For the thousands of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) across Nigeria, the proverbial silver lining seems to never materialise. Their story is a steady chronicle of layers of agonies. In Abuja, the fate of these people is not different.
HumAngle was at the Durumi IDP camp, one of the most prominent of over 18 such camps in Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, on Wednesday, June 17, 2020 where 13 inmates are believed to have lost their lives since the COVID-19 lockdown.
Umar Gola, the spokesperson of the camp recounted to HumAngle the plight of the inmates of the camp. He confirmed that in the course of the COVID-19 lockdown, not less than 13 IDPs have lost their lives due to the government’s total neglect of their healthcare.
Some who went to the hospital and could not get authorisation letters had to sneak out to avoid harassment, he said, and “some even had to work as cleaners for like one week at the national hospital before they released them.”
“They locked some of our people in the toilet because they don’t have money to pay. And for some, it was the hospital attendants who gave them hints about how to run away,” he continued.
Gola said they were lucky to have individuals and churches who volunteered to foot the hospital bills of some of the IDPs who took ill. In other instances, the hospital itself released the treated patients out of its discretion.
The health of IDPs at the Durumi camp is worsening because of the unhygienic environment and lack of treated water. Camp officials believe that the unhygienic surrounding explains why malaria and typhoid are commonplace among the inmates.
Idris Ibrahim Halidu, 67, the camp’s coordinator and spokesperson for all Abuja-based IDPs, confirmed this. According to him, a minimum of five to 10 displaced persons die every month due to lack of care for health challenges that otherwise can easily be managed.
“Three emergencies were taken to the hospital in 2017 or early 2018, the hospital said they can’t take them. Why? They said FEMA said they should stop admitting IDP patients,” he narrated.
“We went to the CMD’s office, we went to Servicom, we went to FEMA only for the head of the health desk to tell me there is no money so they are to charge IDPs. ‘Even on paper you cannot make the promise to pay?’ They said yes.
“We can’t access the basic health needs, chloroquine, paracetamol, antimalarial, and so on that can save lives. The health challenges are paramount and nothing is being done. Something honestly has to be done.”
Gola said the Durumi camp was visited once in May by officials of the FCT Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) who brought 470 food packages containing rice, maize, beans, and other items.
But, for a camp with a population of 2,830 and providing shelter for 502 households, the food supply was merely like a finger drop in the ocean.
“We had to beg the families to collect one or two mudus each so that it could go round,” said Gola. The mudu is a popular, local unit of measurement in Nigeria and one, when used in relation to rice, contains about 1.3 kilogrammes.
The donation from the agency could not have lasted up to a week, Gola estimated, with some families having children that number up to 10. But, together with “less than 30 pieces of liquid handwash,” it is all they have managed to get.
Gola believes the federal government is not doing enough to help the IDPs especially considering new threats from the spread of the coronavirus.
“Most of us are struggling to have what to eat daily. Adults can drink water and go to sleep but children can’t; they don’t care that you don’t have and always complain of hunger and cry at night,” he told HumAngle.
Gola, who is one of the founding members of the IDP camp, was displaced Madagali, his hometown in Adamawa state after the Boko Haram attack in October 2014. He was a beans farmer who also ran an airport taxi. He lost his farm, his home and his car. He fled.
The Durumi IDP camp, according to Gola, was not built through any effort of the government. It exists, according to him, mostly through support from individuals, non-governmental organisations, religious bodies, and members of the National Youth Service Corps.
“You see that classroom,” he calls out for the reporter’s attention, pointing in the direction of a red brick bungalow with two rooms. “Three corps members put that building there. If they can do that, what of the politicians? What of our top government officials?”
He complained that the government has not visited the camp since the outbreak of COVID-19 to educate the IDPs on the use of masks, importance of handwashing, and general safety measures.
“Since the pandemic started, no sensitisation from any government, ministry, department, or agency. No medical outreach to alert us on the realities of the coronavirus, how to protect ourselves, and the measures to take. No single face mask, no sanitiser,” he complained.
“We only hear palliatives as a word, a new vocabulary that has entered our life.”
Halidu further brought the neglect of IDPs by the government in stark terms. According to him, officials of the National Commission For Refugees Migrants And Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI) have only supplied camps with relief packages on four occasions in the past six years.
HumAngle found out that although NCFRMI had occasionally facilitated free medical treatment for IDPs in Abuja but that arrangement was suspended about three months ago.
Gola, who in the past regularly went to the commission for authorisation letters, said no concrete reason was given for the development.
He said the commission alleged that the opportunity had been abused to get non-IDPs treated free of charge and complained that the federal government does not budget any funds for the programme.
“We have cried out to the media, we have written letters to various offices but nothing has been done,” he said.