Zara Mohammed was 22 when she and her family fled from a Boko Haram attack with little else than the clothes on their backs.
Leaving the insecurity of Borno State behind, they made their way to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to seek refuge in the Durumi settlement for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Having fled from the reaches of the deadly fanatical group, Mrs Mohammed was glad to be able to offer her children a safe place to live, never imagining that they would still be living there six years later.
Sitting in the shade of a donated maternity ward, Mrs Mohammed told PREMIUM TIMES that she can no longer bear the dependence that living in Durumi has subjugated her to:
“I am tired of living here. I stay here because I have no choice,” she said despairingly.
Prior to leaving her local government area of Bama, Mrs Mohammed’s livelihood, like that of so many others in the North-East, depended on tilling the land.
Today, a lack of financial means has left her unable to afford the land she needs to farm. Instead, the family of five live off the goodwill of others and on the little that Mrs Mohammed’s husband can provide by selling tea.
“You cannot keep giving someone fish, but not teaching them how to fish,” the former teacher said in reference to living on handouts.
If the family were to have a small plot of land on which to farm, Mrs Mohammed believes they could regain their independence.
Though no official records exist, camp representatives say there are an estimated 19 settlements hosting thousands of IDPs in the federal capital, Abuja. PREMIUM TIMES visited several of these settlements and found widespread enthusiasm among the residents for resettlement on farmland in neighbouring Nasarawa State.
According to Chakule Lawal, chairman of the decrepit Malaysian Gardens settlement in Apo, the matter has been a topic of negotiation between IDP leaders and the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs (NCFRMI) for several years.
“The former NCFRMI administration told us that they had negotiated with the Nasarawa State government to provide the IDPs with land to be resettled on,” he said.
The National IDP Secretary, Elisha Ezekiel, added that despite assurances of resettlement made by the former NCFRMI Commissioner, Sadiya Farouq, negotiations stalled for years and never yielded anything.
Mrs Farouq’s office was contacted several times to comment on these claims, but no reply was given. She is currently the Minister for Humanitarian Affairs and was replaced as Commissioner by Garba Mohammed in 2019.
The current Commission’s administration has said that the NCFRMI is working to resettle the IDPs sustainably on farmland in Nasarawa, but that the COVID-19 pandemic had “unsettled” proceedings. It is “high” on the “to do list for 2021”, it added.
However, when questioned on the matter, the Director-General of the FCT Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Abbas Idriss, said that the refusal of IDPs to heed the government’s requests and relocate to official camps in the North-East means they are not recognised as internally displaced by the government and cannot be resettled in Nasarawa, as they desire, causing some confusion.
The IDPs themselves insist that “there is no place like home” but that life in the camps is not safe and would not offer them a means to their livelihood.
A dignified life
While visiting the Wassa settlement in 2019, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs said that one way to empower IDPs is to integrate them into another part of the country, of their choosing.
Cecilia Jimenez-Damary’s comments echoed those made by Mr. Lawal, who argued: “IDPs do not want to depend on the government, we want to depend on ourselves.”
According to Luca Yathuma, Secretary of the New Kuchigoro settlement, those with the ability to do so have stopped waiting for government assistance.
“When we arrived in this camp, we were about 3,000, but the population has been reduced drastically as people went to Nasarawa to farm (on their own).” Fewer than 1,600 IDPs remain in New Kuchigoro.
However, he added, “it is not that we all choose to be farmers, but that it is the last choice. Your fathers and forefathers did it and it gives you food to eat. The problem is that (most) people do not have the skills to do business.”
Mr Yathuma believes that what people need are opportunities to build a dignified life and that farming has historically given northeasterners those opportunities. Nevertheless, he continued, if they have the skills many would choose other trades.
Sunday, a barber at New Kuchigoro, agreed: “Even if they give me land in Nasarawa, I will not go to farm,” preferring the comfort of his salon to the back breaking fields. Nevertheless, the desire remains the same – to be independent.
Access to livelihoods
Several representatives who spoke to the PREMIUM TIMES said that the FCT had previously attempted to provide IDPs with the means to self-susustainance, but claimed the attempts were ill-conceived – including a plan to relocate IDPs to land in Gwagwalada that had neither enough water or space to farm.
With no end in sight to the Boko Haram insurgency, a banner seen in the NCFRMI office suggests a solution to the plight of IDPs:
“Durable solutions are ‘achieved when IDPs no longer have specific assistance and protection needs that are linked to their displacement and such persons can enjoy their human rights without discrimination resulting from their displacement’”.
Listed as the human rights of IDPs are the “Restoration of land” and “Access to livelihoods”.
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