A cross section of the IDPs from Chibok and other … releif materials at a church in Magodo, Lagos
Many displaced people, especially from the North East, still nurse scars and fears. They are still stranded and have no plans to return to their once peaceful region.
Among the endless throng of humanity, are many who can’t access the mass media to express their anguish, many who have gone through much more horror in the hands of the Boko Haram insurgents than can even be captured in their everyday conversations. The reality however is never lost on time’s indelible imprints: for many from the North currently finding refuge in safe sanctuaries, past glories are gone in blazes, the images of serene, undisturbed homelands seem to have taken an eternal flight and the dreams of happy Christmas or New Year home going always reminiscent as December happens upon us, is one seemingly forever gone. They have been driven to find home in strange cities.
After losing two of her children to Boko Haram in one day and been displaced without tangible help, Mrs. Monica Chutai, 38, appears to have taken on a stoicism that is deeply unsettling. When she recounted her horrific experience at a church event in Lagos, she did not cry. Her voice did not break. Her body betrayed no single emotion. She just looked calmly and blankly into empty space as she spoke:
‘The first time Boko Haram people entered our village in Michika (Adamawa State) was sometime in August last year, about 1pm. They burnt down houses, killed as many men as they could find and abducted many women. Some of us ran into the bush but later returned from the bush, but they kept coming back. In November, things became unbearable and we decided to move to Mubi where my sister and her husband, a lecturer, lived with their family. Then one day, they also visited Mubi and then we fled again.’
This time, about 10 people were crammed into her brother-in-law’s car including Mrs. Chutai, her brother-in-law, his wife, two other men and their children. Then luck ran out of them again and they ran into the insurgents on the way. They (insurgents) dragged out the three men apart, killed them in the full glare of the family members and drove the women into a building hosting other abducted women and children.
After about a month, sometime in December last year, one afternoon, they heard the noise of helicopters hovering over the ‘big flat’ in which they stayed, a total of about 30 women (all forced to convert to Islam and given Hijabs to wear), together with several children. In the ensuing pandemonium, she only took her then one-year old daughter Endurance with her in flight, and left her other children, Christiana, 10 and and Kwata, 4. The house was bombed by the Nigerian Army on the trail of leaders of the sect, killing all the children and others left behind in the house. With the survivors, she trekked, hungry, for many days before reaching Maiha then Yola, the state capital before reconnecting with her husband, Dlama Chutai, a mechanic, in FESTAC, Lagos. She arrived on December 20 last year alongside her surviving children, Blessing (13), Goodluck (8) and Endurance (one year plus) and all currently live in a make-shift shack in FESTAC provided by a church, without any contact or assistance from government agencies.
‘It has been a terrible experience and we are just managing life,’ she told this reporter amid swirl of activities from other similarly displaced persons from the North East recently brought to a church in Magodo Lagos for relief donations.
Besides Mrs. Chutai were about 200 others with stories of horror, of narrow escapes and of government abandonment.
David Bitrus, 46, from Chibok town in Bornu State is dark, has a gigantic stature and carries a bearded face. He instantly became easy target for Boko Haram recruitment. ‘In October last year, some of their boys entered our town, accosted me and asked that I join them. I refused and they stabbed me in the stomach and arm, and ran away, thinking I had died,’ he said, lifting his long whitewashed gown to show the reporter a big scar in his abdomen. After the initial survival and treatment, he too escaped to Lagos and now works as a security man, planning to return home ‘only when things stabilize’.
Though he had looked calm like the rest awaiting their turns to receive relief items, Dauda Yakubu, 31, from Chibok community in Bornu State, became boisterous, sweaty and even angry when reminded of his recent past. He left the community after repeated attacks by the insurgents, but not after witnessing the now globally known abduction of more than 200 school girls of the Chibok Secondary School from their hostel rooms while preparing for their exams in April 2014. His 19-year-old niece, Sunanta Mami, was one of those abducted. He later left for Lagos with his then pregnant wife, Rahila, 20 after the attacks continued.
Mrs. Salli and seven-month daughter Michelle, missed death by the whiskers
‘It was a terrible thing,’ he said about the fate of his abducted niece and the other abductees. ‘We don’t even know whether she is still alive or not. Her grief-stricken parents, he revealed, ‘had refused to leave Chibok, saying there were ready for any eventuality. They are completely hopeless, especially after losing their son also to Boko Haram the same year. Yakubu, once a thriving farmer, now does security job while catering for his wife and baby, Grace. He easily flies into a rage when reminded that some people still doubt the credibility of the Chibok girls’ abduction saga.
‘May God punish those who say no Chibok girls were abducted. I pray it doesn’t happen to their own relatives,’ says Yakubu who alleged that the school authority had prior information about the impending attack.
Joseph Nkeki, 16, from Chibok community was one of several unaccompanied minors who found their ways to Lagos to avoid recruitment or death by Boko Haram. He left off schooling in JSS 3 after his school was burnt down and his parents asked him to flee the village so he is not recruited or killed, and he does not plan to return home or to school soon. Joseph who now stays with a relative in Lagos, sat with three other unaccompanied boys, granting interview to a television crew while waiting to collect relief items.
Master Joseph, said Mrs. Victoria Tarfa, a women leader in the church, was one of the 37 unaccompanied minors the church took in in 2014 when they had the greatest influx. They also catered for more than 50 families. The IDPs, drawn from areas such as Chibok, Margi, Higi, Kilba, Bura and Ganda, all in the North East and predominantly Christian communities, were distributed in areas in Lagos such as Obalende, Kara, FESTAC among others, with many living in substandard conditions with their families.
Though she has since relocated to Lagos, Yosina Shalli, 41, has had repeated nightmares after narrowly escaping death in the hands of Boko Haram in the North East last year. On the night of 29th November last year, the terrorist, armed to the teeth and riding in a long convoy of Hilux vans, descended on the village of Wamdeo in Askira/Uba Local Government Area of Bornu State. She held tightly to her then seven-month old baby Michelle as she, her parents-in-law and other relatives fled to the hills. After two days in the bush, still in their night wears, they made their way to Uba Town then on to Yola in Adamawa State, some 160 kilometres away.
‘I always feel like going away as far as possible whenever I remember the horror. I wonder what would have happened to my dear daughter on that fateful night,’ she said. Yet she is happy to be alive. Many of her in-laws were killed that night, the community church burnt, the pastor killed, the community market among other structures razed down.
The chief aka ‘Seriki’ of the beggars colony, Isa Ibrahim is also himself a beggar, talking in escapes from North
Since it began its bloody campaign against vestiges of Western education and a purported campaign to Islamise Nigeria, starting in the North in 2009, Boko Haram has claimed about 20, 000 lives, maimed many more and has also spread its terror machines to the neighbouring countries of Niger, Chad and Cameroon, rendering two million people homeless. It has also sacked many communities especially across the North East. Though many of the communities have been taken back, many escapees still dread going back home especially with news of suicide bombing across the region. Many IDPs still regard newly elected President Buhari’s promise to bring the insurgency under control within a few months with cautious optimism considering the repeated attacks especially via suicide attacks (about 500 Nigerians reportedly killed since Buhari assumed office on May 29). Today, Boko Haram is globally acknowledged to have killed more people than any existing terrorist group.
Help, Help Needed for IDPs
The above event, hosted by a church with Northern origin, had additional supports from Sesor, an NGO dedicated to catering for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). CEE-HOPE, a child’s rights and welfare NGO also brought relief items. Ier Jonathan, Sesor’s Executive Director who, besides relief items, organised media publicity for the displaced persons with the aim of drawing public and government’s attention to their plights, is saddened by government’s apparent nonchalance.
‘Currently in Lagos, I know of about 1, 000 displaced persons trying to pick the pieces of their lives together and with absolutely no assistance from government at any level,’ she said.
‘You can’t imagine the level of trauma they have gone through seeing loved ones killed before them. None here so far has gone through any trauma counselling. There is a lot of deprivation with many sleeping in uncompleted buildings. Some would actually want to go back home but the intermittent news of repeated attacks in recent times is just scary,’ she added. Jonathan, whose NGO has supplied relief materials to IDPs in Adamawa, Plateau, Gombe, Taraba, Benue and Lagos, and mostly through private efforts, said repeated efforts by her group to get assistance especially from the immediate past government had so far failed. ‘Perhaps because this government is still settling down. Let’s give them some time. There’s a lot still to be done.’
‘I am just overwhelmed,’ said stand-up comedian and television show host, Mr. Tunde Adewale, more popularly known as Tee-A who also came to offer emotional and financial support to the IDPs at the church event. ‘Speaking with many of them, you could still see fear on their faces. Many of them appear hopeless,’ he said. He encouraged government, NGOs, corporate bodies and individuals to reach out to them. ‘We are all Nigerians. Boko Haram (while attacking) doesn’t know tribal colorations. The money used by many rich Nigerians to buy Champaign would make so much difference in these people’s lives. The media too needs to beam light on their sufferings. IDPs in Lagos, Abuja and everywhere around Nigeria need help,’ he added.
Rev. Bitrus Ayuba who heads a Northern-originated church in FESTAC, Lagos, said his congregation had almost solely provided relief and rehabilitation for the IDPs since they came to Lagos. These include erecting shacks for many of the families at an empty space around the area. They had also sought for help from other churches such as the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). Many of the IDPs are also surviving by doing menial jobs, serving as domestic servants, while the women sell local drinks of northern origin such as zobo and kunu.
‘Originally, they were a total of 297 people but a few have gone home while more are still coming back. But so far, we have not received any help from government,’ he said.
The beggars’ self-ruled colony at Agbado Station … with more people running away from Boko Haram.
An official in the office of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in Lagos who craved anonymity, said they were currently overwhelmed but were looking into the possibility of assisting IDPs in the state.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Nigeria is the third country with the highest number of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the world, sharing more than 5% of the global 50 million displaced persons with several thousands taking refuge in Chad, Niger and Cameroon, owing to the upsurge in conflict in the North.
Muslims not left out of attacks, displacements
Though the Boko Haram insurgency is fundamentally against Western education and symbols of Christianity, thousands of Muslim faithful have also been killed maimed or displaced. Several mosques across the North have been bombed and hundreds killed. In November last year for instance, a single attack in the central mosque of the populous Kano city left more than 200 dead. Fearing for their lives, many Muslims have also fled the North for safe sanctuaries in more stable cities like Lagos (though repeated clamp down by the Department of State Services (DSS) have revealed several attempts by the terrorist group to also attack Lagos.
Thus, places like Agege in Lagos as well as Agbado Station, a rambunctious railway area which bestrides Lagos and the quieter Ogun State, play host to a booming immigrant population from the North. A local market, Agbado-Oja, buzzes nearby.
Both Agege and Agbado originally had a sort of a beggars’ colonies peopled by persons with various degrees and natures of disabilities (especially blindness) and all from the North, making a living begging there. From trickles, the area now host multitudes of people, who, alongside their families, obviously prefer the pauperised-but-peaceful life of arms-by-the-railway to the uncertainty of the North.
Such is the story of Usman, a disabled youth who recently transferred his begging career to the area owing to repeated bombings, and Allahassan Yusufu, 61, who left Katisna in search of greener economic pastures in Lagos.
In normalising their activities, they have also installed a local chief, Seriki, himself a beggar, to oversee their affairs. The first time this reporter visited the place, Isa Ibrahim, 53, was off to his begging mission in town. The second time, the amiable father of eight with two wives, sat on a rustic-but-royal stool by the railway, surrounded by other beggars. About a dozen women over whom he was arbitrating a quarrel having to do with the sharing formula of money accruing from arms, all squatted humbly before him, listening to his words of wisdom.
‘Yes, we have more people who have come in because of Boko Haram and we have accepted them and so far, no wahala (problem), ‘he said.
Celebrity Tee-A motivating displaced and demoralised youths: ‘they need our help’, he says.
Except for a few of the traders like Rabiu Saadu, 35 (who jettisoned begging along the line to start a small provisions kiosk), none of the beggars send their kids to school, rather the kids led them by hand around to beg in areas as far as Agege, Ikeja, Oshodi and others across Lagos, retiring in the evenings to shanties and empty shops around the railway. The children, approximately 120, live in the area with their parents, both old residents and new arrivals. Like Mohammed Kabir, 14, and brothers Mohammed Adam, 10 and Idris Adam, 12 whose mother Mariam, a mother of seven stays there with them), many of the boys make a living scavenging on ‘Bola Federal’, the gigantic dumpsite nearby while the girls move around with their parents, waiting patiently to be ripe enough for marriage.
Asked what level of support they had received so far from government, the Seriki, Ibrahim who came to Lagos some 30 years ago to resume his begging career, retorted:
‘They never ask after us and we ourselves don’t make demands. Of what use is it anyway? I know they will never respond, so what’s the point asking them for help?’
At Abattoir Market area near Abule-Egba, a nearby settlement, a significant swell in the population could be noticed, especially those of young males who now make a quiet living, tending to herds of cows in the abattoir, clamping down cows, bounding them on rickety wooden carts and herding them for the slaughter slabs daily in exchange for few Naira notes. Or, working as an alabaru (load career), selling fried fish, sugar cane, selling suya (beef kebab), vegetables, fruits, or plying okada (commercial motorcycle). Here, no one speaks of experiences in Boko Haram’s hands, at least not audibly. No questions are asked and no narratives volunteered, and certainly, no psychosocial sessions received. Time perhaps may heal the wounds.
Joseph and other unaccompanied boys from the North East
On the run from terrorists, out of school: four accompanied boys from Chibok.
Children in dire strait
For most children caught up in the insurgency and who have had to be brought to places outside the North, life is tough, except in some cases, interventions by religious organisations and kind-hearted individuals. House of Recab, a privately run home for displaced children in Jos, hosts 289 of such, mostly orphaned by the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East farther down, or from repeated attacks by Fulani herdsmen on Plateau villages, an offshoot of lingering inter-communal clashes between indigenes and settlers over lands and grazing rights. Another is the International Christian Centre run by a missionary, Pastor Solomon Folorunsho, sited in a forest in Edo State and housing more than 1, 000 children displaced or orphaned by the insurgency. A move by the state government to relocate them to an uncertain North earlier in the year caused public outcry and led to cancellation of the plan. The state governor, Adams Oshiomhole, in apparent show of damage control, visited the centre with loads of gifts for the children and promised elaborate support for them (including the donation of five cows, food stuffs, rebuilding of the ramshackle classrooms and other facilities there among others) and have since redeemed some of them. So far, only 122 of them were recently reunited with their parents.
Yet, for many children such as one year and seven month-old Michelle as well as her mother ,Yosina who originate from the North, the traditionally inviting practice of spending Christmases in the village seems more of a non-issue this year.
Dauda Yakubu from Chibok with his family: ‘Doubters of Chibok girls’ abduction saga are wicked, one of them Sunanta is my niece’.
Mrs. Abah, a journalist and child’s rights activist, contributed this report from Lagos.