by Eromo Egbejule
You hear a lot of stories about North-East Nigeria, a slice of the country that has been at war since 2009, at the hands of Boko Haram. But we have largely only heard a single story. Sending a reporter across 7 cities, we tell a more complete story – personal tales of survival and recovery – that speak to hope, to strength and to faith. Stories that speak to life. Across 20 narratives over the next 3 weeks, you will hear the most inspired and touching stories about Nigerians – at their best, even when they have only just recovered from their worst.
In June this year, Borno state governor, Kashim Shettima was summoned to Aso Rock by President Muhammadu Buhari to be scolded – if the rumours were to be believed – about the severe cases of malnutrition in the state.
The invitation came on the heels of viral photos and a statement released by Medicine Sans Frontieres (MSF) about the increasing level of malnutrition in the state. The photos showed children with arms resembling wings and bodies so sickly that the authorities were embarrassed and claimed the doctors were being sensational.
But from all indications, the doctors were right about the Internally Displaced People (IDPs).
A recent report by FEWS NET, a network set up by USAID to provide early warning on famine and food insecurity, said surveys and screenings indicated Global Acute Malnutrition rates in Borno and Yobe state were “ranging from 20 to nearly 60 percent.
Thierry Laurent-Badin, programme director for Action Contre la Faim (ACF) in Nigeria, estimates that about 244,000 children are currently suffering from severe acute malnutrition in areas that used to be a complete no-go due to security restrictions, a figure also announced recently by UNICEF.
Until March this year, many of the towns previously under control by Boko Haram were still inaccessible to humanitarian organizations like the ACF.
“We just got access to areas previously under Boko Haram control and completely inaccessible for the last few years; areas like Monguno, Baga, Kukawa, Gamboru-Ngala, Dikwa, Bama, Gwoza and more,” Laurent-Badin told YNaija by email in July.
For those who have been nursed back to life by aid workers, the quantity of food is still a problem, especially in the camps. “In almost all the camps, they eat only rice and beans”, says Khadeejah, an aid worker at the IDP camp in Shehuri area, Maiduguri. “All SEMA officials add is a little oil to colour the rice to make it look better. No salt, no pepper, no proteins.”
In places like the 75,000-man camp at Dikwa which is about 120 kilometres away from Maiduguri, their only meal every day is brunch which comes at 2pm because of the time wasted in cooking such a sheer volume of food for that number of people.
At a meeting earlier in the year between the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the Borno State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), it was agreed that the former would provide the rice and major foodstuffs while the latter would be in charge of condiments, seasonings, firewood and water.
Neither complied fully, says another aid worker at the Bakassi camp, speaking anonymously. “A lot of sharing and sorting is done, so not everything gets to the IDPs at the end of the day. Right now in Bakassi camp, IDPs say they are given raw food rations weekly, and left to figure out how they get it cooked, I suppose. The arrangement used to be that NEMA provides staples then SEMA provides firewood and condiments, but SEMA hasn’t been living up to their end. A lot of money has gone down the drain. You need to hear [the] ridiculous amounts they claim to use to get stuff like firewood.”
Things reached a crescendo late in August when there were multiple protests in IDP camps across Maiduguri – from Shehuri to Farm Centre, Dalori and Bakassi – with some of the protesters claiming they had not been given food by camp officials for weeks. Khadeejah remembers seeing some of them blocking the road and protesting peacefully on her way to one camp.
“It was heartbreaking to see that happen. The worst thing is that the food meant for these people ends up in the shop of one NEMA official’s wife. As an IDP, if you wake up in the middle of the night to see food donated for your welfare being taken out silently, how would you feel?”
*The next installment will be published at 10am WAT tomorrow.