A typical story of Internal Displaced Persons (IDPs) is usually set somewhere in Northern Nigeria – Borno, Adamawa, Kano, Kaduna, Plateau, Nassarawa, Taraba, Abuja – in a camp where they are being cared for by NEMA, NGOs and international agencies. The truth is there are thousands of IDPs spread across the country, some living with relatives and friends, others just running as far away as possible from the Boko Haram insurgency and stopping when they run out of money to travel.
Jumai Jesse had been married for less than two months when her village in Lassa LGA in Borno State was attacked. They ran into the bush but were pursued. Her father and brother-in-law were caught, taken back and killed. The rest of her family and other villagers spent a month in the bush hiding before they made it to a nearby town and from there travelled to different places where they have relatives. Jumai and her husband came to Lagos.
Jumai is one of several hundreds IDPs in Lagos according to Mrs Victoria Tarfa, Secretary of the Welfare Committee, Church of the Brethren in Magodo, Lagos State. The church which has its headquarters in Borno is the first port of call for a lot of IDPs because it is where they worship back home. “We had a few people in the church and it was brought to our knowledge. In the first week we had fifty people. We had to take care of the basics, food and cash. We had to give foodstuff to the people hosting them to ease the burden. The following week we got about forty unaccompanied minors below the age of fourteen.”
One of the minors is fourteen-year-old Joseph from Chibok who came to Lagos in July, 2014. “I left my parents in Chibok. Boko Haram was destroying things and killing people so my parents sent me stay with my brother. I haven’t spoken to my parents in a long time because of bad network,” he said. Joseph who was in JSS Three before leaving home, no longer goes to school. His brother is a security guard and cannot afford the expenses.
I spoke to Joseph after a Sunday Service at Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (EYN) as Church of the Brethren is popularly known. I came on the invitation of Sesôr, an NGO that provides support to displaced persons. They visited the church with relief materials for the IDPs, as they had done to camps in Plateau, Gombe and Adamawa.
Moving to Lagos, for people used to the simplicity and slow pace of a rural setting is hard, more so when you are dependent on the goodwill of others for your survival. It is no wonder that most of the IDPs in Lagos want to return home as soon as possible. As some have. As soon as they hear on the news that Boko Haram has been routed from their villages, they travel back. “We don’t have a clear idea of how many people we have because they keep going and coming,” a member of the church’s welfare committee said. Some of the men have gotten jobs as security guards, okada riders or on construction sites; a few wives engage in petty trading. The children do not go to school because the parents cannot afford it and they believe that they will soon return home.
While the church does all it can to help, taking collections and partnering with church members who donate a certain amount each month, it is not possible to meet every need. “Some of them came because they have relatives in Lagos. Over half of the relatives are okada and keke riders. There are a lot of challenges with running a camp so we just find out where they are staying and help as we can. For the children we do all we can but we cannot pay fees. We just try to provide the basics and keep them out of trouble. We just hope the north becomes safe so they can look for their parents because some don’t know where their parents are.”
I couldn’t show any emotion as I spoke to some of the IDPs. They told their stories with such detachment I steeled myself from feeling anything. It would have been disrespectful to the people who had lived through so much terror and pain and were still standing and showed so much strength, for me to do anything less. Even when one of the women broke down in tears as she talked about her sister who took ill while they were in hiding and died, my mask didn’t slip. I listened to so many stories, stories of loss: lives and possessions, and in the case of Monica Tama, two of her children, who are still missing.
“In Michika, in my area where I’m staying, we were there when Boko Haram invaded our area. They came and burned down our church, that’s how we left our village and trekked to Mubi. We spent a day in Mubi, but they invaded Mubi too. I had my aunty who is married in Mubi, so I decided to see my aunty if it’s possible for us to go to Yola.” In the process of leaving Yola, they met with Boko Haram insurgents on the road and her aunty’s husband who was a lecturer at the Federal Polytechnic; his brother and his student were killed. “They took us back to the house and locked us there. The next day they brought us out and told us they will teach us how to become Muslims. I could see aeroplanes flying around. I had five of my kids with me, that of my aunty, five. They now took us into a big flat. An airplane was hovering around. The airplane now bombed the house. We ran into a room and broke the window and went out. I was calling my older children, none of them answered. After running without seeing my kids, I had to go back to the house. None of them was there. I ran and the Boko Haram people caught me again. I stayed with them for one month. They were teaching us how to read the Koran. They taught us almost six prayers. They would beat us. I told them my children are not there I want to go and look for them. They said what I have left, I have left. Whenever we were praying the Muslim prayer in our heart we would say in the name of God the Father and the son and the Holy Spirit. We also fasted. God opened a way for us one day. We jumped through the fence and ran. They followed us, chasing after us with guns. Someone hid us in their house. When soldiers entered Mubi, that how I was able to leave Mubi to Yola and started calling people. They told me they got two of my kids in the bush, a pastor found them. But two of the kids up till today I have not heard about them.” Monica had the youngest child who was a few months old at the time with her all through the experience she had. The two missing children are girls, ages four and ten.
The IDPs have been in Lagos for times ranging from eighteen months to the most recent arrival, Bitrus Ishaya who has been in Lagos for two weeks. He had been in Cameroon for a year. Before that, he hid in the mountains where on one of their forays down, his brother was killed. “I was one of the last to leave the village and I was captured by Boko Haram but I escaped to the mountain. There were soldiers, almost five hundred of them, but they said the situation was more than them. They told us if we want to survive to follow them to Cameroon, so we did. Food and cloth is not a problem but money is so I came to Lagos to work. I left my wife and three children there.”
Dr. Caleb Audu who interpreted for us has not been untouched by the crises even though he lives and works in Lagos. He is originally from Kala LGA in Borno State. “My grandfather still stays there. I was told there was a day he went to the market, people ran away and he refused to run. He said he is old. They (Boko Haram) came to the market. Everybody ran away and left him there. They still killed some people but he was not harmed.” He gave some insight on why some people still choose to remain in the crisis areas despite the trouble. “My parents are in Maiduguri town. They have brothers and sisters. These brothers and sisters are married, they have kids. How many people am I going to move down to Lagos?”
Northerners, irrespective of specific tribe, are a tightly knit people. In trying to clarify the relationships with the people they had come to live with, I realised in many cases, there weren’t blood relations. Very often, brother or sister referred to relations as far as third cousins. You’ll find a northerner willing to take someone in, feed and cater for them on the strength of ‘we are from the same village.’ I believe this goodwill makes it difficult to put a number to the IDPs in Lagos (and other places) as they just move in with their ‘brothers’. It has changed the way I look at the young northern men living and working around me. They could just be struggling to feed a swollen household.
Though relatively safe here in Lagos, a good number of IDPs still have family members at home whom they cannot bring down to Lagos where they are just managing to survive.
As Simon Ibrahim who was a successful farmer in Hong LGA, Adamawa before the crisis but now works as a security guard said, “Lagos is for big man not for poor man. To rent house in Lagos is not easy.”
The only hope they have is that Boko Haram will be dealt with once and for all and they can go back to their villages.
Sesôr means ‘we will repair’ in Tiv (a language spoken by about 6 million people in Benue State in Nigeria) and was founded in 2009 and then registered as a Trustee in 2010. Sesôr went on to provide relief materials such as food and clothing to affected villagers. Sesôr has since supported and advocated for survivors of a flood emergency in Benue and continues to provide support to persons who have been displaced as a result of conflict (farmer-herder crises) and terror attacks in Adamawa, Benue, Gombe, Plateau and Taraba by providing relief materials such as food and clothing and by advocating for their rights. Find out more about them here or call 08023143068 and 09094263601.
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