Zara Umoru, a mother of eight had her husband brutally murdered in 2014 by Boko Haram members in Borno State. Zara, together with her eight children subsequently fled her home town in Gwoza Local Government Area and that began a journey of the widow into a world of misery and uncertainty.
“When we ran away from Gwoza, my children and I started moving from place to place begging people to help them wash their clothes in order to get money to survive. Sometimes, if I washed clothes with my children, we could get between N500 and N600 daily. At times, some neighbours would give my children the remnant of what they have eaten in their houses,” she said.
After some time of wandering about, Zara and her children moved to Bauchi State to search for better living conditions and also stave off the challenges posed by insurgents.
Her frustration started to ease when the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the state were asked to register for Target Grant Transfer (TGT), a World Bank funds that would see them getting a total of N200,000 over a period of time.
After receiving the initial N30,000 and an ATM card that she would use for subsequent withdrawals, Zara has not heard from the officials nor received any other payment. This, she said, has dashed her hope of starting a business that would put an end to her woes.
Zara said: “I benefitted from the World Bank money. I was given an ATM card and also got N30,000. When they came at the beginning in 2017, they said they were going to give us N200,000 broken down to N20,000, N30,000, N50,000 and N100,000. But we have not set our eyes on them since they gave us the initial N30,000. I don t know their office and don’t even know how to communicate with them.”
Zara, who is the IDPs woman-leader in Bauchi State, is deeply worried about her future and that of her eight children. “The man who gave us a room apartment we are occupying is now late. It is this one room that my eight children and I are living in.
“We still engage in helping people to wash clothes to have money to feed. I have become a washer woman here in Bauchi.
“Like I said earlier, at times, some neighbours who see our plight do give my children the remnant of what they have eaten in their houses.
“Boko Haram put me in all this. They killed my husband and left me with eight children. My husband was running away to where he could seek refuge on a mountain when Boko Haram insurgents caught and murdered him.”
IDPs’ chairman in the state, (Bauchi) Buba Musa Shehu, who also hails from Gwoza Local Government Area in Borno State, confirmed Zara’s claim that the balance of the World Bank funds had not been paid to them.
He said: “I benefitted from the TGT programme of the World Bank. They promised to give us N200,000 but they have only given us N30,000 since 2017. They have not given us the balance since then. “We have written petitions and have been struggling to make them pay the balance to no avail.”
The story is not different in Gombe and Adamawa states where the IDPs feel they are being ripped off. A frontline member of the group in Akko Local Government Area, Gombe State, Bukar Alirambe, was furious as he shared the frustration the group has experienced asking for their balance.
“We registered for the World Bank fund meant to give each registered household a total sum of N200,000. In 2018, they gave us an ATM card promising that they would give N200,000 to each registered household for capital project and emergency relief.
“About 3,534 households benefitted from the initial N30,000 they paid for our emergency relief. Some of us also got N20,000 for relocating from Borno. Those who did not relocate from any state were not given the N20,000.
“In all, we are entitled to N150,000 balance which, according to them, is for capital project. They have not given it to us till date.
“They said there is a second phase of the programme but the IDPs on the second batch have not benefitted at all from the funds.
“We have gone to the extent of writing and submitting petition to Senator Ali Ndume, the senator representing Southern Borno but nothing has come out of it. The petition was submitted in 2019.
“We are calling on the government to come to our aid by helping us to get this money so that we can start some petty businesses.
“We are begging the Federal Ministry of Finance and everybody that is involved in this programme to come to our aid so that we can be self-reliant and able to send our children to school.”
The IDPs chairman in Adamawa State, Usman Yahaya, corroborated the allegation, adding that what was promised them in Adamawa was N400,000.
He said: “The former coordinator told us they were going to give us N400,000 but not at a go. They said they were going to give us N30,000 for the first payment, then N20,000, N50,000, N100,000 and N200,000 respectively.
“They gave us N30,000 and later changed the coordinator. The new coordinator said there is nothing like that, saying the N30,000 we had received was the only money meant for us.
“Yet they gave us ATM cards that will expire in 2022.”
IDPs decry neglect by federal agencies
Aside their frustrations accessing the balance of the alleged World Bank funds, the IDPs are aggrieved by the attitude of Federal Government owned humanitarian agencies to their plight.
“Government agencies don’t care about us. There are more than 30,000 IDPs within the four local governments here in Yola.
“They announce in the media that they are taking care of us, but in reality, that is not true,” Adamawa State IDPs chairman, Yahaya said.
He alleged that the government agencies take care of only the IDPs that live in the camps, leaving out those that reside elsewhere. Their complaints and agitations, he said, have yielded no fruits.
He said: “We are not in the camp because it cannot accommodate all of us. Those that live in the camps are not up to one quarter of those of us that live the hosts in the communities.
“We have three official camps in Adamawa State. Last month, our secretary, woman leader and I went to NEMA to tell them about our plight.
“They said it was a directive given to them but that they only serve only those in camps and not those that live outside.
“They said we should go to camp. But if we go, they will not be able to accommodate us.”
Yahaya alleged that despite the huge budgetary allocations to the humanitarian agencies, they have not been getting any support. “There is nothing free at all for us. We pay for rent and our children’s education.
“It was one NGO (NRC) that supported us with N25,000 each for accommodation two years ago.
“There are many of our people that are homeless. Many are living in dilapidated houses. Some are in uncompleted houses.
“They stay in any kind of house, provided there is a roof on it, and they pay rent for such buildings.
“The government is not coming to our aid at all.”
Hunger, lack of access to healthcare spike death toll among IDPs
Following the challenges posed by acute hunger and lack of access to healthcare, checks showed that death rate among the IDPs has been on the increase.
In Gombe, more than 40 people are said to have died recently.
“Many of our people, including children, are dying of hunger and attendant health challenges.
“Some of the children don’t have food to eat for two to three days. Between 2019 and now, about 40 people, including children, have died,” Bukar Alirambe said.
“We don’t have a primary health centre close to us.
“Between 2018 and 2019, Victim Support Group gave money to the specialist and teaching hospitals here in Gombe to support our treatment.
“The funds have been exhausted. Unfortunately, they didn’t provide fresh funds to continue this laudable cause.
“We have resorted to self-help. Another opportunity we have now is from the Catholic Relief Funds. They give anti-malaria drugs to our people.
“In the last six to seven months, the pregnant women among us have not been getting medical support.
“They have only been getting anti-malaria medications from CRF.”
The IDPs chairman in Bauchi State, Buba Musa Shehu, also bemoaned the rising death toll among his people.
He said: “Many of our people are dying. This year alone, we have lost about 50 people.
“Just last week, we had a high casualty figure. There is no access to good medical care.
“There is no support from any organization apart from the North East Development Commission who sometimes help us with foodstuffs.
“The IDPs in Bauchi State are about 54,000. When we arrived here, many of our people were begging on the streets to get money to eat.
“We don’t have a hospital. Whenever any of us is sick, we would have to contribute money among ourselves to treat the person.
“When one of our women wanted to give birth recently, we had to contribute money to take her to Maiduguri for treatment.”
In Adamawa State, the IDPs chairman said no fewer than 50 members had died recently.
‘Everyday was war in Borno’
Six years or more after they narrowly escaped the swords of the dreaded Boko Haram sect, the IDPs are yet to overcome the terror they experienced back at home in Borno State.
Reliving his close shave with death at the hands of the insurgents, the IDPs chairman in Bauchi, Buba Musa Shehu, said: “I fled Borno in 2014 because of Boko Haram.
“They came to our local government area around 5pm on August 5, 2014, killing people, including my family members. I lost my sisters, brothers, uncles and so on.
“I left my family in Gwoza in the night, ran away through Cameroon and came back through Yola to Bauchi.
“I trekked barefoot for eight days without food. I only survived on the water I found on the way.”
Asked how life is in Bauchi, Shehu said: “We are suffering a great deal here. First of all, we are living in our hosts’ communities and not in a camp. We are paying rent.
“I have four wives and 34 children. Not all my children are going to school. About 18 of them are not going to school because of financial challenges.
“I do odd jobs to raise money to pay for rent and feed my family. I assist at times at the block-making place. At times I go to bush to fetch firewood to sell. We don’t have any empowerment.
“What we need now is school for our children to get education. We also need empowerment so that we can go and farm.
“We don’t have farm implements, so we are always idling away. At times, we contribute money among ourselves to pay rent for a member.
“About 80 per cent of our children are out of school.
“Home is better than anywhere else. Wherever you go outside your home, you will feel isolated.
But the insurgents are still there in Borno. The area is not safe.
“In my house right now, there are five orphans who have no relations whatsoever to call their own or run to.”
His Adamawa counterpart, Yahaya, who hails from Gwoza, said: I fled Borno in 2014. I have a farm at Madagali in Adamawa State.
“I was returning to Borno one day when they called to inform me that Gwoza was under fire and that people were already fleeing. “I had always believed that the Nigerian army team at Gwoza then was very strong and that they would not capture the area easily.
“It was the third day that my family surfaced. We stayed at Madagali hoping that the area would be safe. But to our surprise, the insurgents struck within a week of our stay there.
“We ran from there to Mubi while those who were well to do moved to Yola.
“After some time, the insurgents entered Michika, forcing those that were there to run down to our place in Mubi.
“We stayed Mubi for about a year before the insurgents attacked the area and forced us to run to Yola.”
The terrorist group, Yahaya said, killed so many of his neighbours.
“The number is uncountable,” he said.
One of the displaced persons in Gombe, Mohammed Abdulahi, also spoke about how he escaped from Borno in October 2014.
He said: “I ran here in Gombe before my family came to join me. I just had to run when Boko Haram members came to our place. They were not attacking women as such.
“As a male, you had to climb the hill to escape. From Gwoza, I trekked to a village near Adamawa. There, some organisations assisted by giving us money to transport ourselves.
“Many of my relations were killed by Bojko Haram. Many things are happening there now. A lot of people are being killed.
“Boko Haram is occupying all our villages in Borno up till now. We weren’t sleeping back then in Borno State.
“There was also no rest during the day. You will always hear sounds of bombs in nearby villages. Gunshots were always reverberating every day, and each time the children heard the sound, they would run inside.
Mohammed lamented that the host communities deliberately jerked up rent when because of the high number of IDPs.
“My uncle that I was staying with initially rented an apartment for me. He pays N40,000 annually. “The hosts increased the rent because many of our people were coming here. Gombe is the centre of the North East.
“Many IDPs from Adamawa, Borno and Yobe are coming here and that is why they increased the rent.
“We have very little to eat. We eat once or at most twice a day.
“We used to go to the hospital. Formerly, we were receiving free treatment when there was victims support fund. Now, there is no such opportunity.
I have five children. Three are in school but two are out of school because of financial challenges.
“I feel very sad about it. If I have the means, I will train them up to university level. But as things stand, that is not possible.”
Also sharing her experience, a widow, Hadiza Alli, from Gwoza Local Government, said: “I have left Borno since August, 2014. My husband fell ill and died, leaving me with three children and an aged woman to cater for. “When the Boko Haram insurgents came attacking our area, I took my children into a cave one night and hid them there.
“From there, I managed to run away with them to Mubi. It was at Mubi that I got help to come to Gombe.
“I sell akara to earn a living and also feed my family.
“I am living in a rented apartment paid for by my elder sister who is resident in Maiduguri.
“She died two months ago. I don’t know how I will pay the next rent.
“Only one of my three children is in school. I don’t feel happy that my kids are not in school.
“They have been selling sachet water by the roadside since they can’t go to school.
“If the situation in Borno improves today, I will go back immediately. Unfortunately for us, the problem is not abating.
World Bank fund project managers, NCFRI speak
An official of the World Bank Target Grant Transfer fund project, who identified himself simply as Atiku, declined comment on the allegations levelled by the IDPs on the grounds that he was not competent to speak on the matter.
“May I ask who gave you my phone number?” he asked after laughing and expressing surprise about the IDPs claim.
“I am a journalist who can get any contact I want,” the reporter responded.
Atiku then retorted: “I also have the right to ask how you got my number so that I can channel you to the person who has the competence to respond to your request. I am not the national coordinator. I am just the head of the M and E of the project. You have every right to… we also encourage disclosure. I cannot give you any information without the instruction of my national coordinator.
“That was why I was asking if the person that gave you my number knew the right person to handle this. He would have channeled you to the national coordinator who has the competence to give the information. I don’t have it.
“I put up report, I collect report, I collate report but I don’t have the right to give out any information. That is what I am trying to tell you.
“The right person to respond to your interview is the national coordinator.”
The National Coordinator of the project, Hajara Sami, did not answer the calls made to her mobile telephone.
She, however, responded tersely to a text message sent by the reporter, saying: “Ok. Wl (will) call when I’m out of noisy environment.”
She was, however, yet to call at the time of filing this report.
Also contacted to clear the air on the IDPs’ allegation of neglect and being short-changed by government agencies, the spokesman of National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs (NCFRMI), Abdul Onu, said: “I am actually not in town now. But there is an SA (Special Assistant) Media to the commissioner now. I will introduce you to him so that you can take it up from there.”
He was also yet to send the contact at the time of filing this report.