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COVID-19: Ordeal of displaced women in Benue, Nasarawa

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In this piece, ENE OSHABA investigates the sexual abuses faced by female IDP’s residing in different camps in Benue and Nasarawa states, including how they fared during the lockdown period of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Life in camp

Deborah Buan, a 35year old mother of six from Torkula village in Guma local government area of Benue state was busy sewing some fabric at the entrance of what looked like a commonroom at the Abagena Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s) camp, which is located about 20kilometers from Makurdi the state capital.

From the look on her face, one could easily see a woman filled with worry and perhaps, thinking of how to feed her children, just as her youngest child, a two year old girl was crying by her side.

The young girl who was leaning on her mother crying and speaking Tiv language, seem not to listen to any petting words from her mother as she continued to cry, maybe she was hungry and asking for food which obviously was not available at that moment.

Buan shared her worries, showing that she is tired of living, but only pushing on for her children’s sake. The lockdown had excruciating effects on her and the children, no movement to find alternative means to get food since they only received a little portion of food items from the government.

She said, “During the lockdown, Government brought food but it was not enough, other NGO’s like red cross helped us too. After the initial lockdown period, we came back to zero as we have nothing left especially to feed children.

‘This sewing machine belongs to my sister in-law, she is not around in the camp and I started using it for some small jobs just to enable me get money to feed my children and I but with the restriction on movement, business was down.

Hunger and starvation was the order of the day for most of the families, these women could accept any condition to put food on the table for their children, however she said she personally did not experience any sexual based violence; an act which was common in the camp as exposed by some development NGO’s in the state.

40-year old Scholastica Udeuwa, a mother of nine children also from Guma local government but displaced and currently residing at Daudu II IDP camp located in RCM primary school, shared similar story of how they managed during the lockdown.

“We heard that coronavirus came into Nigeria from other countries and some NGO’s came to teach us why we should always was our hands, use face mask and maintain distance from each other but this was strange kind of sickness and we were all scared. How to feed my children was a great concern to me since we were asked to sit at home and my husband is late, I have all responsibility on me,” she said.

Though, Udeuwa manages to smile, one could clearly see through the bitterness in her heart, especially as she was careful not to reveal anything negative before the SEMA officials who selected them to be interviewed and stayed back to listen to every details of her responses.

At the official Benue IDP camps are several makeshift tents which each family occupied, these tents were built without much spaces in between depriving especially the women any privacy or comfort, they usually left the tent to go sleep inside classrooms at night which is also not safe as they stand the chance of rape.

Similarly, women at the IDP camps in Nasarawa state look hungry, worried and lamented the lack of basic needs such as food, water, healthcare center, comfortable rooms to lay their heads and fear of been ejected from the primary schools they are occupying.

Juliana Tion, from Keana camp in Nasarawa decried the high level of hunger they faced during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. She said saying most of them in the camp didn’t get enough intervention and had to money to buy food. They had flee their farmlands for Fulani herdsmen who attacked and killed many of their relatives.

“We only survive with what some NGO’s and kind individuals brought to us and you know we are many, it is never enough. we are here on our own and when we don’t have food we look for menial jobs to do mostly farm work but one can work all day yet won’t earn 1000 naira,” she said. Again because of lockdown we couldn’t go out to do any farming jobs and so we starved for several days.

Though the Camp Coordinator Mr. Clement Ternenge Zuzu, said the state government through the Nasarawa State Emergency management Agency (NASEMA) headed by Barrister Zamani Zakari Alumaga, brought some food items when they heard that displaced persons were camping in the school.

There was no sign that they received any intervention during the lockdown, none of them mentioned that during the chat.

Covid 19

The outbreak of coronavirus in the country which resulted to lockdown and restriction of movements made life more difficult for displaced women and their children.

Urban poor citizens across the country who depended on daily earnings are still lamenting how difficult and stressful it was for them to feed themselves and their families.

This situation is worse with Internally Displaced Persons residing at various camps in the country. This is while IDP’s from the Northeastern region are getting 5gg more comfortable due to the magnitude of interventions they get from both government, international Communites and spirited individuals, those from Benue and Nasrawa states who are mostly Tiv tribe are not well recognised to get much interventions.

It is said that Benue state is not captured in the humanitarian response framework of the country, and so even when IDP’s are littered all over the state, there are no working documents that authorizes donors, funders to step into Benue just like in Borno and other northern states.

As stated by the Executive Secretary of the Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) Dr. Emmanuel Shior, the state is yet to get the 10billion naira promised by the federal government to cushion the effects of farmer/herder crises on the Indegenes, and also to facilitate the return of IDP’s to their ancestral homes.

Statistics by the Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) of both the official and unofficial camps and host Communites shows that a total of 483,692 indigenes of the state are displaced and living in 22 different camps across the state.

Of this number, a total of 109,279 are female adults, 11,345 are pregnant women, 20,657 are nursing mothers, 73, 818 are girls while women still dominate the total of 55,034 number of aged people, the injured, sick and malnourished.

When asked how she fared during the coronavirus pandemic, Udeuwa said they lived in fear, hunger and no choice but kept praying and trusting on God’s will to be done.

“I was so scared of losing any of my children to hunger, my husband had died years ago and I have been catering to their needs. I farm yam, guinea corn, and egusi but now, I have nothing, even yam I don’t have again. I don’t sell the guinea corn I plant because it’s for our own consumption but today we buy Maize from the nearby farmers with the little money I have just so my children can eat.

“Look at how we are gathered here, no space and we were told to maintain social distancing that wasn’t possible but God helped us. We couldn’t also get soap to bath during the lockdown, no detergent to wash and so many difficulties since we had no access to the market. I couldn’t take proper care of my kids because we couldn’t go out. That was a big challenge,” she emphasised.

“We used to sleep on matresses but now we sleep on mat on the bare sandy floor inside the tarpaulin we sleep in, we feel very cold when the weather is cold and when there is sun, like now if you go inside it is very hot. So we go to sleep inside the school built çç the children, and I am not happy,” she lamented.

Buan on her part said, “I used to make 2000-3000 daily but since the covid19 no much work to do, in fact some days I don’t make any money at all and I have children to feed. I’m just managing.

“Life in the camp is so difficult but there is no choice than continue to live here pending when peace is restored to my village. Two of my older children usually go to do menial jobs outside the camps in order for us to feed, but we were all home that period and no food.

“I want the Government to assist me because this is my only source of income since over three years in this camp. My major challenge is how to feed my children and I really need help.

“We have not not been getting food like before when different organisations visit us, even the Government don’t provide enough food for us anymore, I’m tired of the camp Government should provide security for us so we can go back home and continue with our normal life,” she decried

“We are not comfortable in this camp, especially using the public toilet, it affects me so much through infections and sometimes after taking your bath, we can’t change our clothes comfortabi as we are mixed with men inside.

“Getting food was a huge challenge during the lockdown. We only could only feed when people visit us. Anytime they don’t visit, feeding becomes very difficult

“Before the lockdown we farm to get little money for daily needs but we don’t get that anymore since the pandemic, even when we receive some food items money to buy the ingredients to cook the food was a challenge,” said Joy Adagu, a 28 year old mother of two from Tse Omar village in Guma local government area.

Continuing Adagu said there were times they didn’t have food at all during the lockdown and the women gather themselves and entered farms to look for something to do to raise small money for their needs.

“I emaciated that period because of too much thinking. Hunger was the biggest challenge we faced. Though, SEMA brought rice, Indomie and spaghetti for us during the lockdown, one other sister brought us beans too but it was not enough, they shared one mudu each for all the families and it wasn’t long before it finished.

No deaths recorded

In both Keana and Awe local governments of Nasarawa states the IDPs live inside the LEA primary schools where they regularly received threat to vacate the buildings, women in these two camps suffer lack of portable water, healthcare facility amongst other basic amenities that makes living easier and more enjoyable.

From the Abagena, Daudu community, Daudu II and NEPA Quarters camps in Benue state to Keana and Awe communites IDP camps in Nasarawa states, Blueprint investigations shows that the women shared common challenges. The Issues of insecurity due to killer Herdsmen, hunger, uncomfortable living conditions lack of basic amenities, Gender Based Violence (GBV) fear of coronavirus but no deaths from the disease was recorded.

Just as the Abagena camp manager Mr. James Iorkya said, there are guiding rules at the camp, and anyone who misbehaves or go against the rules stand the chance to be decamped. Perhaps, this is why most of the women denied they were being sexually harassed for food.

However, blueprint gathered from outside sources who some of the women confided in with the stories of rape, GBV and other discrimination they are confronted with inside the camps.

NGO to the rescue

Dr. Helen Teghtegh(Phd) the Executive Director of Community Links and Human Empowerment Initiative who always visited the IDP’s for outreaches said lots of women confided in her how they were always being taken advantage of.

“I always visited the IDP camp before any other community for outreach and there was a rise in hunger, rape and different forms of Gender Based Violence (GBV) cases.

She said though all IDP’s face hunger but the men have more sane ways to survive. “For females you hear them complain about sex for food. Sometimes there are little things everyone should benefit from but because you are female you have to pay a kind of price, this happens even in the communites.

“Secondly, some of these women unfortunately have been raped in the course of trying to fend for themselves and their families. If a women go to nearby bush to fetch firewood to cook and they are alone there is the chance of being raped.

“Most of the women had to give out their daughters in early marriages because they couldn’t cope with looking after all the family members. No mother would want to give out her young daughter but circumstances let them give out a girl of less than 16years.

“Three women from two different camps opened up to me, there is even a case of a married woman getting pregnant for the camp personel while her husband was not at the camp with her and that led to end of the marriage.

“Also, initially at the point where people were running into the camp and they were being documented, we had cases of sex for registration cards/food and they call it “Kwembe Sha Kwembe” which means give me your body(Kwembe) for the other Kwember (registration cards , food),” she revealed.

Dr. Teghtegh said it was due to the increase in cases of rape that her NGO with the support from Christian Aid fabricated some locally made cooking stoves for women at the Abagena camp where waste could be recycled and used as energy for cooking, she added that her organization also installed solar lights to prevent rapists from attacking the women at night when they go to ease themselves.

“We installed solar lights in response to GBV, women were afraid to come out at night to ease themselves because of rapists and molesters who has taken advantage of many women and girls,” she added.

However, it was with much pressure they were allowed to install the lights even when they gave genuine reason why there should be light at the camps.

Responding to this, the Abagena Camp manager James Iorkyaa, explained that the building was under construction and letting anyone fix lights would tamper with its design which already provisions for the installation of solar lights has been made.

“The building was designed to shelter the 2012 flood victims and was under construction, it was the contractors that didn’t allow anyone to tamper with the structure because it was designed for solar and transformers that will provide light and any other type won’t work with the design.

Contrarily, the Executive Secretary of SEMA Dr. Emmanuel Shior, while responding to why good spirited organization were not allowed to provide light for the IDP’s to tackle rape in the dark, said it was the husbands of women in the camp that didn’t want light installed.

He said, ‘Benue SEMA can’t stop such interventions perhaps, it is the husbands of such women who will stop them from installing lights in the rooms.

“The Governor don’t joke with GBV and that is why his wife is a leading advocate, working with other stakeholders to ensure it is prevented in the state especially at the IDP’s camp. We on our part continue to check to ensure that if not prevented, it is brought to the lowest level,’ he assured.

Health challenge

One of the healthcare workers, a Doctor at the Daudu II camp who refused to mention his name and the agency he works for revealed that there was a prevalence of women who got pregnant, reproductive health diseases such as sexually transmitted infections during the lockdown as a result of coronavirus.

He explained that his organization tried to support pregnant women as much as they can with antenatal and postnatal care, he disclosed that top on the list are sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea, SYPHILLIS, HEPATITIS B, HEPATITIS C INFECTIONS AND HIV INFECTION ARE INFECTIONS THAT ARE PECULIAR TO WOMEN.


The Doctor expressed worry on the increase in displacement saying this affects women’s health adversely.



Meanwhile, at the Nasarawa camps lots of women especially the pregnant ones do not get any healthcare services during the lockdown

“We live like animals here, we can’t afford to go to any hospital and the situation was worse during the lockdown. I almost died while trying to give birth at home ,” Cecilia Iortim said.

Meanwhile, Maureen Achov, a pregnant mother of four kids, residing at the NEPA Quarters camp in Makurdi, complained that she couldn’t visit any hospital during the lockdown because she had no money and no closeby healthcare center because they were even being asked to vacate the buildings they occupy.

“Water was another Issue, we go far distance to fetch water because this quarters is still under construction and some amenities are not available, we only occupied this place because we couldn’t get registered into the government camps,” she said.

IDPs re never satisfied – SEMA

Responding to the IDP’s complain of hunger, missing palliatives and prevalence of health challenges SEMA Executive Secretary said that the government through his agency had always provided food for the IDP’s , adding that other good spirited individuals, groups and NGO”s also support the government in that regard.

He maintained that everybody not just IDP’s are naturally not satisfied with food and so would always complain no matter how much food is provided.

“We regularly provided food but it is only natural to find people complain about hunger not only IDP’s. Man is naturally not satisfied with food, if you give man food today and come back tomorrow they will ask for more just like Oliver Twist.

“We have not left IDP’s hungry, just last week the governor directed me to distribute over 1200 bags of rice that we bought including cooking condiments to accompany that but don’t forget we have a teeming population of over 500,000 IDP’s I’m Benue state.

“We are also catering for over 10,000 cameroonian refugees in the staye,” he added.

“On palliatives being diverted to be sold, we wrote the Police commissioner to investigate and verify if those items were actually meant for Benue state and demanded it be returned to Benue for onward distribution however, the ones that came to Benue was distributed completely and we did not experience any shortage,” he said.

NASEMA blames LGA Chair

Also responding to the complain of hunger and neglect IDP’s face in Keana, the Executive Secretary, Nasarawa State Emergency management Agency (NASEMA) Barrister Zamani Zakari Alumaga, confirmed they are aware some displaced persons settled at the primary school and they brought them food items when they arrived, he however said that the agency didn’t know they were still residing at the primary school.

“Last time government went there to distribute hand tractors, insecticides and assorted kinds of farming tools do they can return back to their communites and we taught they had dismantled the camp and gone back home but we didn’t know they are still there.

“It appears shocking to me that some people like staying in the camps and I don’t know why, but bottom line is that we have almost forgotten that they are there,” he said.

NASEMA boss blamed the situation on negligence on the part of the Keana local government Chairman Adamu Adi Giza, for not informing the state on the presence of the IDP’s after they were taken care of.

“The local government should have informed the state that these Persons are still there because we all have our roles to play.

“I remember in the last administration this issue came up that IDP’s were languishing here and there, and it is because of that that when this administration came on board we took relief materials including farming tools and we taught the local government will take over from there and sustain it.

“Now that we have been informed we will ingnore the local government incompetence and proceed to see what we can do, while I will ask the local government Chairman to submit a formal report requesting for relief materials because we have items in the store to give them,” he said.

As at the time of filling this report, the reporter called the local government Chairman several times but he did not pick up and didn’t return the calls to explain his own side of the story.

SEMA ssures relocation of IDP’s, appeals to fg for funds

The Executive Secretary expressed desire of the government to return the IDP’S to their communites, but noted that several factors still needed to be addressed before they can proceed with that.

He said, ‘it is difficult for Benue state government alone to decide if the IDP’s will return tomorrow because the Fulani herdsmen who attacked their villages are still there but government is discussing with the federal government about the need to return the IDP’s,’ he said.

“I’m appealing to the federal government to make good the pledge of 10billion naira to Benue state government and we will make good use of the money to facilitate working to return the IDP’s to their ancestral homes,” he assured.

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