Opinion: My three days experience of the humanitarian crisis in Borno

by Dozie Nwafor

For more than 8 years now, Nigeria has battled insurgency from extremist group Boko Haram who has operated majorly in the North-East, killing thousands and destroying properties worth millions. In more recent times, the military forces have subdued these terrorists, greatly reducing the frequency of their attacks and liberating territories formerly occupied by these daredevils.  In war, there are no winners, everybody loses and humanity is dealt an irreparable blow.

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The weekend of 16th December 2016 is one I’ll never forget in my lifetime, as it has left indelible memories that will last as long as the breath of my nostrils. The week before, I got a call from a friend, Kiki James, founder of ACE Charity Africa Foundation whom I always love to volunteer with. She tells me of the report of children dying daily in Borno from severe malnutrition and how she earnestly wants to undertake an intervention project to save at least 1000 lives in the IDP Camps. She needed volunteer health personnel who would help structure a 1-month diet plan to feed these malnourished kids and also provide comprehensive medical care. She then ends with, ‘Dozie, will you go with me to Borno?’ My answer was an emphatic yes. I said yes, I’m going to Borno. Just a few days earlier, there had been a suicide bomb blast close to a market in Maiduguri, claiming about 5 lives. The few people I told about this trip thought I was out of my mind. The recurrent questions were, ‘Why would you want to go to Borno where you know terrorist still carry out coordinated attacks and suicide operations?’, Don’t you fear getting killed?, Why don’t you leave this thing for the Western and European Humanitarians? … Of course, I knew the security situation in Borno wasn’t 100% settled, but this was an opportunity to help save 1000 lives. This was an opportunity to act on my commitment and resolve to improve the state of my world; this was an opportunity to live out the true essence of life, and this was an opportunity to sacrifice personal comfort for the good of my fellow compatriots. As a Bio-scientist and Health Systems Professional with well-grounded laboratory and field experience, I knew I had a lot to offer in a community, public health and humanitarian intervention as this.

2:10 pm Friday, our flight left Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja for Maiduguri. For the next one hour, thoughts of uncertainty filled my heart. This would be my first time in Borno. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if people still lived normal lives there. I didn’t know if the entire state was filled with armoured personnel carriers at every 50-meter distance. But I was sure of one thing; this was an assignment I was totally committed to undertaking. We touched down the Maiduguri Airport at 3:20 pm and a few minutes later, our contact person had come to pick us up with a very warm reception. Driving down to her house within the Maiduguri city, I took note of every possible detail. Life in Maiduguri has returned to normal. Shops were open for business, bank ATMs had long queues, children played along the streets, bicycles, keke-napeps and cars filled the roads, there actually were human beings in Maiduguri.

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The day was already far spent, so we decided to head straight to the NYSC Camp IDP settlement even before checking into our hotel. We made our way to the camp clinic where the chief nurse had been waiting for us. We immediately commenced onsite assessment of the camp and its inhabitants, especially under-5 children. This camp was well organised, and had an appreciable presence of humanitarian agencies, UNICEF, NEMA, SEMA etc. The kids we saw looked relatively agile, a few underweight, pale and scruffy. We were a bit underwhelmed as what we were seeing wasn’t exactly what we envisaged. As much as there can never be too much assistance offered in these situations, we came for a specific assignment. We came to cater to children with the worst cases of malnutrition. We came to make life-saving interventions and we decided, having flown all the way from Abuja, we were going to find these kids who were in dire need of help. We got to our hotel at about 7:12 pm and immediately we settled in, we started making phone calls to people who could offer us information as to other IDP Camps in Maiduguri who had children in urgent need of our intervention. In the end, we were able to draw up a list of four Camps; Fori Community, Farm Center, Bakassi, and Muna IDP Camp.

Early Saturday morning, we headed for Fori Community IDP Camp. The road leading to this place seemed a bit desolate and we were later told that this area was a hotbed of fighting during the heat of Boko Haram activities. This camp had just over 200 children and here we saw women and children with various health challenges. In no time, we set up ACE Clinic and resolved to cater to the medical needs of all the children before leaving for the next camp. I remember wearing my sunshades almost for the duration of the exercise; not necessarily because the radiation from the sun was unbearable, but because I was moved to tears repeatedly and had to protect my masculinity. Here we saw a 14-month-old baby who weighed 0.4kg. She was severely ill and was on the verge of death. We immediately had to contact the teaching hospital and got her transferred there. Most of these kids suffered kwashiorkor, were very poorly taken care of, barely had a meal a day, and badly underweight. We even established cases of a public health concern, filariasis, with an impending spread and outbreak. Some clinical investigations with accompanying symptoms showed this trend as most of the children testified to bathing in the nearby stream.

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Once we were done from Fori, we made our way to Muna IDP Camp. Muna is on Dalori road which continues to Dikwa and then Gamboru-Ngala. A few months back, journeying on this particular road was suicidal as Boko haram terrorists controlled these communities. Muna was the big one. On getting to the camp, the military commandant was elated to see us. He joyfully welcomed us and on telling him our mission, he said ‘My people need help, we need you, my people are dying’. This camp is home to over 41,000 Internally Displaced Persons with over 900 documented cases of under-5 malnourished children. On getting here, it was obvious the bulk of our work would be focused here. We set up ACE clinic which we would continue the next day until one hour to our flight boarding time. We also set up ACE Kitchen which will feed these malnourished kids with planned nutritional meals for the next one month, after which we would have a reassessment of the kids. We conducted medical consultation and tests for as many women and children as possible and it was quite unfortunate we couldn’t attend to every one of these people as the queue was endless.

Once again this experience got me in touch with the realities of an insurgency. It rekindled the essence of our humanity. It told of how much we have neglected the dignity of human life. In this journey, there are no tribes or religion, no big or small man, no northerner or southerner, no me or I. The tales of crises in the North-East are extremely true, the pains are real, things won’t get better by talks and deliberations, they would get better by people picking up their bag packs and heading to the field to ensure lives are saved. As for me, I would be back in Borno; after all, we are all humanitarians.


Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Dozie Nwafor is a Bio-scientist,  Health Systems Professional, Health and Development Researcher with his works published on reputable International Journals. He’s a Global Shaper, Writer, Public Speaker, Leadership Enthusiast and passionate humanitarian. He works with an indigenous Health Systems Management Firm in Abuja and spends his weekends and holidays volunteering with various charity organisations.

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