A drive through the beautiful city of Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is likely to elicit the feeling that most residents are doing well and are able to meet up their basic needs. The city’s façade could erroneously give the impression that everyone can afford food, clean water, clothing, shelter, toilets, and transportation. This rosy picture is many times far from reality. A good number of Abuja residents live in the outskirts and travel down to the city on a daily bases for work or business. This journey to and from the satellite towns is not an easy one considering the distance. The other option of getting an affordable accommodation within the city is not one many residents with poorly paid jobs can afford.
If regular citizens with paid jobs barely manage to get by, the case of poor and vulnerable citizens like persons displaced by armed conflicts is even worse off. Behind the Abuja facade, many Internally Displaced People’s (IDP’s) camps abound. They play host to Nigerians who manage to escape the onslaught of Boko Haram terrorists. A group of such IDPs are currently residing at the Durumi IDP camp, just a few meters from the popular Area 1. The residents there have been displaced for over six years since their communities came under attacks by Boko Haram.
This humble life of theirs is now very expensive as they now live with no choice but begging and waiting on good spirited citizens or organisations to fend for them. Since the insurgency started in the north east particularly in Borno state with men as main targets of the terrorists, a lot of women who relied on men as bread winners had to resort to fending for themselves and their children. Through a field visit facilitated by PAGED Initiative, a civic group working on issues of displacement, The Explainer was able to interact with residents of the Durumi camp. One of the high points of the field visit was the screening of Uprooted, a documentary on coping with the realities of internal displacement.
According to PAGEDInitiative’s Programme Director Ummi Bukar, it was imperative to advocate for the vulnerable bearing in mind the changing roles between men and women in the society. She said there were instances where the men ran away from being killed by terrorists and the women knew where they ran to, but will never reveal this just to protect their. She informed that they were other instances where a lot of women have died protecting the lives of their the men.
“Again, lots of women have been abducted because they refused to disclose where their husbands ran to. Sometimes again the women can’t run for their lives because they cannot leave their children behind and so, they sacrifice themselves and their integrity,” she explained.
The field visit was an opportunity for IDPs in the camp to recount their harrowing ordeals in the hands of the blood thirsty Boko Haram terrorists. Amina Zubairu for instance was a food vendor who lived a normal and peaceful life in Gwoza, Borno state until Boko Haram attacked and she had to run for dear life. Currently residing in Durumi IDP camp, she reminisced about life before now, especially the value in having a source of income and means of survival.
Recounting her ordeal she said, “I went to buy foodstuff and other things from the market because I sell cooked food to drivers and passengers at the motor park. It was at that point I heard gunshots all over. We soon realised it was the Boko Haram terrorists who had invaded the town, killing anyone at sight and kidnapping young boys, who they apparently forced to join them in their evil activities. I rushed home but my husband was not at home.
“I was rushing out with my children when I saw him hurrying back. I advised him to go somewhere else, and not use the main road because the terrorists had taken positions there. But he insisted on going home to drop his bicycle.
Amina recalledthat everybody was running for safety, she didnt know her husband’s whereabouts after dropping his bicycle, she had to look for him when the gunshots subsided to be sure he was alive so they can all be together.
“I checked every corpse, which littered the community but he wasnt there. I even opened a corpse wearing similar cloth as his, thinking it was him but it wasn’t. I walked within heap of corpses and I fell on my knees. The girl I was walking together with had to draw me back and we could not go further,” she said.
While still looking for her husband she took care of her children and other children who were not hers, disguising the boys amongst them just to protect them from being taken away. Amina narrated further how the terrorists came back threatening them with guns to reveal the hiding places of their husband but she stood her ground, saying she didnt know where he is.
“Boko haram met us there and they asked about the whereabouts of our husbands. We told them that we are also looking for them. Myself and one other woman disguised the children we escaped with into girls but the Boko Haram members were suspicious and they got hold of one of the boys, removed his veil, asked him if he was a boy or not and told everyone there to remove their veils and head ties.”
“In the morning, I went to where the incident took place and checked for his corpse but he was not there. I only saw corpses of children whom we buried continuously to the extent we got tired. It was later I got message that my husband wasn’t killed.
“So many women saw my courage with the Boko Harm and believed that I help children/youth escape successfully. At times, they come begging me to come help them lead the escape route for their children. I make them gather these young boys, lead them to the forest and tell them to communicate with us when they have reached Madagali.
“I can recall I have helped more than seventy Boys escape. I stayed in Gowza for two weeks leading children through escape routes. I go house to house where relatives, friends and families are and help them escape,” she said.
After escaping from those terrifying events, Amina found her way to the IDP camp in Durumi, where she has been engaging in petty trading as a means of getting by.
“I came and they offered me a place and space for my trade too and thank God I am buoyant enough to assist some other persons; I earn daily here. I have four children and another two I brought along and I am taking care of them, myself, and even relations and I thank God.
Similarly, 35 year old Aisha Ahmad recalled that her husband, who works as a butcher had gone out to collect money for the job he did when they heard gunshots. She said that the gunshots subsided some hours later and her husband ran back home, took some money and letf her with the kids to go hide at the mountain top. The result of that abrupt move by her husband to escape from the terrorists is that Aisha is now saddled with the burden of fending for the family.
“Most of us women in Gwoza are not into trade, we rely on our husbands who are provide for us because we don’t know how to source for any income outside of what our husbands give us for family upkeep. The day the insurgency happened in our community, my husband was at the market to get payment for the cows he has butchered. He heard the gunshots at the market and hurriedly rushed back home.
“Before he could arrive, I got my six children ready. We started trekking from Gwoza to Madagali, there was no food during the whole of that journey. We starved for much of the way, except when we found garri. ” Luckily we met some of our townsmen and they called my husband to pick us and he took us to the IDP Camp at Uba where we spent almost seven days.”
The situation got worse for Aisha and her children because there was no source of income, her had nothing else to do after running away. “I struggled to survive along with the children. Back then while we were leaving our town to Madagali, one of my child fell sick and I had to tie him on my back all along from Gwoza to Madagali. When we reached, I discovered that his body has swollen all over. And whenever he urinates, it reaches almost an hour before he stops. That was how we moved to Maiduguri with the ailment.
“For now, we prefer living here in Abuja IDP camp for now because Boko Haram terrorists are still killing people out there. The only problem with living in Abuja is that the government doesn’t recognise us here so we only hope on charity organizations to survive.” she said.
She expressed the desire of the IDPs for peace to return to their war torn communities so they could all return to their previous livelihoods, rather than waiting on the good will of others to survive.”Our men ride commercial motorcycles while we (women) are into trade of various skills like tailoring, grinding, food vendors, selling cooked food by hawking. We appreciate the peace we enjoy here because some of us here have passed through Uba to Mubi, Yola, etc. We also wish peace will be restored so that we can go back to our villages where we don’t have to beg for everything.”