Despite millions of dollars being spent as humanitarian aid a huge number of the over 2 million displaced victims of the Boko Haram insurgency in northeastern Nigeria continue to grapple with hunger and severe malnutrition
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Yobe state continue to suffer appalling poverty, despite the enormous resources invested in relief efforts by the Nigerian government and international organisations.
The Boko Haram insurgency has forced more than two million people to flee their homes in northeastern Nigeria and claimed the lives of over 20,000 others.
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Yobe has been the second worst state affected by the violence with nine IDP camps across the state housing more than 130,000 people.
Many IDPs have found shelter in informal camps, while others have taken refuge with friends and relatives within Nigeria and across the border in neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroun.
Government agencies have been accused of diverting aid meant for IDPs in the six states of Nigeria’s northeastern region.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the federal government’s aid distribution agency and its counterparts at state level, the State Emergency Management Agencies (SEMAs), have all come under fire for graft and inefficiency.
Civil society groups complain that poor coordination and a lack of oversight means that traditional leaders, local politicians and officials from the relief agencies themselves have been allowed to divert aid.
CRUCIAL ITEMS STOLEN
In Geidam, a local government area in the north of Yobe, NEMA and FEMA officials have been accused of allowing aid to go astray.
Sani Babagana, a United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) IDP protection monitor in Geidam, recounted what happened after a shipment of relief materials including rice, milk and soap arrived at Geidam town last June.
“Surprisingly, after the materials were delivered and received by the authorities of the local council, only very few of the IDPs benefitted from the materials,” Babagana said. “The NEMA officials bribed the local council officials by giving them a portion of the items while they carted away the bulk of the relief.”
That same month, Babagana continued, a team of aid workers from Yobe SEMA came to Geidam to deliver another batch of relief materials that included rice, cooking oil, sugar, millet, spaghetti, soap, second-hand clothes and mosquito nets.
“Unbelievably, as the delivery of the relief materials coincided with the holy Muslim month of Ramadan and was close to the Muslim Eid al Fitr festival, [a local official] distributed most of the items to politicians, associates and cronies in the area, with fewer than half of the items going to the IDPs
A corrupt local official stole much of this delivery, he continued.
“Unbelievably, as the delivery of the relief materials coincided with the holy Muslim month of Ramadan and was close to the Muslim Eid al Fitr festival, [a local official] distributed most of the items to politicians, associates and cronies in the area, with fewer than half of the items going to the IDPs.
“Later, many of the items were seen being sold openly at the local market in Geidam,” Babagana said.
Geidam resident Grema Goni said that he knew of friends who were not IDPS who received aid items they were not entitled to.
Speaking on the allegations of aid diversion in Yobe, NEMA spokesman Sani Datti said his agency was never directly involved in aid distribution at state level. Instead, they liaised with the various SEMAs to reach the IDPs.
“NEMA works through SEMAs in the distribution of the aid materials, we have [a memorandum of understanding] with the states on distribution of aid to the IDPs in camps and host communities,” he said. “So, it is the responsibility of the state governments to ensure judicious distribution of the aid.”
Musa Idi Jidawa, the executive secretary of Yobe SEMA, said he was not authorised to speak to the media and referred all questions to Abubakar Ali, the chairman of Yobe’s IDP committee who is also the deputy governor of the state.
However he could not be reached for comment, despite many attempts including a visit to his office in Government House, Damaturu.
Multiple efforts to reach the press secretary of the governor of Yobe state, Abdullahi Bego, were also unsuccessful.
Various international organisations deliver aid to the IDPs in northeastern Nigeria, including Yobe state. They include the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Action Against Hunger (ACF) and a number of United Nations (UN) agencies.
They also face logistical challenges.
For example, the ICRC operates a cash support scheme in Yobe, whereby bank accounts are opened in the name of the IDPs who are then issued with automated teller machine (ATM) cards so they can access funds.
Each month, the ICRC pays the sum of N40,000 to each of the IDPs.
However, logistical problems mean that many IDPs cannot access these funds.
Makinta Shettima, an elderly IDP living in the Malam Matari community of Damaturu, said that even though an account had been opened for him with the United Bank for Africa (UBA), he had never received an ATm card.
However, he had received notifications of cash withdrawals from his account, indicating that someone else had his card and was using it to withdraw money.
Buba Zabu is the secretary of the Nigerian Red Cross Society in Yobe State, the organisation via which the ICRC is implementing the scheme.
He said that the UBA was to blame for the mix-up due to the naming system they had chosen for the cards.
“The Kanuris, an African ethnic group which is also found in Borno state, northeast Nigeria, have a culture of naming their children after prominent citizens including Islamic scholars and top government officials, which is why in a single community you may find over 100 persons bearing the same name,” he explained.
“[That’s why] we advised UBA, which doesn’t understand the cultural dynamics of the Kanuri people, to use three names on the ATM cards of the IDPs so as to guard against mixing up their cards. Unfortunately they didn’t.”
The bank instead used only two names and in some cases abbreviated titles even further. This meant, Zabu continued, that “IDPs who bear similar names ended up taking each other’s ATM cards, unintentionally”.
Charles Aigbe, the head of corporate communications at UBA, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
A MATTER OF SURVIVAL
The vast majority of the IDPs outside the state system receive scant help from the government. They have to depend on their host families, who also have very little, and take any menial job available.
Many IDPs in Yobe spent months living rough in the bush after fleeing Boko Haram, which meant that they were already suffering from malnutrition and other related diseases.
Usman Lawan Kachalla, the community leader in Malam Matari, a suburb of the town of Damaturu, said the IDPs there faced serious difficulties accessing food and other basic needs.
The IDPs in Malam Matari come from across Yobe and Borno states, including the entire population of a rural community called Gunne in the Demboa local government area of Borno.
Gunne leader Grema Modu said that the villagers had been attacked by Boko Haram fighters one night and all forced to flee to Damaturu.
“When Boko Haram attacked our village one evening after maghrib [evening] prayers we all left with nothing but the clothes we were wearing,” he said.
“We don’t get any support from the government, our people go to the bush to fetch firewood and sell. Others survive on tafasa [a wild vegetable] which we cook and add salt on to eat
Modu said they were yet to receive any help from either the Yobe state government or the federal government.
“We don’t get any support from the government, our people go to the bush to fetch firewood and sell. Others survive on tafasa [a wild vegetable] which we cook and add salt on to eat,” said Modu.
Government forces have had a number of significant victories in their fight against Boko Haram. In such cases, people previously displaced by the violence have been able to return home, but they still face hardship.
That was the case with Buni Yadi, the headquarters of Gujiba local government area of Yobe, which was liberated from Boko Haram in May 2016.
People were forced to survive by eating tafasa and reptiles they caught and cooked, according to community leader Ya’u Abdulrazaq.
He was among the first people to return to their homes in Buni Yadi town and described the situation as “tragic”.
“People are hungry, many have been rendered homeless, their homes having been destroyed,” Abdulrazaq said. “You come across people who were once healthy and living a decent life now emaciated and dressed in rag-tag clothes. They have lost everything they had and could not even afford food or decent clothing. People are surviving on tafasa – people eat whatever they can lay their hands on just to survive.”
Musa Umar, another Buni Yadi resident, said that such desperation had led to IDPs stealing aid from other people in their own situation.
“IDPs are snatching relief materials from fellow IDPs,” he said. “Just yesterday an IDP was on his way home having collected relief materials when a group of young men stopped him and forcefully took the aid materials from him. People are desperately hungry and so will not mind doing anything to get food just to survive.
“In fact, the majority of us in Buni Yadi survive on grasses as only a few could afford food. We are now happy that the rainy season has arrive which means there will be enough grass for us to feed on,” Umar said.
Three traditional rulers in Buni Yadi were recently suspended for diverting relief including rice and cooking oil meant for their communities.
Two of the men were the heads of the villages of Hausari and Gomari while the third was the leader of the local Fulani community.
Elsewhere in Buni Yadi, there were reports that aid distributed to widows on behalf of the Media Trust Limited, publishers of the Daily Trust newspaper, were forcibly collected by local vigilantes.
The culprits were later arrested.
LACK OF PREPARATION
Unlike the international organisations working in the state, NEMA and SEMA rarely carry out any kinds of needs assessment ahead of relief interventions.
“The IDPs need money for their social needs, however, unlike in Borno state where there are various cash transfer schemes by the state and local governments as well as philanthropists none exist here in Yobe. The IDPs are confined to the camps which means they can’t do anything to earn money and attend to their social needs
Ali Gambo, an IDPs protection officer for the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, said he doesn’t blame the IDPs for selling off the relief items arguing that the relief agencies decide for the IDPs what are their needs.
“The IDPs need money for their social needs, however, unlike in Borno state where there are various cash transfer schemes by the state and local governments as well as philanthropists none exist here in Yobe. The IDPs are confined to the camps which means they can’t do anything to earn money and attend to their social needs,” said Gambo
This means that IDPs frequently receive items they don’t need and end up selling them for a pittance so as to buy essential goods.
“Needs assessment is the bedrock of all humanitarian interventions,” said Aliyu Rambo, UNICEF’s child protection specialist in Yobe.
“It affords humanitarian organisations the opportunity to determine what IDPs need at different periods of time, maybe food items first, then non-food items and finally economic recovery programmes.”
Buba Zabu of the Nigerian Red Cross agreed.
“The Red Cross always carries out need assessment prior to interventions by sending volunteers to go to the communities where IDPs live and mingle with them freely, by so doing they will be able to know what are the challenges those IDPs are facing and based on which we prepare our interventions.”
Assessing the actual volume of relief under the remit of the Yobe SEMA and how it is distributed to IDPs is extremely difficult due to the lack of transparency of the aid delivery system.
Dauda Gombe is the secretary of Yobe’s Network for Civil Society Organisations, an NGO umbrella body.
He said that local NGOs were not part of the state’s IDP resettlement committee and that this allowed a “tendency for diversion and corruption” to flourish.
“There is a lack of understanding between civil society organisations and the Yobe state government – they see us as their opposition. If CSOs are not involved, the voice of the people is not there, who will watch them?
Dauda Gombe, president of the Northeast Youth Initiative Forum, a civil society organisation in Damaturu, agreed.
“We are not involved in IDPs’ issues,” Gombe said. “There is a lack of understanding between civil society organisations and the Yobe state government – they see us as their opposition. If CSOs are not involved, the voice of the people is not there, who will watch them?”
This story was researched with the support of Partners Global and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting