As fear of the unknown continues to grip IDPs in Benue State who are trying to pick up the pieces of their lives in the camps after a failed promise by the state and federal governments to provide enough security and farming inputs to guarantee their going back home, some of them have decried their living conditions, even as they lament that they cannot bury their dead in peace. HEMBADOON ORSAR visited Abagena camp and reports.
It is no longer news, even though there were speculations making round that hundreds of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), from affected local governments, are yet to return to their communities following the skirmishes of killings by armed Fulani herdsmen that are still going on in the affected communities.
Our correspondent gathered that any attempt by the IDPs to go on survey to see whether the areas are safe for them to return to, would be frustrated by the herdsmen who usually kill them and leave one person with matchet cuts to report back to the camps.
It was also gathered that the remains of those who died as a result of going to survey their communities, are left in the bush to decompose for vultures to feed on hence, any burial attempt could turn to mass burial.
Even though the acting director, Defence Information, Brig Gen John Agim, in one of his briefings on achievements recorded by Operation Whirl Stroke, said with the reduction in the frequency of attacks in Benue State, over 100,000 lDPs across the affected local governments of the state, have already started returning to their communities.
“It is therefore the duty of OPWS to ensure that all the people in these affected states go about their lawful duties without fear of molestation from any quarters. These we have done at great cost, which includes some of our personnel paying the supreme price of their lives”, Ajim said.
However, the Camp Commandant for Abagena Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) Camp Makurdi, Mr James Iorkyaa, outrightly denied knowledge of any body in the camp that had officially communicated to the office of his or her intention to go back home or leave the camp without his knowledge.
“If we have such cases of people going back home, we would not have been talking about shortage of food in the camp here.
“We have over 36,000 inmates here in the camp and 60 per cent are children, and I want to tell you that, although, here in Abagena camp, we have not witnessed such a case of people leaving the camp officially or unofficially, in other camps, many IDPs have lost their lives in an attempt to go and check whether it would be appropriate for them to return to the communities.
“As l speak with you, almost all the IDPs are tired of staying in the camp as you can see on their faces”, Iorkyaa lamented.
He further noted that the camp has recorded 69 births since its inception in January.
“We have recorded 69 births since the camp was opened this year. “Out of the 69 births, we have one set of triplets and two sets of twins.
“l can categorically tell you that one of the challenges the camp is experiencing now, is shortage of food stuff that would carter for the high number of IDPs, especially the increasing number of lactating mothers.
“Another issue is the growing number of malaria cases, particularly in children due to lack of mosquito nets. “Though we had distributed the nets to the IDPs”, he stated.
The camp commandant called on corporate organisations and other well-meaning individuals to come to the aid of the IDPs to alleviate their hardship.
Also, chairman of the Abagena camp IDPs, Mr Philip Usaatse, said what the IDPs need most now is security that would enable them return to their various homes.
Some of the IDPs who spoke to our correspondent said they were not only mourning the loss of their loved ones, but have to grapple with difficult living conditions, hence the FG has failed in its promises of providing enough security that would facilitate their returning to their ancestral homes.
A father of five children, Terkaa Ayila, who said, his wife and children have been living from hand to mouth following the gross shortage of food in the camp, noted that there is no amount of food items that would be given to them in the camp to address their hunger.
“I am from Umenge in Guma Local government area of Benue State. I found myself in the camp because of this Fulani crisis because these herdsmen destroyed all our houses and crops.
“At first, we thought the promises by state and federal governments to provide enough security and farm inputs for us to go back and farm when the farming season commenced would been fulfilled but up till date, we have not heard from government again and now, we can’t access our homes.
“How can a married man with many children be staying in this kind of environment for over six months? The food they are giving us here is insufficient, while over 35 families share one bag of rice in a week. This is punishment on the other hand.
“For me, going back home is the best thing, even though the time for planting some crops has passed, there is time for other crops so if we go home, we will engage in the cultivation of these crops to pick back our pieces of lives.
“I have tried to go back to my house but to no avail because these herdsmen are still occupying our homes and at the moment, if they see us, they will attack us again. Many people have gone to survey their places without returning back and there is no way to go and pick their corpses for burial”. This is a pathetic situation we have at hand”, he stated.
Another IDP, who just delivered a baby girl a month ago, Justina Agba from Makurdi local government area of the state, told our correspondent that both her husband and herself, ran to the camp with the pregnancy with nothing, because the Fulani militia took them unawares and now they are being starved.
“We have nothing to use in feeding the new baby and no where to go because the herdsmen are still killing silently in our areas.
“We are tired of staying in the camp, we need security so that we can go back. Staying in one room with over four people is not easy. People you don’t even know, you stay with them in one room. We know that the government is trying to feed the crowd but it could be better if we could go back to our communities to farm to eat and even sell to take care of ourselves”, Agba maintained.
A mother of nine children who stayed in a room with other families, Mnena Chia, lamented that, because of hunger, she lost appetite and could not eat again till she fell sick.
“l am from Kadakor in Nasarawa State but due to the living condition here in the camp, I prefer to remain where l ran from.”
“With a lot of children, grandchildren and even great grand children from my relatives, life here in the camp is not easy for us. The food we receive here cannot even go round the little children, talk more of adults, please let Buhari provide security to enable us go back”, Mrs Chia stressed.
From the look of things, it seems that hope of the IDPs going back to their ancestral homes have been thwarted following unfulfilled promises by both the state and federal governments to provide enough security and farm inputs to enable them commence their farming activities.
It would be recalled that over 500 persons have been killed and over 1million persons displaced by herdsmen in Benue since the beginning of this year as a result of armed Fulani herdsmen attacks.
For me, going back home is the best thing, even though the time for planting some crops has passed, there is time for other crops so if we go home, we will engage in the cultivation of these crops to pick back our pieces of lives