Not many knew there were victims of Boko Haram insurgency quartered in a facility for Internally Displaced Persons in Edo State. WESTERN POST AGENE AKHERE discovered this centre and presents his findings…
It was a big surprise and shock to WESTERN POST Correspondent in Benin City, the Edo state capital on hearing the news that there were victims of the Boko Haram insurgency living in the state. It was never contemplated that such IDPs will be in the state even without the knowledge of the state government and other security agencies. More so, when Edo has never been a theatre of Boko Haram attack. But in the state are IDPs. So, WP was privileged to be at the Oba Oguola Press Centre in the early hours of last Friday, where he overheard somebody asking a colleague-are you aware that there are Boko Haram victims in Edo State? Our guide, who broke the news at the centre, volunteered to take us to the camp. And immediately, we set out on the journey, which took us away from the state capital but to a remote village within Edo South Senatorial District. The journey was about 45 minutes drive from Benin City town but by the time we got there the location had been classified as secret because of what the operators of the camp called ‘possible fear of attack’.
Desperate and anxious to see for things for ourselves, we immediately ignited the engine of a BMW car along with took two other colleagues from a sister medium and off we drove behind our guide. After driving through some bad portions of the main road where the state government is committing so much investment by way of trying to reconstruct the road, we again began to drive on a plain portion for another 20 minutes before diverting to an untarred road that eventually led us to the camp.
The IDP Camp
The camp covers a large expanse of land and has several blocks of rooms and halls, mostly made of wood, serving as classrooms and bedrooms for the displaced persons. It also has a football field, volley ball court, a small expanse of land reserved for prayer purposes only, a pineapple farm and some modern tents among others. The refugees included men, women and children whose families were killed and their homes burnt by the insurgents. The camp, according to the operators, depends on an aging generator to provide its own electricity and water with just two standing blocks serving as toilet. Amazingly, the camp needs not less than five bags of garri to prepare a meal to go round the victims while six bags of rice are required per meal of the victims, and we were told they eat thrice a day.
It was learnt that the camp, which originally served as a centre for the needy and founded by the International Christian Centre for Mission, had provided food and shelter for the IDPs since 2013. 135 pupils are in the KG class alone, while other arms are combined to try to accommodate as many pupils as they can teach. Many of these children may never see their siblings again in their life time and that is becoming a reality, as Emmanuel Isiaku Ghida, a boy, 15, from Attagara in Bornu State, attests to.
Emmanuel: How I lost contact with my parents
Emmanuel, a Primary 5 pupil, is the only boy among four girls of the family. He was rescued by the army after running through the caves and mountain in search of safety after the insurgents attacked their village. He got to the camp in Edo State sometimes in January 2015.
Visibly shaking as he narrates his experience to WP, he said he lost contact with his parents in Attagara when Book Haram attacked them. “It was on a Sunday during fellowship that they came and started shooting, burning houses and destroying everything in their way and all of us ran in different places. The Nigerian Army came and fought back, so the Boko Haram ran away but on Thursday that week they came back and fought the army.
“We started running into the bush and mountain. They came again and overpowered our army and went to Sambisa. We now later ran to Pulka Village where our army protected us and started giving us food and money, before I came to this place.”
The story of Joshua Bitrus, a Chibok boy, is not too different. He is 18 years and in SS1. He is happy to be in the camp with his younger brother. The last he knew of his parents and remaining one boy and three sisters was that they lost each other at a village called Palmanga in Taraba State.
“When they attacked Chibok; we ran away, the army came and they attacked them again and again. We started running to the bush, ran to the mountains and crossed rivers, we trekked long distances until we were rescued and brought here.”
Some other victims who recounted their ordeal to our correspondent said they lost all they had to the insurgents who also attacked them in caves where they had initially sought refuge.
‘I buried my husband by just putting some sand on his corpse’
One the victims, Tani Philemon, said she had been abducted by the insurgent from her home in Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno State, but escaped miraculously after several days of fasting.
She said amid tears: “Boko Haram attacked us in our village and we ran to the mountains. But they followed us and killed some people, including my husband. At the mountain, there was no food; we were just eating leaves.
“I searched for my dead husband and buried him by just putting some sand on his corpse. After two days in the mountain, they (Boko Haram) came and abducted me and my children and took us to Gwoza where we spent about three weeks.
“After three days, we fasted and prayed. Suddenly, God made them (insurgents) fall asleep and we managed to escape by climbing a wall; we ran to Cameroon. We spent three days without food and water
“But God sent some people to us who took us to Yola (Adamawa State) and when we got there, we heard of a man of God who help people in need. He was the one who paid for our transportation to this place (camp).”
Another victim, Grace James, 17, said she and her family lived on raw maize while on the run, after they were attacked and their home destroyed by the insurgents.
“We kept running for our lives, feeding on fresh maize without cooking it. When we got to a big stream through which we were to cross into Bornuo, we saw many dead bodies floating on the stream. But finally, we got to Borno and later to Jos. It was in Jos that we heard about a camp in Benin,” she said.
“Some people tried to discourage us from going by telling us that there was child trafficking in Benin but we insisted on going, believing that God would save us. The man in charge of the camp visited us and sponsored our journey to the camp. We really thank the people helping us here; I am not thinking of going back to Borno State again.”
Appeal to President Buhari…
Now the about 900 Internally Displaced Persons in Edo are begging President Muhammadu Buhari to come to their aid. The Overseer of the ICC, Solomon Folorunsho, disclosed to journalists, during a visit to the camp, that the IDPs were brought to the facility from Borno and Adamawa States, through Jos, the Plateau State capital. Folorunsho said that the displaced persons depended on donations from faith-based organisations, institutions and individuals. He said “This centre is a place for mission work and discipleship and also to care for children who are in need from different parts of Nigeria. We have been in existence since 1992, catering children from different villages who have been abused, oppressed and are orphans in the society.
“We had about 400 children before we saw the need of children in the North East, whose parents were killed. Some of them ran to the mountains where they ate sand, stones and leaves. And there were some who started dying of mal nutritious disease.
“Some of them ran to Cameroon and I started getting phone calls there that we from the South here should help to rescue these children, as they were just wandering in the streets. That was what prompted us to set up a committee of pastors who located the children and brought them together to verify their identity.
“We started raising funds from here and from that day till now – that is about two years now – we have about 900 children from the North East, added to the ones we had here before. They came in batches.”
He also called for assistance to enable the management of the camp continue cater for the needs of the victims. He, however, said that the state government, through the Ministry of Women Affairs, had been notified of the presence of the camp.
Folorunsho said: “It should be about two or three months now that they (government) got aware of this because we are registered with the state and Federal Government. And we have had promises; the governor was coming.
“I think he has been so busy because of the elections and he has been very busy. So, we are still expecting him to come soon to see the children. Maybe he has plans for the centre.
“But right now, we are still hoping. The security here is good but we need more support in that area.”
Efforts to reach the state’s Commissioner for Women Affairs were unsuccessful as she was said to be out on an official duty. But a source at Government House said that the state government was aware of the presence of the camp but could not confirm if any provision had been made for the displaced persons. “The government is aware of the IDP camp. It has been there for long. But I would not know about that one (government provision),” the source said.