At least 34 unauthorised IDP camps exist within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), an overflow of the insurgency-propelled migration from battered communities in the North-east. This humanitarian crisis is on a scale that is insufficiently captured by the agencies charged with the responsibility of such capture. The Internally Displaced Persons within the FCT are forced to forge a life for themselves outside of the much-needed care and very necessary watch of the government.
Ladi Mathias sat in front of her makeshift house at the Kuchingoro camp, sharing a seemingly endless string of lamentations describing the horrors of being displaced, unrecognized and uncared for by her own government. With a detachment that is typical of one whose nightmares have become her reality, she recounts tale after tale of grave health challenges, hunger and the desperation that have driven the men to work as farm labourers in neighbouring towns (Kunchingoro, Durumi, Lugbe and Nassarawa) just to barely afford a meal. These men do not own these farms, neither do they own the farm produce that comes from it, they simply farm for another who in turn pays them. The average fee for farm labourers is a thousand naira, not nearly enough to cater for one man much less a wife and 4 to 5 kids. This is the lot of the sole providers of whole households.
Ms Mathias who shared her story in her local language said: “Most displaced persons here are from Borno and Adamawa and they moved to the camp four years ago. Before the Boko Haram outbreak we never moved into the city of Maiduguri talk more of another state, but once the crisis started we had to run’’. “When we first migrated here, FCT Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) took care of us for a few months but we haven’t gotten any help from the government since then.”
Identified but Unauthorized
Kuchingoro IDP camp is one of the IDP camps that are “unauthorised” according to the FEMA. These IDP camps develop within the suburbs of the Nigerian capital but the agency charged with the management and care acknowledge their existence describe these camps as unregistered. By this label, it is implied that this status disqualifies them from getting aid. Although unauthorised, the Kuchingoro camp had once received help from FEMA but that help has since dried up and the persons in this camp are at the mercy of good samaritans, NGO’s and religious institutions.
According to residents of the camp, promises that were made to them of the provision of health care and education for their children have gone unfulfilled. Residents of Kuchingoro camp claim FEMA had previously issued them a letter saying they could access healthcare at the Asokoro District Hospital. But according to the women leader of the camp the hospital demanded money and turned them back when they couldn’t pay.
The DG of FEMA, Abbas Idriss, said the Minister of the FCT had approved two hospitals, Wuse District Hospital and Asokoro District Hospital, for the free treatment of the IDPs. He added that the hospital has been directed to treat the IDPs free. He further said “The FCT does not have any budgetary allocation for the IDPs we just want to input something to provide them with toilet, we mobilize NGO and other groups to provide them with some materials”
At Wuse District Hospital, Mr Hassan, the desk officer in charge of the treatment of IDPs, corroborated FEMA’s position that IDPs can indeed get treatment on the condition that they present a letter authorising such treatment from the FEMA office in Asokoro. The workability of this process for barely educated, displaced persons bears questioning.
No access to healthcare means that women in this camp act as each other’s midwives; excited when a baby lives, sad when one dies and providing as much support as they are able to give to each other. The unavailability of maternal and child care has however not slowed the reproduction cycle in the camp, woman after woman in the camp get pregnant and give birth to babies. Ladi Mathias, the women leader in the camp, is herself nursing a baby, her 9th child. She explained that her attempt at family planning had failed “Sometimes last year, an organization came and gave family planning doze, which I took but after few days I started bleeding until I stopped using the drugs”.
The public health challenges that dwellers of this camp face are unparalleled, with no access to clean water, sanitation challenges and the ease of spread of diseases within such cramped quarters. Ms Mathias listed the diseases they battle with in the camp.
“We usually have Malaria, Cholera, and Stomach pain, Cough and Catarrh, we use our surroundings as toilets because we do not have a specific place for defecating”, she explained pointing to the sparse bushes around them. Five deaths were recorded in the last year and two of the deaths were from HIV complications. With the absence of health care facilities, there is no way to check the spread of communicable diseases.
What passes for education in this camp is a single structure with leaky roofs that houses the school. Just as the camp itself is unauthorised, the school, sponsored and managed by a religious outreach, is not accredited and thus cannot issue certificates to the children.
The camp is located on an empty piece of land that has not yet been claimed and dwellers in this camp face the constant fear of eviction as the Kuchingoro community itself is a fast-growing suburb of the FCT with new buildings going up all around the campsite.
The contrast between rich and poor, privileged and underprivileged could not be clearer as is depicted in the cluster of makeshift buildings made with cardboard and sacks surrounded by beautifully designed and built high rises and residences.
Durumi/Area One Camp
The story in this camp is not much different from its Kuchingoro counterpart, dilapidated makeshift buildings are overcrowded with more humans per square meter than there is space to accommodate them.
Abbas Isa is the resident non-certified healthcare provider in the Durumi camp. His ambition as a young boy was a career in nursing, taking care of the sick and bringing reprieve where there is pain and this dream was on its way to becoming a reality as an undergraduate studying nursing at the University of Maiduguri. All of that, however, came to a screeching halt with the Boko Haram insurgency. He, alongside many others, had to flee his home and found himself in the Durumi IDP camp.
Sitting in a building ironically called the Primary Health Center in the Durumi camp, ironic because the centre itself lacked the health to provide any kind of primary care to its charges; Mr Isa is somewhat living his dream. He is the sole health care provider for the displaced people in the camp, though he never got a degree in nursing, neither did he practice the profession under the watchful eye of supervisors. Nevertheless, in this particular camp his services are highly sought after; for most people in the camp, he is the “most qualified” health care professional they will likely ever see. The secretary of the camp Bala Yusuf explained simply in his local language “the treatment of people is in care of Isa.”
Mr Isa’s “hospital” does not enjoy government recognition nor funding. It is sponsored by the Usrah Peace Care Foundation and good samaritans. In cases beyond Mr Isa’s “expertise”, the Usrah Foundation has made provisions for members of this camp to visit the National Hospital, where doctors have been commissioned by the foundation for such a purpose. The extent of this coverage by the foundation and the number of residents of the camp who take advantage of their magnanimity is uncertain.
According to Mr Isa, the biggest health challenges are coughing, diarrhoea, fever and ulcer. Childbirth is overseen by women in the camp, whose main qualification is that they are mothers. Babies are lost not just in childbirth but also to malnutrition, this is sadly not shocking as the mothers and fathers are themselves suffering from ulcers that are likely hunger-induced.
On top of all the challenges residents of this camp face, there is the drug and harmful substances addiction problem that is running unchecked in the camp. Most of the young men are said to be drug addicts, always on the lookout for their next high.
Wassa IDP Camp
For a token of N25,000, displaced persons can actually get some kind of permanent structure to stay in. These structures were not built for this purpose though, the Wassa camp is situated in and around 200 previously uninhabited housing units constructed by the FCT for the people of Gbagi community. Curiously, the people of Gbagi community did not stay in these housing units and the security guards placed there by the construction companies to watch over the units saw an opportunity for extra income in the displaced people looking for a place to stay.
Although they have permanent structures in this camp, the stories are very similar to that of the other camps visited. It is overcrowded with facilities that are too small to cater for the number of people living there.
The camp has been visited at various times by members of government including the Minister of the FCT, IDP Coordinator for FEMA and the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, who donated a mobile clinic to the camp.
The clinic is however that in name only, there are no medical personnel or drugs in the clinic. When the residents are in dire need of health care, they go through the rigour of first getting a referral letter from the FEMA office before heading to the hospitals where according to the residents they are still turned back with flimsy excuses of “no bed”.
Jeofrey Idris is the chairman of the Wassa camp and he described how often residents die because of the absence of healthcare facilities. He explained that most male residents of the camp are farmers and motorcycle riders and some of the females do petty businesses and are unable to afford the cost of even going to town to get referrals from FEMA or visit the hospital. In the three months before this visit to the camp, 8 children had died as well as two women, one of them with a newborn.
Mr Idris said the camp has very high maternal and child mortality rate especially of children under five. He described the illness that kills the kids in his local language as ‘Shunsuusu’, which means convulsion. Recently, one of the women in the camp who was five months pregnant started bleeding and after four days, he had taken the pains to get a referral letter from FEMA and gone to the two designated hospital where they had been turned back for lack of space. By the time he found a private hospital they could afford, the woman had lost the baby and needed surgery to survive. Tales like this are the norm for Wassa camp residents and Mr Idris said all the complaints they had made to FEMA about the way the hospitals treated them had not yielded any results.
Aishatu Iliasu is the wife of the camp’s grave-digger and she said women die often of common illnesses like typhoid and malaria. She lamented the lack of basic drugs in the mobile clinic that results more often than she can recall in grave illnesses and death. Just as the camp chairman had said, she explained that they had no money to visit the town to get healthcare from any of the hospitals that had been designated to them. In a pained voice, she recounted the sad death of a woman and her newborn.
“Two weeks ago, two women died in the camp. The first one is pregnant, no money for hospital, she stay in her house and treat herself. After delivery baby died and the following day she died,” she narrated.
The camp had experienced a Cholera outbreak earlier in the year and FEMA had intervened but not before some lives were lost to the outbreak.
The children from the camp attend the LEA Nomadic School where the environmental conditions are so poor that it bothers on dangerous. The classes have no ceilings and the beams that hold up the roof are exposed, feces surround the school building because the toilet facilities are insufficient. Despite the conditions, at the time of the visit, classes were ongoing with the kids responding enthusiastically to their teachers, oblivious of the conditions around them because they simply do not know better or have no other option.
To be continued…