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Inside IDP Camp Where Hunger Forces Parents To Marry Off Daughters

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Forced into camps by attacks that ravaged their communities in 2018, the pressure on them to live to see the next day has made some families to look the other way to keep their children safe, reports HEMBADOON ORSAR

Afflicted by hunger in IDPs camp, some families have been reportedly selling their daughters into early marriage as a way to survive.  For chances of survival to be high , mouths’ fed in the family will have to be reduced and exchanged for receipts of dowry to save the next day.

Investigations by Sunday Leadership revealed that some of these girls are faced with a dilemma; either be sold into early marriage, or watch as their families continue to struggle to feed as food supply in the camp deteriorates.

Some families have seen this as a coping mechanism as it gives them one less person to feed and they will receive dowry in the form of money or food stuff which may improve their chances of survival, even as they battle with diseases such as diarrhoea and hernia that in recent times traverse the camp.

This describes the ugly circumstances in Mbawa IDPs camp in Dauda, Guma local government area of Benue State, a situation that robs these young stars of their basic rights to choose when and to whom they get married to.

On the other hand, it also places parents in dicey circumstances. With the fear of death related diseases already taken toll on some IDPs and their inability to feed their children, they are also left with no choice but to give out their children in marriage, a practice that has crippling effects on the girls’ well-being.

With the confirmation of eight persons already struck dead by biting hunger and diseases in the last few days, leaves parents with the difficult decision to make not only to reduce the number of mouths to feed but also to reduce the head counts of their family in the camp in order to preserve their next line of generation.

“Since we came to this camp a year and five months ago, we have not received any items whether food or non-food materials from the government both at the state and federal level. We are here at the mercy of churches and donor agencies”, said Mr. Geofrey Torgenga, the camp manager, who confirmed the death toll in the camp to Leadership Sunday on Tuesday during a visit to the facility located a few metres away from Daudu.

Torgenga, who told our correspondent that the major diseases in the camp were diarrhoea and hernia, disclosed that all the victims died within five months, adding that IDPs have been living at the mercy of churches and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The last time the state government supplied food items to the camp was on the eve of the presidential elections in February, Torgenga had earlier stated.

As part of a survival strategy, some men, Leadership Sunday gathered, have taken advantage of the hunger in the camp by giving parents bread and garri to marry their under-aged daughters.

 

Child Marriage And Begging Seem Only Option

Although there are reports that food supplies commenced during the weekend, frustration, hunger, fear and desperation to go back home to their normal lives, IDPs in this camp who are still fraught to pick up bits of their traumatised lives have to look to other ways of survival.

Torgenga, the camp manager admitted to Sunday Leadership that a lot of parents had given out their daughters, as young as 10 in marriage to men who can buy them garri and bread.

He said the neglect by both the federal and state governments is so pathetic that whole families of husbands, wives and children had to scavenge for food at public places on market days.

Efforts by our correspondents to get families of some of the girls given out for marriage were frustrated by a person who claimed to one of the officials, who said that IDPs at the camp are not allowed to be interviewed by journalists.

When again called on the phone for further information, the camp chairman who at first was anxious to speak to media personnel declined comments. According to him, he was warned sternly not to give out any information concerning the camp again.

Our findings also showed that other sources of raising income was to fetch firewood from the fast depleting forest around the camp to sell, saying some IDPs had even taken to begging for alms, the camp chairman had earlier disclosed. He said that in the course of searching for food, a three- year-old boy, Nani Iorkyaa, went missing in March and was yet to be found.

Torgenga further said that due to the deplorable state of the shelter for the IDPs, it was difficult for them to sleep at night, especially when it rains. Whenever it rains, Torgenga lamented that the camp is always overflowed forcing the IDPs to stand and carry their children until the situation gets better.

Torgenga further said that due to the deplorable state of the shelter for the IDPs, it was difficult for them to sleep at night, especially when it rains.

Whenever it rains, Torgenga lamented, that camp is always overflowed, forcing the IDPs to stand and carry their children until the situation gets better.

When Leadership Sunday sought confirmation from the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) camp commandant, Angela Omirigbe, she declined comment.

Omirigbe said that she was posted to the camp a week ago and was, therefore, not in the position to comment on issues affecting the IDPs. One of the IDPs said that the Mbawa camp had been abandoned while the IDPs are left to their fate.

Another IDP, 65, Edward Nyam from Mbagwen community said he came to the camp in January 2018 with his family and resorted to begging and doing menial jobs to survive. Nyam said that since he came to the camp, the government came only once to give the IDPs food, but commended churches and donor agencies for always coming to their plights.

The camp which has about 3,515 IDPs was established in January 2018.

The Mbawa Internally Displaced Persons camp, which was established in January 2018 and are tents like in nature is housing about 3,515 IDPs and cannot in any way withstand sun and rain.

A member of the host community who simply identify himself as Terkimbi said, the IDPs at Mbawa camp are going through hell while on earth.

“I must tell you the hunger situation in the camp is terrible, we that are living around here are almost getting tired of the situation, but what can we do in a situation where someone is just looking for food to survive?

“Most of the IDPs are tired of staying in the camp but are there simply because they don’t have a choice, their places are not safe”.

Although in terms of hunger SEMA has commenced the distribution of food stuff, in the camp but accommodation still remains an issue.

Another issue in the camp is that of the absence of toilet facilities, which has made the IDPs resort to open defecation.

A visit to the camp tells a story of living a life in hell on earth.  The odor from the open defecation in the camp poses threat of imminent cholera and diarrhoea’s outbreak to the health of the IDPs, with chances of outbreak.

Our correspondent who was at the camp observed the conditions in the camp, reports that the tent in which the IDPs sleep in are not different from a mad man’s marquee.

Most of the IDPs are tired but their places are still not safe, as some of them at the commencement of this year’s farming season, tried going back to see if they can farm could not return till date.

When LEADERSHIP sought confirmation from the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) camp commandant, Angela Omirigbe, she declined comment.

Omirigbe said that she was posted to the camp a week ago and was, therefore, not in the position to comment on issues affecting the IDPs.

One of the IDPs said that the Mbawa camp had been abandoned while the IDPs are left to their fate.

A 22 year old mother of three Monica Iorhemba who gave birth two days ago and was seen at the entrance of the camp told our correspondent that, her husband had already gone out to find who he can work for, to bring food and soap for her.

According to her “I am hungry and my children are crying so I want to go to the neighbouring communities to beg because I just gave birth two days ago, and I don’t have strength to work on peoples farm as I was doing to get food and soap.”

Meanwhile the Executive Secretary of Benue State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA Emmanuel Shior, had 24 hours after the visit, flagged off the distribution of relief materials to the camps where he walked out five Journalists who were in the premises of the agency to cover the flag-off.

The newspaper correspondents walked out include, Leadership Newspapers, Peoples Daily, The Guardian, Daily Independent and News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

According to information gathered Shior was visibly irked at reports in the newspapers which exposed deaths and neglect of internally displaced persons by the State government in Mbawa camp.

The reports it was gathered drew the attention of the State Governor Samuel Ortom who it was gathered, queried the executive Secretary of the agency and he in turn vented his anger on the reporters asking them to leave his office.

It should be noted that the reporters of the newspapers while at the camp had put calls across to Shior to confirm their findings but he did not take nor return the phone calls.

It was further gathered that the local governments to benefit from the distribution of relief materials include Guma, Logo, Makurdi, Gwer West and Kwande local governments’ area of the state.

According to information, the executive secretary arranged three trucks of relief materials containing maize, palm oil and other food items to be distributed to the camps.

Addressing journalists at the SEMA headquarters in Makurdi, Mr. Shior however expressed concern over the inability of the IDPs to return to their homes as their villages are still under siege.

He however noted that Governor Samuel Ortom was not relenting in the dialogue with President Muhammadu Buhari on how to address the challenge of insurgency and insecurity in rural communities of the state.

“Some places in the villages are still not safe, there are still pockets of attacks so when some of the IDPs try to go back to check if their places are safe so that they   could go back, they meet the attacks and run back to the camps”.

He regretted that the federal government has not been able to fulfil its N10 billion promised to the state for the reconstruction of communities damaged by militants, saying if the funds were released it would have been channelled towards facilitating safe return home of the displaced persons.

“We are yet to receive the money. You are all witnesses to the fact that the President through the Vice President came and promised construction of resettlement homes in Guma, Logo, Makurdi and Agatu, he also talked about N10 billion that will be provided for this purpose, but up till now, we have not seen it” he lamented.

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