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How Hunger Is Forcing Young IDPs To Take Difficult Decisions In Borno Camps

No thanks to inadequate relief interventions and worsening economic conditions, young displaced people in Nigeria’s Northeast are risking their lives to survive and lessen their families’ burden.

Evidence of despair and withering hope was written all over the face of Musa Ibrahim, as he sat in front of the Bakassi Camp for internally displaced persons (IDP) in Maiduguri, Borno State. For hours he had been waiting for a man who promised to pick him up for a day’s pay job on his farm. 

It is the rainy season around Maiduguri, Northeast Nigeria, and those whose farmlands are located within the safe zones are not taking chances with the opportunity to quickly till their farms. Last year, only those primed for unintended suicide missions dared step a foot beyond 5km around Maiduguri. 

The 12-year-old Boko Haram insurgency has reduced the space for food production. The hinterlands that used to be the main suppliers of Borno’s food needs have been shut down. The situation has worsened the humanitarian crisis within and outside the IDP camps. 

Hunger bites everywhere in the state.

The governor, Babagana Zulum had confirmed this in a BBC Hausa interview where he said “government and the United Nation systems have been overwhelmed by the increasing number of those in need of life-saving support.” This, he explains, is the reason he is pushing for the return of the IDPs to their liberated communities. 

In most camps, it is either the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) or the World Food Programme (WFP) that are now supplying a monthly food ration to “some” of the IDPs.

Sadly, the IDPs say the rations given have now reduced significantly compared to what used to be the case. This situation forces many displaced people to resort to unwholesome practices as part of their survival strategy. 

With improving security around the farmlands, many of the IDPs, especially the youth, have resorted to providing labour services in farms owned by those living in the host communities. 

Ibrahim said he gets N500 as his pay for a day’s job in the plantations. 

“With that, I feed myself for the day and save a hundred naira or two for any eventualities,” he said as his eyes continued to scan every vehicle that drove past the Bakassi Camp, which is located along the Maiduguri-Damboa highway. 

The time was 8 a.m. when HumAngle’s reporter had a chat with Ibrahim. It eventually seemed obvious that the young man had lost his means of earning for the day. His would-be employer did not show up. 

He heaved a long sigh as he reluctantly rose, picked a plastic bag that contained his hoes and workwear, then turned to face this reporter with a sad smile on his face: “God has not granted me today’s work, but He shall provide a better opportunity next time.”

Ibrahim is a 26-year-old IDP who has been at the Bakassi IDP camp for over seven years. 

“We fled Monguno in 2014 when Boko Haram attacked and took over our community,” he explained. 

“I came here with my parents and other siblings; and since then, we have been depending on public handouts for survival. Things have been very tough for us because not everyone here gets the monthly food supply being shared by either NEMA or the NGO people.” 

HumAngle understands that NEMA provides food items and condiments on a monthly basis at most of the IDP camps in Borno.  But Ibrahim insisted that only a few people get such monthly palliatives. 

“That’s what they [government] don’t want the world to know,” he said. 

“But the truth of the situation is that many of us do not have the card that the government gave us as a meal ticket for receiving the food every month. You see, NEMA and even the NGOs that bring food here only work with the list of people that they registered long ago. Those who came to the camp later, after the initial registration, hardly get recognised for the food distribution.” 

“Many families here only live in the camp but the government does not recognise them when it comes to food distribution,” he added.

“Each time NEMA comes at the end or beginning of the month, many IDPs go to the distribution, not as beneficiaries but spectators.”

Ibrahim said his parents were relocated last year, back to Monguno, after the state government considered the town safe from the occupation of armed insurgents. But he did not move back home with them. 

“For God’s sake, how could I go to live in Monguno with my parents?” he said rhetorically.  

“Even though my father and mother and some of my younger siblings are living in our house there, they still depend on government handouts to feed. If I’m living with them there, I would only end up shortening the inadequate food rations they are getting. Above all, no one can go a few kilometres away from Monguno to farm because it is still not safe to do so. That’s why I returned to the camp in Maiduguri, after helping my parents convey their belongings to Monguno.”

Being in the camp in Maiduguri, he says, affords him the chance to struggle and make some money to feed himself. 

“I am 26 years old but I am not married because only a foolish man thinks about marriage when he cannot predict where his next meal is coming from,” Ibrahim continued. “Life is hard here and those living outside the camps would not appreciate this until they come here to see things for themselves.”

SEMA Director General Yabawa Kolo explained during an interview with HumAngle that the Borno state government, in partnership with other humanitarian stakeholders, has been working to reduce the challenges faced by IDPs.

She said the government has been working hard to “increase the parameters of the government-controlled mega-farms as a way of increasing the access to farmlands.”

According to her, the humanitarian stakeholders have called for the “heavy engagement of the military to provide security for IDPs that either relocated to neutral safe locations or their ancestral towns and villages.”

“This will help increase the parameters of land under cultivation so that it could by so doing stimulate community engagement and avoid the back and forth movement of the IDPs,” she said. 

“We have advised the government for expanded livelihood support for the returnee IDPs as well as this in camps. This will reduce pressure on the host communities which have run out of public work provision for the younger IDPs.”

“We have also engaged the ministry of RRR [Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, and Resettlement] on the need to increase the encouragement of the youth IDPs in most of the labour works at the various reconstruction sites as a way of engaging them and keeping them off any unwholesome social practice.”

Kolo said the government was aware of how challenging the situation has been for the IDPs especially with the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the already existing recession. 

She said SEMA has had several engagements with top international NGOS such as the WFP to see how best the state can stock food in locations where there is a high need for support. 

“In addition to that, the state government has done a lot in that aspect. If you notice of recent, he [the governor] has been participating directly in the issue of returning to the farm in expanded locations for mega-farms. He has even joined other farmers to cultivate his plot of land as a way of sending the message that we need to all go back to the farm so that we can jointly tackle the issue of food shortage.” 

This report is a partnership between HumAngle Media and Premium Times Center for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) under the ‘Accountability Journalism & Investigative Reporting for Deepening Democracy and Development’ project.

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Abdulkareem Haruna

Abdulkareem Haruna is a Nigerian journalist currently employed as the Editor for Lake Chad at HumAngle. For over a decade, he has demonstrated a passionate commitment to reporting on the Boko Haram conflict and the crisis in the Lake Chad region of northeastern Nigeria. He is a graduate of English Language and holds a Diploma in Mass Communications. Prior to his current role, he served as an assistant editor at both Premium Times and Leadership Newspaper.

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