Since 2014, they have been tucked into one of the capital city’s most obscure settlement, New Kuchigoro, surrounded by beautiful houses and havens of the well-to-do, but the internally displaced people of this camp have come a long way from where they were when they first got there, ONUKOGU KANAYOCHUQU JUBAL writes.
When the displaced people of the camp for internally displace people first got to New Kuchigoro, about 2000 of them – except children – they knew they would leave one day, but they were unprepared for the first few months of hardship and stark poverty which confronted them, threatening to claim their already complicated lives.
They have experienced undeniable pain, sorrow and hardship and, clearly, they long for their homes which have been laid waste by the action of insurgents in the North-eastern part of the country.
A part of them have come to accept that their lives may not get any better, since their constant pleas for help and lifelines have gone unheeded. Thus, when LEADERSHIP visited the camp last week, s number of things showed that the people are making do with what they have.
They have been dealt cruel cards and, in spite of the myriad of things left to be ticked on the bucket list to make the camp inhabitable, the camp has come a distance from what it used to be and the people can now look to better lives, even if they desire more to see this reality come true.
There were evidences of visitations from globally renowned non-governmental organisations like the Nelson Mandela Initiative which donated some port cabins and a ‘selfie toilet’, donations from bodies like financial management firm Arette Copious, hundreds of schools, well-meaning individuals etc.
With the permission of the camp’s head, Philemon Emmanuel, LEADERSHIP Weekend went round the camp and could see sad, forlorn faces awaiting the fulfillment of promises, their hopes paused, waiting to exhale.
Within the shacks which make up the camp, people of all ages could be seen moving about languidly, some evidently hungry, others in search of better things to do with their time. The faces could tell their stories in no better way.
In this gloom and dreariness, though, it is clear that the people have vowed to make something of their lives, come rain or shine.
For Florentin Dauda (not real names), the people of the camp have heard enough promises to last them a life-time.
“Every day, people come here and promise to help in one way or the other, but we never hear from them again. We are tired of hoping in people, we want to hope on God and help ourselves,” said Dauda, explaining that they were only brought to their present states by circumstances and not by their own doing.
True, they have had their fair share of failed promises, as much as they have had some great outpourings of kindness.
They have got gifts of clothes, food, toiletries, sanitary materials, mosquito nets, medicals, stationaries and lots of others, but, understandingly, this is a camp for people who need to be alive and there would always be yearning for more.
For the man saddled with dealing with all these, Philemon Emanuel, it is no easy job.
Clearly, he could do with some rest and a lot of help to get some of the pressure off his back.
“Being in charge of this camp is difficult. I am only in charge, but I do not coordinate a lot of things; I get people from amongst us to help me out. We get donations, but we need more, because our people are constantly in need, just like all humans,” he sighed.
He would not even bear to talk about the government’s messenger to the displaced person, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
When asked about the role of the NEMA, he shook his head, vehemently. If it was a sign that the government had failed or was not leaving up to the people’s expectation, he would not be drawn into it.
But the issues thrown at them by their present condition are real and could cost lives.
There are issues with the defecating habit in camp, water and a number of others, but the inability of women from the camp to get needed medical attention from mainstream hospitals has remained a source of headache to him.
“A number of bodies have come here to distribute drugs and mosquito nets, but, after they leave, if our people go to hospitals, they will not be attended to, unless they have money with them.
“It is an issue for our women to give birth in these hospitals. Some of them have their children here, because there are no pre and ante-natal services available to them. Now, if your wife is about to deliver and you go to a hospital, you need to have about N16,000 or N17,000 before they can attend to you. And most of the men do not work,” Emmanuel said.
Ladi Mathias, the leader of the women in the camp corroborated Emmanuel’s account.
“Our women give birth at home because their husbands cannot afford to go to hospitals. As a result, many do not heal on time and, even if they do, they cannot get the medication to remain like that.
“We need help from good people and organisations, so that our women can have safe births. The women need drugs, nets, advise and many other things which they do not have now. Many groups have come to advise us and cater for us, but, more than advice, we need drugs, food and clothes for the children,” she said.
Religious bodies have kept the most faith with the camp and the people are ever grateful. Within the camp is a church, a mosque and a space for meeting. Shacks with a few consumables displayed for sale can also be seen.
When LEADERSHIP Weekend visited the camp, some dwellers, mostly women could be seen queuing before medics from the Stafford Dialysis Services International, as children from the school buses of the Voyage International Schools, Abuja (VISA) poured out to go offer their gifts of money, stationeries and other donations to the indigent children of the camp.
The leader of the medical team form Stafford, Pastor Alex Edubo, told this writer that the body was contracted by the school to attend to the medical needs of the people in the camp for the day.
“This is a gesture projected by Voyage International School, to provide medical assistance to the people in this camp. We mobilised our team to come get this done.
“Given the condition of life here, there are varieties of ailments which need attention. We are here with doctors and nurses. The people queue to see the doctor, their cases are diagnosed and they are directed to a nurse who gives them the drugs and advises them on what to do thereafter.
“Also, there is a laboratory scientist who runs the test and the result is made available. If we do not have the drug, at least, we can tell them what ailment they have and what they must do,” said Edubo.
According to him, malaria and typhoid remained most prevalent amongst the people in the camp. Also, he stated that some of the children had to be treated for minor ailments like ringworm and diarrhea, while others needed to be dewormed.
They also checked the blood pressure of those who came for attention.
The leader of the school’s delegation to the camp and its head, innovation and counseling, Ituen Alfred, said the arrangement between the school and the medics was part of the school’s move to celebrate World Commonwealth Day.
“The theme of this year’s celebration is ‘Building Peace Globally’ and the only way to show this is by bringing the children to see how other who are not like them live and to help them understand the concept of giving; not just now, but every day of their lives.
“We gave donations today on behalf of the children – money, food and other stationaries – to commemorate the day and show them that we understand what they are going through. We do this twice monthly, to show them that we feel what they are going through and would do anything we can, with the resources within our disposal, to make life easier.
“The children were allowed to go to their classrooms, sit with them and encourage them, from class to class, as we presented them with ready-made meals and let them know that the future remained bright for them irrespective of the present,” said Ituen.
Another sight which set the heart aglow was the sight of children learning in zinc-crafted shacks, attended to by teachers and, though LEADERSHIP Weekend was not allowed to take photos or speak to the children during school hours, it was clear that the programme had been going on for some time, in order to give the children a shot at the future.
Sadly, it was not an idea borne of the NEMA’s effort. An individual queued in to make the people feel loved and the children feel honoured.
“The school was donated to us by Pastor David Olatunji. Also, he pays the teachers who teach the children from Primary One to six, more than 400 of them.
“When the children graduate, they go onto the secondary school in the Area One IDPs’ camp, where the same man has a secondary school,” said Emmanuel.
When LEADERSHIP Weekend interacted with some of the children after school hours – it was not allowed during school hours and pictures were not allowed, either – it was heart-warming to see that their aspirations transcended their environment.
Seven-year-old Stephen Dirrem (not real names), who is in Primary Two, would like to be a doctor.
Sombre and edgy, he told this writer: “I want to read my book and become a doctor. I am still learning to read and my teacher is helping me to read and, one day, I will be a doctor.”
It is no surprise that he would love to be a doctor. In his young life, he has seen more doctors than the average Nigerian adult. They come through the gates of the camp almost daily, remember.
If Dirrem was shy, another student, 10-year-old Martha Drambi (not real names), would not even attempt to look up. Her aspirations, as well, had nothing to do with her environment.
“I would like to be in the army, so that I can serve my country,” said the Primary Four pupil. There was no need to ask why.
The people are not where they used to be, in spite of the ever-present needs and wants, but they still need more, to help them escape the manipulative fingers of idleness.
“If anyone wants to help us right now, majority of us are farmers. The best thing to do for us would be to help us with capital to buy lands in a community in Nasarawa. When you rent this land, you are allowed to farm on it for a period, from planting to harvest.
“Even if three or four families are able to get this land for farming, it will serve them more than anything. To be sincere, there is not much here for us, given the way Abuja is. But, in those farms, I think we can get busy again.
“In these same communities, the house rent is about N12,000 to N15,000 for a year. A family that gets that kind of opportunity can feed themselves and get along, without needing much after that, because they can sell what they plant and feed themselves.
“To be honest, it is better than waiting here day and night for people to come make some donations and we live hand-to-mouth. We want to work on farms. It is all we know, as it is all we have done all our lives,” said Emmanuel.
He was also quick to defend the fact that the children would be enrolled in schools in the farming communities where the families would relocate to.
Their troubles may be far from over and their needs may be far from being met, but the people of the IDPs’ camp in New Kuchigoro are raring to go and, though they do not have all they need forge ahead, the education of the children and their need to get busy show that they care for their futures and, if nothing else, their hope – trashed by a government which should have made them a priority – is all that speaks for them.