Tears, As Adamawa IDPs Flay Neglect
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THEY fled their ancestral homes in the wake of attacks by terrorists. Today, they have returned. But, sadly, they are not at ease. They are the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in some parts of Adamawa State, crying over neglect by government.
The Guardian’s visit to Madagali Local Government, last week, to observe the condition of the returnees, revealed a mournful people bewildered at how unkind life can be. Some of the displaced were virtually going to bed on empty stomachs. And when they managed to find a meal, it was so little; it merely emboldened the hunger resident in their bellies.
In many of the homes the reporter visited, bare ground was bed for the children. They were ‘mat-less’; talk little of having the comfort of mattresses. Hunger was visibly etched on their faces. In a bizarre mode of existence, akin perhaps to prehistoric times, women went to the bushes in search of edible leaves and fruits, a risky adventure that reportedly often brought them face to face with wild beasts. It was a task they had to perform, now and again, to feed their children, and husbands, who, armed with crude weapons, stayed back to protect the home front from possible invaders.
Some of the IDPs that spoke to The Guardian in Madagali accused the government of abandoning them after it issued a directive, which prompted their return, seven months earlier. Others in Bazza and Michika complained that government failed to provide them with foodstuff and medicine.
The chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in Michika Local Government, Mr. Joel Bilil, said whatever assistance they had had, came only from the Catholic Bishop of Yola Diocese, Dr. Steven Dami Mamza, who made a donation of foodstuff and drugs worth millions of naira to IDPs in Bazza, Michika and Madagali councils.
“It is a pity that the Adamawa State government has chosen to treat us, as if we do not belong to this state. But God has not abandoned us; the Bishop of the Catholic Church, Dr. Steven Mamza, has always come here with one form of assistance or the other, and we thank God for him,” Bilil said.
As the IDPs faced deprivation, the harrowing encounters they had in the hands of the dreaded Boko Haram sect, continued to run through their minds, deepening their pains and desolation. Seventy-five-year-old Mama Terry Zira, who spoke through an interpreter, recalled how she and her children fled when Boko Haram fighters invaded Michika. She was, however, caught and brutalised by the assailants who sought to know the whereabouts of the children.
“They asked where my children were. I answered that I didn’t know. They became furious. They broke a heavy clay pot on my back. As you can see, now, I cannot walk without the aid of a stick.”
Another, a middle-aged man, who gave his name as Dauda Yakubu, regretted that in the past three months, since he returned to Michika, he had been privileged to eat just one meal per day, even as he heaped blame on the government for failing to provide succour for the victims.
Again, in Yakubu’s narrative, a familiar name resurfaced: “But for Bishop Mamza, I do not think many of us would still be alive. What we are facing, now, is similar to what we experienced under Boko Haram. When someone denies you food, such is out to kill you. For government to deny us food, I do not think it wants us alive.”
When The Guardian met the Executive Secretary, Adamawa State Emergency Management Agency, Alhaji Haruna Hamma, he admitted that since the IDPs returned to Bazza, Michika and Madagali, government has not assisted them with foodstuff. “It is true that we are yet to take foodstuff to them since they returned. But we are working out modalities we are going to use to distribute food to them,” he said.
There were sombre revelations when a delegation from the British High Commission visited the St. Theresa’s IDPs camp at the Catholic Cathedral in Yola, the state capital, three months ago. The visitors, led by the Commission’s Senior Political Advisor, Mr. Nigel Holmes, were visibly sad as some women broke into tears.
At the camp, one John Maina, who witnessed how Boko Haram fighters abducted the over 200 secondary school girls from Chibok told the delegation: “Members of the sect arrived the school with tanks and in military uniform. We climbed over the fence and escaped. The girls were shouting for help. There was none to assist them; they could not climb the over five-foot high gate.”
Speaking to the delegation, Maina, nicknamed ‘Chibok’ by people in the camp, alleged that the sum of N1m promised by former President Jonathan to each parent affected by the abduction was diverted by government officials, and that each parent eventually received only N50,000.
Some of the IDPs that spoke at the interactive session coordinated by Rev. Father Morris Kwaranga (who represented Bishop Steven Mamza), said besides government’s cold attitude to their plight, they were unwilling to return to their homes until peace is completely restored.
Mrs. Rita Bitrus, from Madagali Local Government, who lost her husband and other relatives to the insurgency, told the delegation that but for the Catholic Church in Yola, many of the displaced might have died, as a result of alleged negligence by officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in Adamawa State.
Addressing the IDPs, leader of the delegation, Mr. Holmes, told them he was in the state to get firsthand information on their state of affairs. He promised to forward their complaints to the government of the United Kingdom, and the British High Commission in Abuja. He also gave assurance that his country would look into their predicament and proffer solution.
Two underage girls, Miss Abigail John (12) from Michika Local Government, and Mercy Apagu (11) from Madagali Local Government, had previously been captured by the sect.
The girls who spoke to The Guardian at the Saint Theresa’s IDPs camp explained the trauma they went through. Abigail was captured at her grandmother’s house in Mubi on the morning of October 29, 2014 and taken to an unknown location in the town where she joined 40 other captives.
“The following day, all the men, numbering over 20, were killed. Their corpses were dumped along the Mubi/Maiha road. They, later, took us to a big house at another location. Here, we met another set of captives. They forced us to practice Islam and read the Quran. One day a military aircraft bombed the house. Many of the captives and insurgents died. I sustained injuries on my legs, hand and stomach.”
She pointed out that after the air strike, the insurgents again moved the captives to another location and fetched doctors to treat the wounded. Asked whether the doctors were members of the sect, she answered in the positive, adding that the militants had professionals in their ranks.
“All of us were given a copy of the Quran and veils. We were given Muslim names. I was called Zanaib. They showed a man to me; they said he would be my husband. They threatened to kill me if I refused to marry him. The man, however, decided to wait until I recovered from my wounds.”
Abigail regained freedom after soldiers retook the town.
Mercy Apagu was captured in Gulak in Madagali Local Government and, like Abigail, was taken to an unknown village where she joined over 200 captives.
“We were in the village for four months. All the male captives were slaughtered in front of their wives and relations. Three of my brothers were killed in my presence,” she said.
“It was God that rescued me from death. I cannot explain how I managed to scale a tall fence. Four of us escaped at night and walked for six days to Cameroun, from where we trekked for another five days to Maiha, and then took a vehicle to Yola.”
Meanwhile, in an effort to complement the push by the military against the activities of the sect, 500 hunters were recruited from states affected by the insurgency including Adamawa. This is in anticipation of meeting the December deadline set by the Federal Government for crushing the militants.
Mr. Emmanuel Tsamdu (Adamawa House member representing Madagali constituency) confirmed the advancement of the hunters on Sambisa Forest. He said, given the success achieved by the hunters within the few days they commenced operations, it is clear that if government supports them logistically, they could invade Sambisa Forest and even find the abducted Chibok girls.