After losing three children and her 40-year-old husband to a bomb blast at Saint Teresa’s Catholic Church Madala, Niger state, 33-year-old Chioma Dike says her only prayer is that her two surviving children be strong enough to forge ahead with her.
The whole family was in the church vicinity on Christmas day in 2011 when the explosion by the Boko Haram struck.
When she was told by medical practitioners that her only surviving son had a secondary missile, more like a nail, inside his head, Mrs. Dike hoped for help from government and well-meaning Nigerians to end the sufferings of the 11-year-old.
“Government gave us hope. They said they would treat us fully and in good hospitals,” she said.
However, five years after the blast, Mrs. Dike’s son still lives with the nail in his head.
“Most times he suffers headaches and becomes dizzy as a result of the problem,” she told PREMIUM TIMES.
“Even in July this year I took him from Suleja to the National Hospital in Abuja for a treatment which I had to pay for from the meagre income I receive through the trading business I am managing.
“One of the drugs cost N2, 800 for its singular purchase,” said Mrs. Dike in a telephone conversation with PREMIUM TIMES.
The sad story shared countless times by Mrs. Dike is similar to that of other victims of bomb explosion in Nigeria.
However, it was not meant to be so as the Federal Government established a fund to support the victims; or so it seems.
THE VICTIMS SUPPORT FUND
In its bid to assist victims of the Boko Haram insurgency and rebuild destroyed communities, the administration of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan put in place a Victim’s Support Fund, VSF.
The committee supervising the VSF, led by Theophilus Danjuma, a retired Army General, organised a fund raising in 2015 to address the challenges of those directly affected by the insurgency.
Over N54 billion was pledged as donations to the VSF.
According to the Executive Director of the Fund, Solomon Ochoche, about half of the pledge has so far been redeemed.
“N28 billion has been redeemed out of N54 billion which was pledged,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
While recounting the expenditure, Mr. Ochoche said N3.8 billion has been spent on projects for the welfare of various victims of terror in Nigeria since the establishment of the VSF in 2015.
Of that sum, N227 million was shared among 14 hospitals across North-East Nigeria for the care of civilians affected by bomb explosions, he said.
Another N35 million was given to two military hospitals for the same purpose.
When asked about treatment of victims of the various bomb explosions that happened in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, and neighbouring states, the director said their treatment was not initially part of the Fund’s mandate.
“At the beginning; the Victims Support Fund identified three areas of intervention; women economic empowerment, educational support for children and psycho-social support,” he said.
“Those were the areas identified and the needs in these areas are very broad. When we later identified the enormity of the needs of bomb blast victims; VSF decided to step in to help support the health challenges of the victims,” he added while explaining that the funds largest expenditure was a N2 billion donation to the Safe School Initiative in the North East.
Mr. Ochoche’s explanation appears to contradict the aim of setting up the fund as espoused by ex-President Jonathan while inaugurating the committee.
“Our gathering here today is to kick-start the process of providing succour to our people who have been directly affected one way or the other by acts of terrorism in the country,” Mr. Jonathan had said.
To ensure a more cohesive push for government attention, some of the victims of the various explosions formed the Bomb Blast Victims Association of Nigeria, BVAN.
The Chairman of the association, Kayode Olatunji, said the most fortunate of those affected by the bomb blasts were only assisted by government during the early stages of the incidents.
“Every member of the BVAN will tell you, like it was the case with me, that they only got help for a while at the hospital,” said Mr. Olatunji.
Mr. Olatunji who was affected by the April 8, 2011 bomb explosion at the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, office in Suleja explained that he still has some treatments pending for his eyes, ears and bones.
“I was treated with assistance from government at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in Gwagwalada, Abuja for four months and two weeks, after which I was made to fully continue the treatment, since help no longer came from government,” he said.
“One of my ears is still down; my left eye requires a cornea transplant while my right eye has been affected with cataract; all as a result of the incident,” Mr. Olatunji told PREMIUM TIMES.
He said he still goes for treatment at the UTH in Gwagwalada and another hospital managed by the Evangelical Church of west Africa (ECWA), in Kano, with whatever funds he is personally able to come up with.
Mr. Olatunji also told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr. Ochoche had stated that money under the care of the fund was not meant for them.
“All efforts to get funds from the VSF to help our members have failed,” he said. “Professor Ochoche asked us to find ways of getting government to listen to our problems, as funds under his care was not meant for us.”
MORE VICTIMS LAMENT
Like Mrs. Dike, other victims of bomb explosions also lament their situation.
Favour Duke, whose husband was killed in the June 25, 2014 bomb blast at Emab plaza, said she joined BVAN so that she might be assisted with a job to feed her seven-year-old daughter.
“My husband was the bread winner of the family. We were practically comfortable with what he provided,” the Banking and Finance graduate told PREMIUM TIMES.
“However since he died it has been one problem or the other. A couple of months back my daughter took ill and almost died. It took the grace of God with the assistance of the church I attend to provide over N200, 000 needed for her medication.”
“Even the house we live in has been due for the renewal of its rent, for almost two years now. The only reason we are still able to remain here is that the house currently has legal issues. Any time they demand that it should be demolished or sealed, I don’t know where to go to,” she said.
Mrs. Dike said her effort to start a day-care business was frustrated by the construction of a bridge around their house, which made it impossible for people to take their children to her home.
“I live from day to day, anxious about what the next challenge might be,” she told PREMIUM TIMES.
Another victim, Monica Solomon, narrated her experience after surviving the May 1, 2014 explosion in Nyanya, Abuja.
Mrs. Solomon, 38, sustained severe burns which affected both her hands and legs.
After initial reluctance, she narrated her ordeal.
“I had gotten off that morning to go to work as usual. I boarded a bike from my house to the bus stop at Nyanya. After getting there I stood under the bridge, awaiting a taxi to take me to work.
“There was a vehicle in front of me, but I never knew that the vehicle was loaded with a bomb. I had turned and decided to move to a different spot after I saw a man, whose appearance I didn’t like.
“Suddenly I heard a loud sound and lost consciousness. When I woke up, I was covered with the heat of fire.
“They brought a police van that carried us to the Asokoro District Hospital, from where we were transferred to Garki, because the authorities at Asokoro said there was no bed.
“The same complaint was made, also at Garki District Hospital and we were taken to that of Wuse, where I was kept for two weeks before I was taken to Teaching Hospital at Gwagwalada.”
At Gwagwalada Teaching Hospital, Mrs. Solomon said she was faced with an entirely new policy, from that which obtained at Wuse hospital, where her medical bills were fully paid for.
At that point of her narration, her husband, Adebosun Solomon, who was present during the interview, interjected.
Mr. Solomon said even at the Wuse hospital, he had to foot some of the bills.
“A day after the visit of the Minister, Bala Mohammed, I was made to pay for a cream that was to be applied on my wife’s hand. The Hospital authorities at Wuse actually said they had the cream, but added that the person holding the keys to the place where the cream was kept, was not around.
“The cream was N2,500. They also asked me to pay for an injection whose single dosage cost N3,500 and my wife had six of that injection at the time,” he said.
“Even the promise of feeding my wife for free was practically impossible, as we had to buy the kind of food that was good for my wife.”
According to Mr. Solomon they began to fully foot the bills for every treatment when they arrived Gwagwalada Hospital.
He added that the situation got so bad that his wife’s hands started stinking before he was advised to take her home and apply alternative or traditional methods of treatment which were more affordable.
“Even now though the wounds have practically healed from the outside, the problem is still not over. Every evening from 7 p.m., we will not sleep. Her hand will become very itchy,” he said.
According to Mrs. Solomon, all she has prayed for, since the incident is that some help will come to put her hands back in good shape, so that she can find another job and help her civil servant husband.
She explained that months after the explosion, her employer, Dumo Casino, a transport agency where she had worked for 21 years, laid her off with a severance pay of only N150, 000.
Her husband stated that he had to visit the company’s office several times, before they released the money in two instalments of N50,000 and N100,000 respectively.
WE CAN’T EXTEND MANDATE
While many bomb victims continue to live in pain and helplessness, the VSF, which still has over N24 billion of unspent funds said it cannot do more.
“It is not possible for the VSF to cater for all the people affected by these terror,” Mr. Ochoche told PREMIUM TIMES.
The official said his agency had identified and provided funds for 14 hospitals to treat the victims.
When told that the identified hospitals often referred the victims to other hospitals not among the 14, Mr. Ochoche said his agency could no longer assist such victims.
“If they go to hospitals that we have asked them to go to and they are referred to other hospitals, I am sorry but we cannot take responsibility for that. It is the hospitals that will know how to sort themselves out.”
When asked how his agency planned to spend its remaining N24.2 billion, the VSF official said the funds are spent based on the determination of the committee’s short, medium and long term budgeting objectives.
“You cannot just spend the money like that,” he said. “The expenses have to be determined by the committee and then after I have drafted the budget based on the short medium and long term needs, they will have to approve it before any expenses are made.”
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