The sound of hungry babies quietly whining was the only thing to be heard in the unofficial displaced people’s camp in Borno where Salma Wakil lives, as voting got underway in the elections on Saturday.
Salma had wanted to cast her vote, but she was prevented from travelling, forced to remain behind in the little cluster of makeshift huts in Maiduguri known as Shuwari IDP camp.
Some of the residents, mostly the men, had made the journey to vote near their former homes, where their polling units had been set up.
“I wanted to elect a credible leader that will help us so that we can get access to food and affordable living conditions free from challenges,” Salma said when HumAngle reached her by phone.
But Salma could not go, she was effectively disenfranchised by hunger and a lack of available cash.
There has been very little food in the camp over the last two months, and this has caused many of its resident IDPs like Salma to give up participating in the presidential election that was conducted on Saturday Feb 25.
Many residents cannot leave their children behind and travel without food, and even if they would like to go, lack of money prevents them.
Of the approximately 350 people in the camp who are registered to vote, at least 130 had to stay behind.
Salma remembered peaceful days when elections were held in her community at Guzamala local government of Borno State, 125 Kms north of the state capital. She regretted that poverty hindered her from participating in the 2023 presidential election.
“I have my PVC but I could not travel to my community to cast my vote. We are hungry in the camp and we don’t have the money to travel. Even if you had the money, the scarcity of cash is a big challenge,” Salma said.
She added: “Our children are suffering and the hunger is too much. How do you expect us to go with an empty stomach and leave children behind without food.”
Salma told HumAngle that her wish, even though she could not cast her vote, is for Nigerians to elect leaders that will solve the food crises at the camp and bring peace back to their communities.
According to other members of the camp, the last time some of them got access to food from a humanitarian organisation was two months ago, while others said it had been as long as four months.
They are surviving the hard way, parents borrow to feed their children.
“We, the displaced, are facing chaos. There is a big problem in the camp, there is hunger and no money. Our children are crying and we can’t afford to provide them with adequate food,” Alhaji Baba, a father of six children who fled Baga seven years ago when the Boko Haram terror group launched an attack on their community, told HumAngle.
“We don’t know where we are in this life. It has been about four months since I got food assistance and hunger strikes me and my family. We are facing a difficult time.”
According to Abba, he cannot leave his family hungry and go to vote. “To feed my family, I have to look for credit from people, many will not give you because you have accumulated a lot of debt. I cannot leave my children hungry even if the money to travel for the election is provided to me,” Abba said.
Abba hopes to participate in the upcoming gubernatorial and state house of representative elections slated March 11.
“We could not go to cast our vote because of hunger, lack of money and I have children to take care of. We are just sitting around hopeless,” said Maryam Umaru.
“I have eight children and their father was killed by the insurgents in Baga. I cannot leave them because no one will help them or assist them with food at the camp.”
Maryam’s husband was a fisherman, he was killed in Baga during a fishing trip on one of the lakes in the Lake Chad environs.
She said they have not received support from any organisation for months.
According to sources from the camp management, there have been food crises at the camp since several months the last time Danish Refugee Council, an intentional non-governmental organisation, gave some of them camp members relief cash and food.
“The exuberance of the young children in the camp is silent, everyone is quiet, minding their own business because they have no energy to do anything. Since yesterday, I haven’t eaten food,” Boyi Dauda said.
He further added that the new naira notes crisis has affected the life of an IDP in Maiduguri.
“Assuming you have one thousand naira note, to withdraw it from the account is a problem. There is scarcity of cash, when you go to buy something you have to find a POS agent to make payment and the problem is, you hardly find a POS agent operating around. The situation is just getting worse,” Boyi said.
According to Boyi, they contacted SEMA to intervene and updated them about the hunger in the camp; they could only assure him that they are making efforts to get assistance for them.
“We used to get cash assistance from DRC but the scarcity of cash affected their operations and it has been about two months since they visited the camp. When we call them on the phone, they complain about lack of cash but they will visit us soon.
We called SEMA and informed them about the situation. They only assure us of their effort to bring intervention,” Boyi said.
About 220 voters from the camp who had travelled to various local government areas in the northern part of Borno State to cast their votes in the presidential and senate elections conducted on Saturday, Feb. 25.
HumAngle found out that they have started returning back to the camp after voting completion from most local government areas of the state.
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