerns. There was a time government made arrangements for them to return home, but they scuttled the plans. It is quite unfortunate for the genuine IDPs, but many of them are criminals in that camp.”