By Charles Dickson
On a bed at the female ward of the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital laid a 15-year-old girl in an evidently bad state. Her face and head were bandaged, leaving slits through which only a bruised eye and swollen lips were visible. On her body were clearer signs of trauma, with burns running from her neck down to the lower parts of her body.
Around her bed wafted a foul smell, which a nurse who came to attend to her attributed to a septic wound in the girl’s skull.
A nurse who does not want to be named, because she is not authorised to speak to the on the matter, told the icirnigeria.org, that a group of people from the biggest Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camp in Maiduguri dumped Lami (the surnames of all victims in this report are withheld to protect them) at the hospital.
“We have many of them. They’d been either raped in the camp or sold by those that should be protecting them in the camps,” the nurse said.
Approached by the reporter, Lami tried to speak, but her voice was muffled into a whisper as pains coursed through her body.
She said her parents were killed by Boko Haram insurgents in her village and she managed to reach Maiduguri, capital of Borno State, in an open truck that dropped people off at a camp for displaced persons.
In the course of moving from one camp to the other, she was separated from her younger brother.
“I do not know where he is,” she said through muffled sobs.
How did she end up in the hospital burnt and battered?
Lami said some government officials came to the camp and took many young girls away and later sold them as slaves. She ended up in the house of one Alhaji Aliyu, whose brother and wife abused her. While Aliyu’s brother repeatedly raped her, his wife weighed in with physical abuse.
“One day, some people came to the camp and said that they were taking us to a better place. That was how I got to Alhaji Aliyu’s house and it was there, every day, his brother forcefully slept with me.
“After that, he would beat me and one of Alhaji’s wives too would always beat me. One day she attacked me with a knife. That was how I got the wound in my skull,” she recounted.
Lami’s case, depressingly, is not an isolated one. Hundreds of girls are now being trafficked from some of the IDP camps in the Northeast set up to cater for people displaced by the insurgency, especially unregistered ones.
It was learnt that because many of the camps cannot accommodate all the people displaced from their homes by Boko Haram attacks, many IDPs end up in makeshift unofficial camps close to the officially designated ones or in nearby villages.
The people in the makeshift camps are not officially registered and technically are not under the care of government.
They are usually taken care of by villagers or even relatives in the government-run camps. Somehow, state officials have the same access and control over these unofficial camps.
A fertile ground for child trafficking
Kingsley Ogar, a staff of an international donor agency, who does not want his organisation named, confirmed that child trafficking is rife in the IDP camps.
“We had a case in Gombe where a group of persons came from the South, Lagos or Ibadan, we can’t be so sure, paid some people and took away children from the camp.
“We went to deliver relief items in this particular IDP Camp and took a census so that we could come back the following day, which we did, only to realize that over a dozen of them were missing. They were mostly young children between the ages of 5 and 15. “Upon investigation we discovered that some “lords” in the camp were in partnership with the Lagos people to sell the kids.
“We reported to the police (Gombe State command), but we do not know whether they have done anything,” he said.
Our reporter learnt of an IDP camp in Yola where there were said to be about 900 children without parents. It was alleged that children were being sold and trafficked in the camp.
Our reporter visited the camp posing as an official of a church that takes care of children and made startling discoveries. An official in the camp named Raila, who wore the reflective vest of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, told the reporter to wait while she went into a makeshift office. There, she spoke with a male colleague, whom she said is an official of NEMA.
She returned to announce: “You will pay N50,000.for each child and you can only go with three if you want them today,” as if she was in a livestock market.
Apparently not totally devoid of conscience, she tried to rationalise her illicit trade. “We use the money to take care of the other children still here,” she said.
Without any attempt at verifying the reporter’s identity and in less than 30 minutes, three children were ready to be sold, possibly never to return to their roots.
Further investigations revealed that such child trafficking business is a thriving and well-run racket in most IDP camps in the insurgency ravaged North east. It is a triangular manifestation of evil that comprises some heartless displaced persons, unscrupulous camp officials and child traffickers.
Displaced persons who know the children without parents act as middlemen between the buyer and the seller. They liaise with people who come from places as far flung as Akwa Ibom, Lagos, Abuja, Katsina, to carry out the first step in the trafficking process.
The displaced person also identifies the children to be sold and goes ahead to negotiate a price, which, it was gathered, could range from as little as N10,000 to as much as N100,000. After negotiations, the middleman approaches the camp official in charge. The official collects the money and approves the release of the kids.
The child trafficker, we gathered, then re-sells the children to an interested family as a domestic servant or slave.
Like Lami, many, if not all of these children, have very little education. They have little knowledge of their rights and no clue as to how to return home. Those they entrusted their lives with at the IDP camps liaise with the traffickers and agents exploiting their vulnerability in this hideous transaction.
More heart-rending tales
In Gombe, 16-year-old Laraba told icirnigeria.org that an official of the state emergency relief agency named Ibrahim took her from the camp where she was to his home on the pretext that she would be helping the wife with household chores.
“I was happy leaving the camp, but when we got to his house, there was no wife. He raped me continuously for three nights, locked me inside his house for days and threatened me.”
She continued, “I managed to escape and came back to the camp. I got pregnant. An old woman we call ‘Kaka’, gave me some leaves. I was bleeding for almost two weeks and smelling.”
She said she is currently feeling better and has overcome the ordeal. But she had to suffer in silence as she could not tell anyone because she thought nobody would believe her and for fear of being sent away from the camp.
“I am not the only one this has happened to and I am sure Ibrahim, the health worker, is not the only one doing this type of thing,” she reasoned.
Thirty-two year old Binta caught our reporter’s attention as she muttered to herself, looking like a traumatized person. The tale she told was shocking and distressing. Sadly, no one believes her or is willing to do anything about it.
“After the attack in Mubi, I fled with my one year old child.
“From the first camp we were, a secondary school, I was told a family in Yola was coming to take us. They came to pick me and my baby. When I saw them I was suspicious, but what could I do, without anyone to help? I put my baby in the car, and they sped away,” she said resignedly.
Binta is realistic to know that she might never see her baby again but her problem is what to tell her husband from whom she was separated in the aftermath of the attack on Mubi.
“I have lost all hope of ever seeing my baby again. I do not know whether my husband is alive or not. A family member says he was among those who ran to Cameroon.
“If he finds me tomorrow, what do I tell him about our baby?” she wondered.
Sixteen year-old Aisha is in an IDP camp in Gombe and is three months pregnant.
She had been sexually abused by men from a community near the IDP camp and denied contact with anyone.
“I want to go back home, but there is no home. My village is near Gwoza. They started sleeping with me since I came to the camp. I was told that if I refused, they would kill me,” she claimed.
Hiding her face behind a veil, she said: “I feel like killing myself. I guess that’s the only way out of this misery.”
Official complicity and complacency
Many aid workers in the IDP camps allege that there is a conspiracy of silence, which encourages government officials in many of the IDP camps to continue to exploit the displaced persons.
One aid worker pointedly accused officials of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, the police and state government officials of being behind the child trafficking racket in the IDP camps.
Since the same officials that these cases should be reported to are the perpetrators. Many victims just keep quiet for fear of being sent out of the camp.
Osim Jones, a Jos-based lawyer, who has helped rescue some trafficked girls, said that the allegation of child trafficking in the displaced persons’ camp and the complicity of police officers and other government officials is real and that federal government should investigate the accusations.
Mr. Jones said it was sad that the authorities do not believe that these evils are happening in the IDP camps and that they constitute a major problem.
“We can’t give up or be silent because the police are denying, aid workers don’t want to talk,” he said.
The agency that should really be in charge of displaced persons camps is the National Commission of Refugees, but the agency has absolutely no presence in any of the IDP camps visited in Borno and Gombe states.
That is not surprising, as the Federal Government has not shown any seriousness in funding the agency. Not much is appropriated for the agency, and of its budget, funds allocated to purchases directly related to refugees matters have dwindled even though the insurgency in the Northeast has increased in the last two years.
In 2012, of the miserly N512 million appropriated for the commission, only N70 million meant for purchase of health and medical equipment had anything to do with refugee matters.
In 2014, of the N616 million budgeted for the agency, only N19.4 million was appropriated for medical supplies had any bearing to refugees. Even at that, there was no indication the medical supplies got to victims.
ICIR learnt that with increasing complaints to the government about the conditions in the IDP camps, the office of the Attorney-General, last year, sent an official of the National Commission for Refugees to one of the camps in Maiduguri to study the situation and see how the agency can get more involved.
However, no other agency in the camp was ready to relate with the official sent by the Attorney-General’s office. Worse still, it was learnt that the investigator’s visit and stay in the camp were also not adequately funded, a development that forced her to return to Abuja after two weeks.
In Yola, the Adamawa State capital, the state’s police spokesperson, was unavailable to comment. But an officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said: “We cannot exclude the fact that criminals are taking advantage of the current situation, but there are no official complaints.”
The National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters, NAPTIP, the agency which by law should prevent human trafficking, appears to be unaware of the illegal trade in children going on in the camps. Efforts to speak to the executive secretary of the agency, Beatrice Jedy-Agba, were unsuccessful.
But the head Press and Publications Research Unit, of the agency, Josiah Emerole, said NAPTIP was not aware of any trafficking of humans in the IDP camps.
He said also the agency had not received any reports of such atrocities occurring in the camps.
Mr. Emerole, who appeared shocked when confronted with details of our investigation, promised to reach out to the NAPTIP zonal offices in the Northeast to verify and act speedily on the allegations.
Confronted with the results of our findings, officials of NEMA also claimed ignorance of the atrocities being committed by the agency’s officials and others in the IDP camps.
The agency’s chief information officer, Sani Datti, said NEMA headquarters was not aware of the allegations and had not received any reports of cases of child trafficking in the IDP camps in the North east.
“These allegations you have made are grave and serious but we cannot really address them here at the headquarters. We have to reach the zonal coordinators to get the real fact or investigate them,’ he said.
Mr. Datti gave our reporter the contacts of the NEMA coordinators in the Northeast but they all feigned ignorance of the criminal activities of officials in the camps.
NEMA’s coordinator in Gombe, Sa’ad Ahmad Minin, said he was not aware of any cases of rape or child trafficking in any camp under his jurisdiction. When given specific details of Laraba who was raped by Ibrahim, Mr. Minin referred ICIR to an official named Hajara, whom he said was on ground and in direct charge of the camps.
On the phone, Hajara too denied knowledge of any incident of rape or child trafficking but promised to investigate the matter.
‘I do not know of any such case. But as you have told me now, tomorrow I will go to the camp and investigate,” she said.
However, an official of NEMA who spoke to our reporter but does not want to be named confided that many of the officials of the agencies in the camps are not regular staff but volunteers.
“Our officials in those places are short-staffed and many of the people you see wearing NEMA reflective vests are actually not our staff but volunteers. But as you say they are there acting for the agency so we must be held responsible for their actions,” the official stated.
When ICIR confronted the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, with the result of its investigations, its chairman, Chidi Odinkalu, said that he had received reports of abuses in the IDP camps, including rape and child trafficking.
Mr. Odinkalu said the commission has set machinery in motion to engage government agencies involved in managing the IDP camps as well as security agencies on the need to investigate the allegations and stop such abuses. He, however, lamented that such efforts have not been very successful.
He added that the NHRC would explore all avenues to investigate the allegations and take appropriate action.
This project was supported by Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative reporting. We have ICIR’s permission to republish in full here.