More than 500,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Benue State are still in camps and unable to return home because of insecurity two years after their communities were attacked by herdsmen, HumAngle has learnt.
During the attacks, the attackers killed and maimed their victims and in addition burnt their houses and other properties and so forced survivors to move into camps.
When HumAngle visited some of the IDPs camps, it found that majority of the inmates were women, children and the aged who lacked strength to fend for themselves.
At Abagana, one of the official camps on Makurdi-Lafia Road, the Camp Manager, Mr James Iorkyaa, said that many of the IDPs would not be able to return to their communities because those places were unsafe.
According to him, IDPs from the Torkula axis in Guma Local Government Area of the state cannot return home even if they want to because the herdsmen who chased them away are still occupying their communities and grazing their flocks freely.
Iorkyaa said some of the IDPs in his camp had made attempts to return to their farmlands due to hunger but were forced to return to the camp on sighting herdsmen and their animals on the farms.
Efforts made so far
He said the state and federal government had tried to end fighting in the affected areas by deploying soldiers but that the troops were not enough to ensure law and order in communities.
He called on the government to increase the number of military men in the boundary areas and villages between Nasarawa and Benue states, pointing out that if the villagers could be assured of adequate security of their lives and properties, many would go home.
Welfare condition of the IDPs
Commenting on the welfare and health of the IDPs, Iorkyaa said God is helping them as there had not been any major outbreak of diseases in the camp.
He also said some non-governmental organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders (Medicins Sans Frontiers) and health workers from the state Ministry of Health usually came around to attend to health needs of inmates.
He, however, said serious medical cases were usually referred to the Benue State Teaching Hospital and Saint Theresa’s Hospital in Makurdi town.
A health officer who was seen treating attending to sick persons at the camp told HumAngle that he and members of his team were from Medecins Sans Frontiers.
He said he was just assisting and would not talk to the media in the absence of the doctor in-charge.
Mr Denis Barki, one of the IDPs at the Abagana camp, said he was a husband of three wives with 14 children.
He said the major problem of the IDPs was food and that he had to go out every day to look for food for his family.
“As you can see, I have to go look for this cassava. I am about processing it for my family, ” Barki said, stressing that the condition was not favourable at all.
According to him, the government is no longer doing enough with regards to the feeding of inmates of the camp.
Some of the IDPs have become idle men in the camp, Barki said and added that he did not want to be idle and so resorted to going outside the camp to look for food in the surrounding villages.
“We want to go back to our communities. Christmas is approaching, my children and I would have loved to celebrate the season in our place but we can’t.
“It is difficult for us here. The government is no longer helping us at all. If only we are able to go back to our village and live our lives things wouldn’t have been this stressful,” he said.
Barki told HumAngle that some of the youth and men who were strong had gone out to look for food for their families leaving the aged behind.
Some aged men who were seen in the camp discussing and playing the game of cards said they just had to keep themselves busy.
They said their major problem in the camp was the lack of food.
They also said water sometimes could be a challenge but that with the understanding of the host community, they usually went out to fetch water whenever there was shortage in the camp.
The Mbawa camp in Daudu, Guma Local Government Area was overcrowded with large numbers of women and children.
One of the IDPs currently residing outside the camp, Tough Isaac, said the inmates were afraid of leaving the camp.
Isaac said the major problem in the camp was inadequate supply of food and attributed the situation to the fact that donor agencies had reduced their support drastically.
He said that some villages, including Torkula, Utyondo and Kaseyo in Guma Local Government Area, were not accessible because of the presence of herdsmen.
The story is however different in Makurdi Local Government Area as some of the IDPs from Anter axis of Mbala Council Ward in Makurdi have returned to their farmlands to carry out their farming activities.
A HumAngle investigation reveals that their return was made possible by the heavy presence soldiers
In 2019, the Benue State Government said that it was working towards releasing IDPs in eight camps across the state.
The Executive Secretary of the State Emergency Management Agency, Mr Emmanuel Shior, who announced the plan, explained that the IDPs would be given financial support to re-start their lives.
Shior said IDPs living in his communities out-numbered those currently in the camps.
He said the government had made efforts to alleviate the sufferings of the IDPs but that some had expressed their willingness to return home.
“We have done enough to take care of them but they want to return to their homes,” Shior Said but stressed that some of the communities were still unsafe as herders were still grazing their animals in the areas.
He said his village in Tse Torshima in Guma Local Government Area was not an exception as the herdsmen were still present with their flock.
According to him, some of the people from the area are still in IDPs camps, while some live with friends or relatives in the IDPs host communities.
He called on President Muhammadu Buhari to keep his promise made through the vice-president when he visited states that were ravaged and destroyed during armed herdsmen attacks two years ago.
He said if part of the N10 billion earmarked for states faced with similar security problems was given to Benue State, it would be able to carry out reconstruction of houses and resettle the attack victims.