When An Insurgency Ripples Across Country
AN Improvised Explosive Devise goes off with a deafening boom, scattering shrapnel and fire. Blasted veins, limbs and entrails fly in every direction, as death falls on a village in Borno State. But as it appears, dust from the insurgency is settling not just on distressed communities in the North East, but also on towns and cities hundreds of kilometres away!
Although Lagos, at the moment, may not have been burdened with hosting the insurgents in any of its prisons, the state, nevertheless, has felt more than a nudge from activities in the North East. Like the proverbial golden city whose radiance may be seen from a thousand miles, displaced persons from the troubled region have been lured to its nooks and crannies with the promise of a more secure life and financial gains.
While authorities in Alausa, seat of the Lagos State government, wrack their brains over how to contain the menace of commercial motorcyclists (popularly called Okada), few people seem to have linked their preponderance to crisis in the North East.
The state, recently, issued an ultimatum ordering the motorcyclists to vacate restricted routes or face the wrath of the law. Notorious for their recklessness and blatant disregard for traffic rules, Lagos State has unwittingly become home to droves of ‘displaced’ Okada riders.
John, an Okada rider, alongside several of his townspeople from Chibok Local Government Area of Borno State, had been part of the Civilian JTF, a body of vigilantes who came together to checkmate the insurgents. But when the heat became unbearable, he fled to Lagos State, got a motorcycle on hire purchase, and worked his way into becoming its owner.
John is, however, not alone. “Those who have come to Lagos run into thousands,” he said. When The Guardian met him under a shed at Ajao Estate, he was in the company of four friends, who, like him, had once been resident in Borno State. Three were commercial motorcyclists while a fourth sold assorted drinks. One of them produced a West African Examinations Council identification card, as he explained what he had been up to before he was forced to move down to Lagos.
According to John, working as a commercial motorcyclist in Lagos has paid off, as he has often transferred proceeds from the business home for the upkeep of his family. Asked how he would react to a total ban on Okada in Lagos State, he said: “That would be a disaster. There will be no hope. There is no other more profitable work that we can do in Lagos. I cannot work as a security man. The pay is too small. Think that you have parents to care for, a family to feed and cloths to buy… Their pay is paltry. Some earn as little as N10,000 a month.”
“It is God that is feeding us,” said Pastor Ishaya of the Foursquare Gospel Church, Ikeja, when The Guardian put to him the question of how he copes with the 12 additional mouths he has to feed in his house, mouths that came all the way from the troubled region and took refuge under his roof. “Whatever we have, we eat together; and the church also helps us. The 12 all arrived this year,” he said.
Ishaya recounted details of how he, personally, knows of not less than a thousand people who fled to Lagos from Borno State, some with as little possession as the clothes they wore when the insurgents struck. “Many of these people we set up in Okada business, and others as security men,” he said, adding: “Some of these men are now able to earn money and care for their families.”
One gatekeeper in the Shangisha area of Lagos State, Gambo Muhammed, said: “I came from Bornu State. I have many Hausa friends who also stay here with me. I came to Lagos to make money and also save enough money to feed and sustain my family.”
The insurgency, Muhammed explained, made him relocate his wife and three children to Cameroun. “I hardly go to see them due to insufficient money,” he said, appealing to President Muhammadu Buhari to curb the crisis “so that I can return to my hometown and live with my family again.
Also displaced, Ibrahim Abba, a commercial motorcyclist, has his wife and daughter hidden away in Cameroun. He regrets that in the past one year, he has been unable to set his eyes on them.
Another, a petty trader for three years, Abubakar’s family is tucked away in far off Libya. “I came to Lagos to make money, so that I can send some to my family. I travelled here due to fear of Boko Haram, having witnessed a bomb blast; it’s a sight I never want to see again,” he said, calling on the Nigerian government to quickly end the insurgency “so that I can take my family back to my home and live in peace.”
WHILE many states of the federation grapple with fiscal challenges, their plight may have been compounded by the influx of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Little wonder, perhaps, that cries of government’s neglect is a constant refrain on lips of the displaced.
The Catholic Bishop of Yola Diocese, His Lordship Dr. Stephen Dami Mamza, recently, lamented what he described as Adamawa State government’s insensitivity to the plight of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) that have returned to their homes.
The Bishop who was in Bazza, Michika and Madagali to donate drugs to the people expressed disappointment that since the IDPs came back, the state government has not provided them with adequate assistance to restart their lives.
“The Adamawa State government has failed woefully in its constitutional duty of providing services to its people, especially at critical periods like the present situation,” said Mamza.
In Taraba State, some camps for the displaced have reeled under the burden of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), sparking concern the infection could spread and worsen the state’s already swollen prevalence rate. One of the People Living With HIV/AIDS (PLWHIV) said: “For the past nine months that some of us have been here, no single help has come from the government on how we can access drugs.”
Some women from the camps, reportedly, often stray into the city to make ends meet through prostitution. And while these may seem like cheap catch for preying men, they could be ticking bombs. Taraba, meanwhile, has one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in Nigeria.
Added to this is the potential for a rise in crime rate, as a result of the sudden influx of hundreds of able-bodied but unemployed youths into several communities. And with many families migrating from the war zone, it was observed that there has been about a 50 per cent hike in the cost of renting accommodation in parts of the state. The increase, of course, is extra liability borne both by the displaced and hapless regular inhabitants.