Rising from the rubble: Tales of survival from Nigeria’s northeast region terrorized by Boko Haram Updated for 2021

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Updated: February 27, 2021


By Jude Nwabuokei


An armed conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian state since 2009 has left at least 1.7 million people displaced, according to figures released in 2017 by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

Boko Haram attacks in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states have devastated families and ruined entire villages and communities. Many people have been left, not just homeless, but also penniless.

Thousands of schools and hospitals have remained shut for years, and many children, born during the bloody war, do not have birth certificates. Many women have also been kidnapped and turned into sex slaves while boys have been trained to kill others in the name of Allah.

Religious identity, at the centre of many conflicts in Nigeria for decades, has often led to violence, particularly in regions that are high mixed, a reminder of what J.S. Furnivall said when he boldly declared that “people mix but do not combine”

Starting as a revivalist Islamic group, Boko Haram began engaging in violence in 2009 in response to investigations and arrests by the authorities which ultimately led to hundreds of deaths in clashes between fighters and security forces. Since then, the armed conflict has seen significant displacement in the states of the North-East, suicide bombings in Abuja as well as attacks on churches and massacres in many other communities across the region.

The Borno State Government has been encouraging the many displaced from conflict-affected districts to return to their homes. Officials from the state government stated that in April 2017 about 310,000 IDPs had returned to Borno with 100,000 remaining in Maiduguri. However, a one-on-one discussion with many of these IDPs reveal that they are unsure of the security situation in their home districts, followed by concerns about the state of their home and access to humanitarian assistance, livelihood and basic services. Presently, some Local Government Areas can only be accessed by helicopter and with military escorts. Furthermore, disputes between IDPs and their host communities concerning housing, land and property is on the increase with particular impact on widows and women in general. Many of them survive through menial jobs and the humanitarian assistance from NGOs like the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Danish Refugee Council and a host of other NGOs that are domiciled in the North-East.

The hot and dusty atmosphere of Modu-Solamari community in Maiduguri hits one on the face like the blast from a furnace. The houses are make-shift tents made of old sacks and rusted zincs, while some others are resident in uncompleted buildings with or without roofs depending on the financial capacity of the occupant. In this camp resides Hamsatu Mustapha, a widow and mother of six whose husband died after sustaining severe injuries from Boko Haram in 2014. Since her displacement, she had been living from hand to mouth until she encountered officials of the Norwegian Refugee Council who assisted her with housing and a start-up sum of N43,500 to start a business. In a chat, she narrated that the money was given to her and other women during the Ramadan season, and that from that time until now, she had expanded her business which has enabled her to feed her six children. She went on to explain that she had been able to pay her children’s fees at school as well as supporting other children in the community.

“They gave all the women in this camp N43,500 to start a business. With the money, I was able to expand my business. I have been progressing, taking care of my needs and that of my children including paying their school fees. They attend Marganari Primary School. The business is growing and I have been able to recover the capital I invested”

Nit all the IDPs are like Hamsatu as most of them still deal with conflicts from the use of land belonging to their host communities. These communities are headed by village wards and community leaders known as Bulama or Mai Anguwa. One of the community leaders, Alhaji Bulama Kolo threw more light on some of the challenges he faced after his home community was attacked, starting with the burning of his house, farm and cattle. “ I am 52 years old from Bulabarin, Dambuwa road”, he says. “We came here four years ago. We will like to go back to our village, that is the best, but this is our home for now. Look at it, it is a thatched house. When the rain comes, we cover the roof with leather and sleep like that. We are a family of seven, my wife and I and five children. We once had cattles to help us farm. We had farm produce like beans and millet. We had all these things but we left everything and ran away and it all got burnt. We came out only with our clothes, not even with our shoes”.

In Damaturu, another IDP, Zubairu Modu who hails originally from Gujiba Local Government Area in Yobe State, also narrates his ordeal after Boko Haram pillaged his village. He speaks of the hunger, the homelessness and general suffering of many IDPs due to inadequate housing and land. Some of the host communities like Pompomari, for instance, have constant fallouts with the IDPs due to conflict bordering on land use. According to him, it took the intervention of some community leaders to quell the fray that erupted.

“I am the leader of this community. Before the NRC came here, we have suffering from disputes caused by land use. The host community where we live have been fighting with us but we thank God that the NRC came and assisted us in the acquisition of land. I also hope that I will be able to go back to my home community someday”

For Hamsatu Baduwa, she used to be an IDP before moving to Gulani community, where her husband hails from. However, the major challenge was in getting proper identification for herself and her children. Through the legal assistance programme of the Norwegian Refugee Council she obtained birth certificates for her children and a national identity card for herself. With this she has been able to get access to basic amenities, especially health care.

“I used to be displaced but now I have returned to my initial settlement. I had no issues there save for health challenges that almost took the life of one of my children. One of the NGOs in the community came to the rescue and bailed me out”

IDPs in Wuro-Patuji and Chandal community in Mubi, Adamawa State are faced with the challenge of accessing potable water and illegal land acquisition on the part of some residents of the host communities. One of the residents of Wuro-Patuji, Moses Marcel who works as a Catechist with the Catholic Church in the community, narrates how someone related to the Emir of Mubi, forcefully took a land that was purchased by his mother. He went further to explain that he had a document stating his mother as the owner. In the document he claimed, are witnesses to the purchase of the land who are afraid to affirm that his mother is the owner.

“My own case is the issue of land”, he says. “In December 5 2010, my mother bought a plot of land for N140,000. She used to sell bread in one old motor park in Mubi, from the proceeds, she started building a house gradually. When the building got to lintel level in 2014, one man who related to the Emir of Mubi claimed that that the land belonged to him. When she bought the land, she was given this document (displays document for me to see). Now some of the people who acted as witnesses to the purchase of the land are denying that they know nothing of it, and their names are here”. After pointing at the names of the witnesses in the document, he narrated further that his sister had to sell some of her belongings to raise money to buy the land again from the Emir’s relative.

“So after all this, my sister sold her land and brought the money to the man before we could go on with the building of our house”

Moving on to Chandal community, the topography is such that makes access to water a challenge as the water aquifer is too deep. This lack of water leads to lots of health challenges, especially for women and children. The community used to be a graveyard before it was handed over to the IDPs by the Emir. Presently, most of the IDPs in this place live in rented houses, courtesy of the Cash-for-Shelter scheme operated by the Norwegian Refugee Council. Again, the people of Mubi, renowned for their love for education and mercantilism have been building houses for the IDPs to rent either monthly or annually.

An official of the Norwegian Refugee Council, based in Mubi, Mr. Nelson Jebes, gives more insight into the activities of the NRC and similar NGOs in their bid to give these IDPs a new lease of life. “We try to capture the beneficiaries of our information and counseling sessions in order for us to know communities that have not been reached. We don’t go from house to house but we get the community leaders to gather the people while we organize the counseling and legal assistance sessions for them. We help them with shelter, and in order to do that, we have to obtain national identity cards for them. Most of the houses in Mubi don’t have documents so we try to draft Memorandum of Understanding which acts as proof of ownership”

A critical assessment of the situation in these three North-eastern states reveals the need for urgent attention to be given to these IDPs, particular the widows, women and children among them. This should be the focus of the state governments rather than making arrangement for a premature return to their former communities that still bears harrowing memories for them.  Since the creation of the Kampala convention by the African Union in 2012, this specifically establishes state responsibilities for the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons, whose displacement is the result of “natural or human made disasters, including climate change”. This convention is the world’s first continental instrument that legally binds governments to protect the rights and well being of people forced to flee their home by conflict, violence disasters and human rights abuses. The question then is have the North-Eastern States of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa followed the dictates of the convention? Or has insurgency become a perpetual excuse for their inability to really assist these IDPs rather than leaving all the work for NGOs that are funded by donor agencies.


Jude Nwabuokei is a journalist, writer and broadcast producer based in Lagos, Nigeria

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