The scorching heat tops more than 100 degrees Celsius. Children, women, and men are forced to run out of their hovels due to harsh weather. The shambles were strewn with old sacks, worn-out tarpaulins, and dirty rags, but the use of threadbare zincs on roof makes them almost inhabitable in the afternoon. However, there is nowhere to run to.
“Inside seems like an oven; outside is similar to a kitchen. We sweat from 12pm to 5pm every day whether we are inside or outside our rooms,” says one of the occupants of New Kuchigoro Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp, Ms Ruth Abubakar.
The reporter feels it first-hand. Sweat drops like torrents as if heavens have been let loose. Hapless children sit and play together and sometimes sing in Hausa language in remembrance of their ancestral homes.
Date is May 13, 2023, and venue is the New Kuchigoro IDP Camp, located in the heart of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
From the decrepit road leading to the camp to the venue itself, there is no evidence that this is Nigeria’s seat of power.
Occupants of the camp were sacked by Boko Haram insurgents at Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno State. Some have been there since 2014 while others came thereafter. Some of the women occupying the camp lost their husbands to Boko Haram terrorists operating in North-East Nigeria.
On June 2, 2014, terrorists dressed in military uniforms stormed villages in Gwoza such as Goshe, Attagara, Agapalwa, and Aganjara, and massacred 400-500 residents, separating parents from children and wives from husbands. Thousands of deaths have followed since then. Some children have not seen their parents for seven years or more. Whether they are alive or not, nobody can tell. The families were brought to the camp to ensure their safety and were supposed to return home whenever the insurgency and terrorism abated.
But the camp has now become a permanent residence for more than 100 families because insecurity has not abated.
Just two months ago, five Gwoza residents were attacked while trying to vote in Nigeria’s general elections. So, for 900 occupants of the IDP camp, going back to the war-shattered Gwoza is not an option.
The 25-year-old Ms Victoria Chimbaka came to the camp in December 2015. Fresh from secondary school, she was 17 and naive at that time. She is a native of Michika Local Government Area of Adamawa State but lived in Gwoza with her parents and siblings. Boko Haram insurgency separated the family. Unable to find her parents, she developed depression and lived in solitude.
Her life in the IDP camp is far from fulfilling. While Chimbaka is narrating her ordeal to the reporter, she feels the need to visit the restroom. However, only one is available, and that has been abandoned by occupants of the camp due to poor hygiene. Worse still, it is located far away from her new-found home. One major reason for the abandonment of the restroom is that several women contracted diseases from the toilet and those infections are still untreated, according to five women who live on the camp.
“Let me endure it till evening when I will go to the bush,” she says. ”We use the bush because we do not have functional toilets. The bushes around here are full of decaying excreta,” she recounts.
Men, women, children, and nearly everyone at the camp visit the bush. Four toilets are at the camp: two for females and two for male occupants. However, nobody is seen entering them. There is no provision for children and persons with disability (PWDs).
“Almost all the women here have infections and diseases. We are not healthy. We eat where children and men urinate, and we break down every week due to illnesses,” Chimbaka reveals.
There is a clinic at the camp manned by a nurse who comes every Wednesday. However, only common drugs for malaria and typhoid are found there. It has no place for children’s immunisation, or treatment for infections or sexually-transmitted diseases, which are mostly needed on the camp.
There is no bathroom throughout the camp. Those willing to have their bath do so in the open early in the morning or at midnight. Nobody can have a bath in the afternoon as doing so amounts to dancing naked at the market square.
A woman who has six children but only agrees to speak on the condition of anonymity says her children often go to toilet at home.
“I put their excreta together and throw them into the bush at night,” she says.
For Bilkisu Luka, one of the residents of the camp, there are constant disease outbreaks on the camp, however it is not mainstream news. She says there is zero sanitation at the camp and the environment is not safe for living.
“Nobody here is healthy, from what to eat to what we excrete, nothing is good,” she says.
The reporter’s tour to the Kuchigoro community confirms Luka’s testimony. The environment emits some putrid smell as the bushes seem to have been reserved for occupants of the IDP camp.
One member of the host community, Mr Abraham Tamba, says his children are constantly sick due to the activities of those using the bushes.
“I am not happy at all. The government has abandoned these people here and they have become a problem for us,” he says.
However, spokesperson of the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, which coordinates activities of IDP camps, Ms Rhoda Iliya, denies that they have been abandoned, saying the government has provided a number of items for them. She promises to contact relevant departments in charge of the IDP camp to provide further details.
But Secretary of the IDP Camp, Mr Luka Yathuma, says the camp needs government attention. He stresses that camp occupants require a health insurance scheme to enable them have access to drugs and other health facilities.
“People here pay for health out of their own pockets,” he says. “But it is fair that pregnant women and children have access to healthcare, and everybody too due to the poor condition of this camp,” he notes.
A medical doctor, Mr Jeffrey Ajoko, says occupants of the camp and the community will likely have faecal-oral diseases, defined as “diseases transmitted by faecal material passing into the mouth, principally via contaminated water, hands, and food, and are prevented by improvements in water supply, sanitation and hygiene.”
“Examples of such doseases are Hepatitis A and E. Infected organisms move from faeces to the mouth. These are the kind of diseases you see in such a place like the IDP camp,” he says.
A public health physician and host of TalkingHealthWithDrLaz Show, Dr Laz Eze, corroborates that, saying that, “there will be diarrhoea diseases anywhere you have open defecation.” He adds that water-borne diseases will likely be common at the IDP camp.
Paying for immunisation
Children are supposed to be immunised early against killer diseases such as polio, meningitis, and diphtheria. In Nigeria, this is free. However, at Kuchigoro IDP Camp it costs between N700 and N800. Consequently, some parents leave their children to grow without receiving important vaccines.
A mother of three, who prefers anonymity for fear of being victimised, says health workers, who often come from outside the camp, have once refused to immunise her children for not having N700 ($1.4). Another woman says she has been at the camp since 2016 and has been paying to immunise her children since then. Neither of the two has the contact of the immunisers. As at the time of publishing this report, spokesperson of the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Ms Iliya, is yet to reply to calls and a text message to her regarding why IDP occupants have to pay for immunisation.
An articlequotes the Federal Ministry of Health as saying that “a child is considered fully vaccinated if he or she has received a BCG vaccination against tuberculosis; three doses of DPT to prevent diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), and tetanus; at least three doses of polio vaccine; and one dose of measles vaccine.”
BCG means “Bacilli Calmette Guerin” and it is a vaccine used against tuberculosis, says MedlinePlus. On the other hand, DPT stands for “diphtheria, pertusis, tetanus.” Some Kuchigoro IDP Camp children do not have the privilege of being immunised, which the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 3) regards as a fundamental right.
Nigeria’s immunisation statistics is not exciting. The World Health Organization (WHO) quoted a 2017 Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey/National Immunization Survey Coverage (MICS/NICS) commissioned by the National Primary Health Development Agency (NPHDA), revealingthat 77 percent of children aged 12 – 23 months in Nigeria had not received all the routine immunizations (NARI). The report said 40 percent of children in this age group did not receive any vaccinations at all (NV).
Thirty-three percent (33%) of children got three doses of Penta vaccines (3 Doses), while 31 percent of children who received Penta 1 vaccines did not complete the three doses (NA3)
There is a primary school at the camp called ‘Sharing Prosperity New Kuchigoro’. More than 30 pupils attend that school. However, many do not attend it for many reasons, including its small space. It has 13 volunteer teachers who receive no salary. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), not the government, made it free for pupils at the camp.
One NGO used to pay each volunteer teacher N10,000 ($21.7) monthly, but it stopped in 2022. Another NGO took it up and raised the monthly wages to N22,000 ($47.8) for some teachers but it has also stopped. Hence the teachers keep the school alive yet receive no salaries.
“It is important for the government to consider IDPs as law-abiding citizens and ensure they have access to education,” says Mr Yathuma, who is also the health teacher at the school.
“The government can deploy teachers here and pay them. The Federal Government can incorporate us into its N-Power scheme and pay us as it does others,” he adds.
The N-Power Programme was initiated by the Federal Government of Nigeria’s as a direct intervention to tackle youth unemployment and re-energise public service delivery in four key sectors: education, agriculture, health and vocational training. Participants are paid N10,000 to N27,000.
The classrooms’ roofs were recently renovated by the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCRMIDP), but that has been the only government presence there in the education sector. The NCRMIDP calls it “Transitional Learning Center that will take 4,000 learners between ages 5 to 18 in 8 IDP camps in Abuja.” However, it only renovates hurriedly-constructed classrooms and does not provide teachers’ wages or learning materials.
There is also no secondary school at the camp, leaving many adolescents and youths out of school. The majority of them are not working due to lack of skills and inability to communicate in English in Nigeria’s capital. Hence New Kuchigoro IDP Camp cannot accommodate children in secondary school ages (13-18).
This runs contrary to SDG Goal 4, which is targeted at achieving inclusive and quality education. For the UN, education is a fundamental and enabling right of every child, but it is not for Nigeria’s government.
Nigeria has 20 million , according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), making it the highest in the world after India and Pakistan.
The number of out-of-school children in Nigeria has risen from 6.4 million in 2000 to 7.5 million in 2010, to 9.6 million in 2020, and, 20 million in 2022, according to UNESCO. Some of these out-of-school children are found in IDP camps, including New Kuchigoro.
The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs received N35.6 billion budget approval in 2023 as against N291.7 billion in 2022. Yet most IDP camps lack basic facilities for life.
More and more children
In spite of the poor living conditions on the camp, no fewer than 50 children are born every year. Two women tell the reporter that they have no choice than to “listen to their husbands.”
In Africa, procreation is seen as a blessing but it is more like a curse on the camp. Several men have no job and even when they do, their wages are small. Some receive as low as N20,000 ($43.5) monthly.
However, they have large families which create problems at the camp. The population has risen nine times since 2014 when the first set of occupants was admitted.
Children at the camp are malnourished and the burden of feeding them rests not just on the IDP camp officials but also on the parents. One man says the level of hardship on the camp is high and he is barely capable of providing for the needs of his family.
Yet this has not discouraged childbirth. Nigeria is one of the 10 top countries with the highest fertility rates in the world. According to the World Population Review, Nigeria ranks eighth on the log, returning 5.3 children per woman. Niger is the worst while Somalia is the second.
The birth rate at IDP camps in Nigeria is high. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said recently, that 17,053 babies were born by IDPs in 18 locations in Borno State alone between 2019 and 2021. This means 947 children were born in each of those locations in three years. By extension, this amounts to 315 children on each camp every year.
Founder of Centre for Health, Ethics, Law and Development (CHELD), an NGO, Professor Cheluchi Onyemelukwe, says it is not proper to have too many children in IDP camps.
“The number of children is too high. This means there is no birth control. It is important to counsel women to hold talks with their husbands. There is a need for precaution,” she adds,
Home but not home
The New Kuchigoro IDP Camp is home to many families, but wait till flood comes. The ground quakes and the tarpaulins covering the worn-out zinc roofs make a flapping noise. Some families sleep on beds of dried leaves or heaps of clothes under tarpaulin or zinc roofs. Rather than hide their children away from the cold, parents pay more attention to protecting their leaking roofs and ensuring that no dangerous creature creeps in.
There is no privacy for members of any family as everything is done in a one-room space. Children, mature girls, fathers, and mothers change their clothes in the same place. A 23-year-old girl says she usually changes at night or in one of the non-functional toilets.
The high temperature often hits inhabitants of the makeshift buildings, leading to discomfiture and illnesses among children.
“It is important to relocate them to standard homes. They are no less human than every one of us,” a member of an NGO, Slum and Rural Health, Ms Joan Allagh, tells the government.
There is, however, a big contrast. Surrounding the IDP camp are gorgeously-looking buildings inhabited by well-to-do Abuja residents. The houses overlook the IDP camp and residents seem to observe most of the things going on at the camp. Looking at those buildings shows the class differences in Nigeria.
Nigeria scored 35.1 in the 2022 Gini coefficient on countries with wealth inequality, making the country 11th in West Africa and 100th out of 163 countries globally.
Guinea Bissau has the highest wealth inequality, followed by the Republic of Benin and Ghana.
Prostitution is N500
Some girls at the camp have resorted to prostitution, which is mainly arranged by their male neighbours. Several boys have turned to pimps and arrange girls for traders, civil servants and politicians in the capital city.
Girls collect as low as N500 ($1) for sex while pimps get the same amount in return for each service. This is worse among young women whose parents are not in the camp. They are uncontrollable and do not see anything wrong with offering their bodies, camp sources say. The reporter finds one young unmarried woman who is pregnant on the camp.
“They do not want to know whether it is morally right or wrong,” says Mr Yahaya Dauda, who works for NGOs but has lived with them since 2014.
“It is a common practice here and nobody cares,” he adds.
Members of the New Kuchigoro community accuse boys and girls living at the IDP camp of “corrupting their children.” On the other hand, parents living at the IDP camp say members of the New Kuchigoro community “are corrupting their children.”
Mr Abraham Tamba, a New Kuchigoro community member, says “he is keeping his children away from girls at the IDP camp.”
Drugs: Who will bell the cat?
There is also the use of dangerous substances such as tramadol, codeine, amphetamine and cannabis at the camp among young boys. The reporter understands that drugs are taken from the nearby Games Village to the IDP camp for use. One IDP camp occupant says some boys become violent after using drugs while others resort to sexual escapades.
A 2018 National Drug Use Survey said that there were around 14.3 million drug users in Nigeria at that time, of which, close to 3 million suffered from a drug use disorder.
Drugs are posing a big problem in Nigeria with increased mental disorders and high rate of crime.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the United States says the use of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and other hard substances can “lead to dependence and addiction, injury and accidents, health problems, sleep issues, and more.”
A psychologist, Ms Lydia Nwaka, says the use of dangerous drugs can affect people’s capacity to reason well and can damage vital organs such as brain, liver, kidney and the heart.
“They often feel on top of the world after using drugs, but such a feeling is only short-lived. The real problem is that you can die or destroy your vital organs and future,” she adds.
She calls on the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) and other relevant agencies to wade into the drug crisis around the camp.
The NDLEA spokesman, Mr Femi Babafemi, is yet to respond to questions sent to him regarding whether the government agency has visited the IDP camp before or planning to do so in a bid to tackle substance abuse there..
Mental health is a challenge
Several children, men, and women at the camp have mental health issues owing to the trauma they have faced and their life of abandonment on the camp. They are aggressive and violent. They stone and fight politicians and several NGOs when some of them visit.
Many NGOs have severally promised and failed them. Same as politicians. One former speaker of the House of Representatives is said to have promised women occupants 100 wrappers in 2015 but has not fulfilled that promise. The inability of several groups to honour their words have worsened the IDPs’ trauma, making them see most Nigerians as bundles of disappointments, a mental health expert, Dr Amber Joshua says.
Camp Secretary Yathuma says some groups of individuals come in simply to take pictures.
“Ninety-five percent of the promises given by people and groups are not kept,” he says. Yathuma hardly trusts anybody. He feels reluctant when the reporter wants to have a chat with him.
“There is a long list of people who have not honoured their words here,” he adds.
However, Prof Onyemelukwe says what is most important to the IDPs is to move them to permanent locations where they can feel cared for.
“An IDP camp is expected to be a temporary place, but it has more or less been converted into a more permanent place but with nothing that can support lives. I think we need to renew attention and conversation on what we need to do as a nation about this. We need to have the government support. They can give grants around these to enable NGOs support these people,” she notes.
She explains that IDPs need mental health support, adding that what is paramount in the minds of families in such camps is proper settlement and a feeling of being cared for.
Dauda, who has worked with several NGOs, says a lot of work is being done on their mental health.
“Before they used to stone everybody, but the degree has reduced because I have become one of them,” he says.
Light at the middle of the tunnel
It is not yet the end of the tunnel at the IDP camp but one occupant is showing that there can be light there. Just like others, Ms Bilkisu Luka came to the camp in 2016 from Gwoza. Rather than stay idle, she volunteered to teach at Sharing Prosperity New Kuchigoro. While she was receiving N22,000 as salary, she enrolled as Mass Communications student in the National Open University, Luka is in her third year today and she believes she will soon become a broadcast journalist in one of the biggest electronic media platforms in the country.
“I have been displaced since 2011. But I got a scholarship from an NGO which helped me to complete my secondary education. I came to the camp in 2016 and began to teach. I am hoping to become a popular broadcast or investigative journalist,” she says.
Luka represents a story of grit and persistence. She does not engage in any action frowned upon by society just to make ends meet. She tells the reporter that there is a need to begin to think home and this should be led by NGOs.
“NGOs are doing so much here, but I think they should also try to change the mind-set of IDPs on the camp who won’t be willing to return home when peace returns to Gwoza,” she says.
“The most important thing is to educate them on the need to plan to leave. This is what I think should be done,” she adds.
– Being a Collaborative Media Project story from Datapyte