The condition of Nigerians in the internally displaced persons camps is a grave irony. They managed to escape the sword of Boko Haram. Now, they are dying avoidably in their secure refuges. They are starving to death in the caring bosom of Nigeria!
The story of the misery of the IDPs and the haunting pictures of animate human skeletons that validate it speak to a level of famine is obtainable only in protracted civil wars. The suffering of these Nigerians is inexcusable for a country that boasts a stable and functional government; a country that is yet to devolve into a failed state.
Médecins Sans Frontières estimates that 6 malnourished Nigerian children die every single day in Bama IDP camp, Borno State. Bama camp has a population of 24,000 refugees: 15, 000 of that number is made up of children. One of every five children there is suffering severe acute malnutrition.
The statistics don’t make sense as numbers. They are abstract as figures alone. They become an arresting representation of a real life catastrophe when you study the photograph of the hunger-abused all-bone children.
Their heads are big burdens hanging on long, tiny necks. Their hairs are gray, sparse and brittle. Their eyes sink deep into their sockets. Their ribs show under their thin see-through skins. Their stomachs are bloated, pregnant with void and the muted mutiny of empty intestines.
And the kids look too hungry to laugh at anything. They seem incapable of crying. Their faces say they are dumb. Their tongues are cleaved to the roof of their mouths!
1200 refugees were interred in graves dug near Bama camp in 2015. 500 of them were children. 188 children died in the same Bama camp in May 2016: they were claimed by malnutrition and diarrhea.
UNICEF says the death rate could rise. If a drastic measure was not taken, an average of 134 Nigerian children would begin to expire daily. That is, 5 hungry Nigerian kids will die inside every one hour!
The death of a child –a single child–by starvation in peacetime and in a government sanctuary is an outrage. It is more so if the death involves a plurality and is a daily phenomenon. The situation in the IDP camps is at that intolerable level. And the gratuitous deaths represent an unanswerable rebuttal of Nigeria’s claim to statehood.
You are not a country when you comfortably watch starvation waste your most vulnerable and innocent citizens. You are not a country when allow the people that fled the instant butchery of terrorists and ran into your arms die of hunger and thirst in dozens. You are not a country when you collect the weak and the poor and abandon them to ‘mercy killing’ food denial!
UK’s Daily Telegraph recently reported this sad pretension. While its story was slanted, it laid bare the indisputable facts and figures of the thoroughgoing humanitarian crisis. Unfortunately, that didn’t please Aso Rock. A conceited Buhari presidency that has the strongest reflex of rushing to debate and discredit and denounce every appraisal that it does not reckon sufficiently flattering attacked the merits of the report!
Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, said that the London based newspaper had an agenda to manipulate public opinion and inflame passions against Buhari. He exculpated Buhari from the starvation related deaths of the kids at the IDP camps. He said Boko Haram was to blame for the kids fasting to eternity. The terrorists started the war, destroyed farmlands and sacked people from their homes!
Shehu would not admit that the oath of office president of Nigeria Buhari took on May 29, 2015 makes Buhari the protector of starving Nigerian kids. But Shehu would readily ask Nigerians to acknowledge that Buhari’s body language increased power supply to ”unprecedented heights”!
Reports have emerged, in the past few weeks, of a surge in the number of women and girls in the camps merchandising themselves. In the best of times, they are not prostitutes. Many of them are shy, self-respecting and decent individuals. But they have little or no choice in the camp. They cannot feast on their intangible virtue. They must negotiate their corporeal survival.
Stories are also coming out of the spread of AIDs and sexually transmitted diseases in the camps. Adults and teens are having unprotected sex and young girls are getting pregnant. They can’t buy condoms. They have zero income.
It is also being reported that the IDP camp has grown into a slave market. Men go there to take cheap brides. The ladies are glad to follow the strange ‘suitors’ home: they bet that life of a wife in her matrimonial home cannot but be better than the life of a beggar in a colony of beggars!
The IDPs are living in conditions that lie against their very humanity. Apart from lack of food, they have no toilets. 28,000 of them in Bama bathe and urinate and defecate in the open. This means that cholera has a good chance of killing some of them.
Last week, the hungry IDPs poured into the streets to protest against the diversion of their food . They had noticed they were being cheated by members of the central feeding committee. The dignitaries responsible for supplying them their rations were exploiting their hardship. They were hoarding the lion share of the foodstuff meant for the IDPs and auctioning some parts!
The rogues looting the food of the hungry children and their mothers are ‘public servants’. They grudge the IDPs tokens that can’t pass for a square meal. They serve the IDPs food samples just for the purpose of being seen as doing a salaried work!
But note that layers of theft apply here. There are the bosses. They steal the food right in their offices. They write on one or two documents. They sex up the calculations. And they make millions like the fuel subsidy con artists.
There is a class of officials that steal the food in the market. They take the rigged purchase orders and underbuy the listed items. They bring back fake invoices. And they pocket the ‘gain’.
And there are officials on the lowest rung of authority and closest to the field. They steal the food in between the market and IDP camp. They look at the quantity of the foodstuff bought, appropriate as much as they deem their due and send the remainder to the IDPs!
After these strata of thefts, tens of thousands of hungry mouths have only a sprinkling of bread crumbs to chew and digest and live by.
The corruption food chain is analogous to a consumption pecking order described in the scriptures: ” That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten: and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten.”
There is no way to put the robbery of the IDPs nicely. It is the dramatization of depravity. It is a sign that we have some Nigerians so overwhelmed by cupidity they will never see a wretched person they can’t rob!
Those Nigerians fattening themselves off the corpses of Nigerian kids are as despicable as Boko Haram terrorists. Those Nigerians looting bags of rice, tins of milk and packets of sugar meant for IDPs are unworthy of the name of man. They are heartless cannibals. They would eat human beings alive in the right jungle!
The local governments and state governments whose people make up the IDP demographic must participate in meeting the basic needs of the people. They must make sure that that kids have tooth brushes, that girls have soaps, that women have sanitary pads. Contractors should not get rich off the misfortune of the poor.
The IDPs are entitled to expect and receive modest care. It is not their fault that they are presently homeless and broke. Circumstances made them dependents. The lunacy of a death cult synergized with the under-performance of an ill-equipped Nigerian military to make them refugees.
So, the North East states and the federal government of Nigeria must severally and collectively compensate for their disappointment. Those who have lost their homes and loved ones to terrorism should not have to cry and riot to remind Nigeria that they exist. Their welfare should be one of our prime concerns.
Many of the kids in the camp are not receiving an education. There should be make-shift schools for them. But food has to come before nursery rhymes. The children have to eat; not starve to death. They have to eat balanced diets three times a day; not endure hunger that would render them a generation of retards.
No doubt, these are hard times for Nigeria itself. Nigeria has suddenly become poor. The ‘oil-rich’ nation that used to make billions of petrodollars and ‘earn excess crude’ windfall is presently struggling to remain a little above bankruptcy. Its oil revenue has plummeted due to the fall of the price of crude and incessant sabotages of oil installations by Niger Delta militants.
But the decline in revenue is not an extenuating factor in this humanitarian crisis. Nigeria is not so poor it cannot afford to feed, clothe and shelter citizens at the mercy of its compassion. Nigeria can cater for them and honor the dignity of their persons as human beings.
Feeding the IDPs is one test we shouldn’t be flunking. If we are not good at beating the world to win gold at the Olympics, we should, at least, excel in the non-competitive department of being human. We shouldn’t be watching Nigerian kids starve to death for no reason… other than our callousness and selfishness.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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