“I was almost killed”
Amos is perched on the edge of the bench, next to me, underneath the broad shade of an old mango tree. It is mid-afternoon, and the heat is sweltering in this Internally Displaced Persons Camp in Sabo Kuchinguro, Abuja Federal Capitol Territory Nigeria. He is absently kicking the pebbles at his feet with the tip of his worn sandals, and is staring blankly into a crowd of noisy, playing schoolchildren in the distance.
“I was almost killed”, he says to me, his face lost in the contemplation of that troubling memory.
“They murdered my next-door neighbour, right in front of my eyes. When they came into our village, they simply set upon slaughtering everyone in sight. All we could do was run fast and far, away from the gunshots and the screams. We left everything behind and ran. We ran up to the mountains and hid for days with no food. We snuck back down in the middle of the night and kept running; we ran all the way to Cameroun. It was from there that some of us eventually made our way back here”.
These armed assailants in Amos’ tale are part of the Boko Haram terrorist group – who repeatedly attacked his village in Gwoza, Borno State and displaced him along with many others. Since 2009, Boko Haram has enacted sustained insurgency attacks in North-East Nigeria, killing thousands and displacing over 2 million people to date – to other parts of the country and to neighbouring Cameroun, Chad and Niger. Camps have necessarily been assembled to absorb and resettle the displaced persons, with a lot left to be desired howbeit – sparse local resources and thin donor-funding imply difficult living-conditions for the migrants. Although the outflow of persons from the troubled regions has waned over the years, the insurgency has not abated sufficiently for residents to return to their homes, and so Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDP) Camps across Nigeria have, if anything, only ballooned in their population-sizes.
“We have nothing to do here”
A collateral problem has emerged: beyond the immediate needs of resettlement, food, healthcare and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) facilities for IDPs, the question of livelihoods has been largely ignored in the intervening humanitarian efforts so far. To put it in context – the vast majority of work-force-age IDPs are (previously-) rural-dwelling farmers with little education, or none at all. Resettling predominantly to urban areas, they are too poorly-skilled to integrate within the local economies of these new metropolitan environments. What is more, opportunities in Agriculture, where their capabilities lie, are sparse in these places. The resultant is their entire dependence on donor-aid for sustenance and survival.
“We have nothing to do here”, says Amos to me.
He and I are walking among the dingy homes in the camp now – some of the dwellings are built only with wood and old cement-bags. A glumness hangs in the air all around us – a palpable despondency of this habitat’s occupants that has materialized into the dullness and dirt that characterize it. I see a barely-clad toddler playing on the ground, by a puddle of water, his faced smudged with mud and mucus. I reach down to pick him up.
“Please don’t do that!” Amos says sharply.
I am puzzled, but I comply and withdraw my outstretched hands. My little would-have-been-acquaintance looks up at me with an expression of disappointment at this turn of events.
“We have had cases of kidnappings of little children here in the camp”, Amos explains.
“We are vulnerable here….we are migrants….this is not our home. People can take advantage; and they have done. From experience, parents here are very wary of strangers accosting their children. This little boy’s parents might misunderstand your intentions”.
I do not press the matter further.
We stop at what Amos informs me is a brothel. The walls are built with bamboo, as is the ‘fence’. There is a large open space outside for visitors to sit in, and await their turns as it were. Clusters of men are seated in that space, speaking very little and smoking marijuana and cigarettes.
“Men here have nothing to do….no work. They just sit around all day, smoke, drink Codeine and Tramadol, and look for sex – consensual or forced. They have stayed idle this way for so long at this point that I feel some of them don’t even want to have any meaningful jobs anymore”, says Amos.
This makes me realize the very distinct possibility that elements of post-traumatic stress disorder and even depression, borne out the horrific ordeals that most of these people have lived through, might reside in them, undiagnosed and untreated. Surely it is important to get them working again, but maybe that step is contingent on an appraisal of their psychological states, given their past and indeed, present situations. Another thing nags at me.
“If these young men have no jobs and income, where do they get the money from, for the drugs and prostitutes?” I ask Amos.
“I don’t know”, he responds. I find this worrisome.
As we leave the premises, I notice 3 of the ‘hostesses’ seated outside in that open, conversing. I am astounded at how young one of them looks to me to be.
“Allow us farm”
Next to the entrance of the camp, where there are makeshift administrative offices and a tiny nurse’s station, we run into Enoch, who is one of the directors at the camp. He is himself an internally displaced person. Enoch tells me of how different groups bring different types of aid to them routinely – mostly money, food, and such items as clothing and books. He and Amos take me to what was purposed as a skills-training centre, housed in a makeshift building. They tell me the centre had been gifted to them by the Embassy of South Africa in Nigeria, in their recognition that the IDPs need to be reskilled in order for them to function gainfully within the labour markets of their new homes. The centre, which at one time had vocations such as sewing, cosmetics-making and basic computing taught within its walls, was now derelict…..with old and damaged equipment strewn about.
“The South Africans started this with the hopes that after a while, aid-groups from Nigeria would carry on the work. That didn’t happen, and it all died out eventually”, Enoch tells me.
“We are at a severe economic disadvantage. We are mostly just uneducated farmers here. Without training in even the most basic trades and crafts, a lot of us really will not be able to ever make a sufficient living”.
“Allow us to farm”, he continues. “If we cannot receive training that will help us get jobs, then at the very least allow us to farm – that is what we know to do. Given our plight, we should be allowed farmland and any concessions that help us get back on our feet. It’s not that we don’t appreciate all the help so far, it’s only that we would be prefer to be assisted to become self-sufficient, and not just be assisted to eat day to day”.
As I leave the camp that evening, I realize that this paradigm-shift Enoch spoke of is an imperative. I realize that in our collective neglect – oblivion even – of the more sustainable manner of aid to IDPs, we may have just been giving room for the emergence of another dire set of problems. But surely it’s not too late.
In 2019 CSEA conducted livelihood assessments in Waru and Sabo Kuchinguro IDP Camps in Abuja FCT Nigeria, to ascertain best methods for training/re-skilling/equipping IDPs for economic independence.