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When Humanitarian Aid Trickles To A Drop 

Displaced from Farfaru village in Jibia local government area of Katsina State, Sahura Abdullahi scrapes tree barks for a living. Forced out of Zangon Kuka in the same area, Bashir Dahiru works as a porter to get by. But life for the two was not always like this.

It was 12:22 p.m., and Sahura Abdullahi was scraping the bark of Bishiryar Aduwa, a tree in front of the administrative block of a girls’ secondary school. Exhausted, she hoped she could sell it as herbs at the Jibia weekly market that day, where a measure went for ₦200 (0.22 USD). 

A few months after Sahura made it to the camp for internally displaced persons, it dawned on her that she had to fend for herself and her seven children alone. That was when she met Fatimata, who introduced her to the herbal business where they scrape the bark off medicinal trees for sale at the popular Jibia market in Katsina State, northwestern Nigeria.

“The amount I get from selling the herbs is not enough to cater for the seven of us. My major focus is solely on feeding my children, causing us to overlook other essential needs like proper bedding, water, and even basic clothing or shoes,” she said with a sigh. 

But life, of course, has not always been like this for the 40-year-old mother.

Dodging death

Before her life took a dramatic plunge, Sahura was an enterprising wife and mother of seven. She sold food items in their variety and was well-known for the business in her village, Farfaru, also in Jibia LGA.

“I used to sell corn, millet, beans, and oil to other women, making up to a hundred thousand naira in a week. I’d go to the city market to buy goods wholesale and then sell them back home. People used to entrust me with their money to purchase items for them from the market,” she recalled. 

But everything fell like a pack of cards before her eyes. 

It was Saturday, a little after 6 p.m. in June 2022, when terrorists in their smoke-puffing motorcycles stormed Farfaru. It was an attack to punish the community for giving out information about them to the military. Sahura described what happened that day as a bloodbath. 

“They were everywhere. They came through our house, so we couldn’t escape. All we could do was hide inside our rooms under the bed with the children and pray hard,” she said. That night, her door was the first to fall to the terrorists. And it was not long before she watched life disappear from her husband’s eyes.

“They killed my husband. They killed my father. They kidnapped my two younger siblings. They took many children. We had never seen anything like that before.” Her words came out in quick succession as if they burned inside. 

That day, the terrorists killed a total of eight locals and took over 63 others into the bush with them.

The next morning was even more torturous for Sahura. Out of her seven children, she could only leave Farfaru with two. Others were nowhere to be found. “The rest went into other houses to hide. Some women left with any child they found because they couldn’t leave them behind. We regrouped in Jibiya, and people reunited with their families.”

At Jibia, the local government authority allotted a block of classrooms and provided food and other essential aids at the Government Girls Secondary School. But this did not last long, and the food would soon stop trickling in.

“Life here has been awful; we barely have enough to eat or sleep on. This morning, some of the children went out to beg. It’s cold, and the children often cough because there’s nothing to cover them with. We don’t have water until we go to a nearby hospital to get some to drink. But it’s not safe because multiple children have been hit by motorcycles on their way to the hospital. That’s all we have going on for us. It’s really sad,” Sahura explained.

The farm owner

Bashir Dahiru, 38, couldn’t stop twitching his hands to keep flies from perching on the dried wounds on his toes. When he turned his gaze, he looked pale and drawn. His eyes were visibly sunken and bloodshot, but for a moment, the father of three was still able to wear a cheery smile. This was a part of him he buried the day he escaped his own village, Zangon Kuka also in Jibia.

Once, Dahiru was a bubbling young man and father. To his age group, he was much more. When he was not wrapped in the comfort of his family after the day’s farm work, he was in the midst of friends under the lone Acacia tree in front of his house. 

“I used to enjoy the company of my friends and eating fruits under the tree in front of my house with them. It’s one moment I looked forward to,” he recalled. “The tree was always filled with people no matter the time of the day. Some even slept there. We would discuss, make jokes, laugh, and peacefully drink tea.” 

Dahiru paused, as one hit with a fresh gust of nostalgia, before sharing an incident that rocked his marriage. “My wife was not feeling too well for some days and I was supposed to be with her whenever I returned from the farm one day. But a friend stopped me along the way and we went to the spot and stayed till it was dark. She was mad at me,” he said and turned philosophical. “In life, when living with someone, conflicts are inevitable. Patience becomes crucial during misunderstandings. And as soon as I realised I was at fault, I made an effort to resolve it.”

With a workforce of about eight men, Dahiru planted mostly cereals and had more than enough to live a comfortable life with his family. But being uprooted from his village changed all that.

Bashir Dahiru now works as a porter and a farmhand after terrorists uprooted him from his village. Photo credit: Abiodun Jamiu/HumAngle.

It all started one hot evening, a little after 9 p.m. in Aug. 2022. Terrorists had besieged the agrarian communities, including Zangon Kuka. That Thursday, they plundered and pillaged the villages for several hours. And when they could find no other items to loot, they turned to the people. Dahiru said more than 20 locals were abducted into the bush that night.

“Remembering the life I had back then makes me really sad because our lives now are completely awful. Everyone here used to have a good life, but things have changed drastically for us. When the terrorists came to our hometown at night, they started shooting. Upon hearing the direction of the shootings, we would head the other way, knowing our town well enough to navigate unblocked routes,” he narrated.

Dahiru, alongside other villagers, escaped Zangon Kuka the following morning to Jibia town. 

Nigeria’s North West has grappled with insecurity for years now. Terrorists have raided villages and masterminded the abduction of locals, including schoolgirls, for ransom. They have also conducted mass killings across Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna, and parts of the North-central. As of October 2021, over 12,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands more displaced.

A chronic humanitarian crisis 

The morning they arrived at Jibia, Dahiru, like Sahura, was allocated a classroom alongside other displaced persons at the Government Girls Secondary School, Jibia. The students had been relocated to the capital because of the frequent abductions of schoolgirls in the region. 

They were provided with food and some other essential aids by the local authorities, nonprofit organisations, and individuals. “When we arrived here, we were given shelter, food, and water,” Dahiru pointed out. 

But it was not long before that tap ran dry.

Between March and July 2022, REACH, a humanitarian initiative that provides data on crisis and displacement, assessed 11,090 households in 1,335 settlements across 71 Local Government Areas (LGAs) on humanitarian needs in the three frontline states of Zamfara, Sokoto, and Katsina. According to the survey, 98 per cent of displaced and non-displaced families were facing severe forms of humanitarian crises due largely to conflict, climate change, and poverty.

The survey adds that only 10 per cent of those have received any form of assistance.

Frontline humanitarian group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) described the humanitarian situation in the North West as catastrophic and urged the humanitarian community to include the region in its humanitarian response plan. 

One Friday evening, Zainabu Aminu, 35, was about to put a pot of water on fire when she realised there was not enough water in the bucket she had with her. She scooted inside and handed over the bucket to her son Shafiu to fetch water at the General Hospital, Jibia, about 12 minutes walk away. There is no water in the camp, and IDPs search as far as the hospital and beyond for their daily needs.

Shafiu darted out grumbly.

A few minutes later, as Zainabu sat on the small rock outside the classroom she shared with other displaced persons waiting on Shafiu to return with the water, news trickled in that a young boy had been hit by a motorbike, just a little after the bridge along Jibiya-Zurmi road. It didn’t occur to her that it could be her son until much later when others came bearing the tragic news.

Shafiu had been hit.

“Getting water for our daily needs is the hardest for people in the camp. I thought there was still a little water in the keg, but there was none. So, I gave him the bucket to go and fetch water as usual not knowing that he would return bruised and with a fractured ankle,” Zainabu recalled. 

She looked over her shoulder at Shafiu, who was watching as she spoke. “It was difficult taking care of him. We had to resort to local medicine at some point because we didn’t have the means to keep treating him at the hospital. If we’d water in the camp, he wouldn’t have been hit,” she said matter-of-factly.

She is not the only one bearing the hard realities of running away from armed conflict. About 358 IDPs in the camp are desperately short of food, drinking water and basic amenities like toilets, as they contend with the foul stench of human faeces oozing from a nearby multipurpose hall. 

Dahara Marwa, 38, is another displaced woman who fled Tsaunin Kuka to Jibia town because of the raging conflict. Since she got to the camp, she said getting food to eat is like looking for a pebble dropped into the ocean.

“It is really tough for many of us. We used to get food if we went out before, but things have changed. We have to find it by ourselves and eat whatever we get. If we get maize, we grind it and make food but we mostly eat garri (cassava) and that is even once a day,” she said. “But during the planting period, if our husbands go to farms to work as labourers, they would get money and provide food for us. But now there is no work.”

The situation is not any different for the 244,380 IDPs in the state, the highest in the region. Most of them occupy abandoned buildings and public facilities like the secondary schools as authorities appear unwilling to establish displacement camps – a development that continues to worsen the humanitarian crisis in the region.

In late 2020, the Katsina state government shut down IDPs camps in the state. It said the displaced persons needed to be repatriated back to their villages and continue “living their lives as they used to.”

For many IDPs, home is not an option. “The only thing stopping me from going back is the insecurity issue. If the situation improves, I personally prefer going back there because I feel more comfortable. That’s all we’ve been hoping for—our hometown to be safe again so we can return. None of us like the situation here.” Dahiru concluded the conversation with a hiss as he unfurled the mat in his left hand. He wanted to take a nap before going back to the market.

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Abiodun Jamiu

Abiodun is an investigations reporter at HumAngle. His works focus on the intersection of public policy and development, conflict and humanitarian crisis, climate and environment. He was a 2022 Solution Journalism Fellow with Nigeria Health Watch under its Solution Journalism Africa initiative project.

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