For many who fled the attacks of Boko Haram in North-east Nigeria and others internally displaced by the activities of the Lagos State Government, life revolves around survival to beat hunger, and ultimately death arising from malnutrition. In this two-part series, KEMI BUSARIwho visited some of these IDPs in their new homes tells their sordid stories.

She sat clutching four-year-old Miracle to her bosom. With that hand six months ago, Comfort, 25, almost buried her first child, Godin, now six.

Godin had been down on Typhoid fever but all Comfort and her husband could do to manage the situation was feed him with paracetamol – what they could afford. Godin survived but the ailment kept reoccurring.

The setting is a room apartment in Debojo, Ibeju Lekki Local Government Area of Lagos State. Outside the apartment, the chants of other children, excited by the goodies of Eid-al-Fitr, could be heard blaring; but Godin and Miracle, Comfort’s divine gifts now almost turning into her curse, dare not join in the merriment.

Before the arrival of this reporter, they were lying on a bug-infested bed; sick, looking skinny, weak and hungry.

“Please help me, my children need food,” Comfort pleaded teary-eyed. “If I cook for them in the morning, before they will see another food, it’s till the next morning. Just as they are now, I have fed them twice today. They ate tuwo (local delicacy) in the morning and tuwo again in the afternoon. That’s it for the day, they won’t eat anything again.”

Two meals for the family do not come frequently; and only days of celebrations such as when Muslim neighbours mark the end of the Ramadan fast could they access such, as gifts.

TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE

Flash back to three years ago. Comfort and her two children fed well and enjoyed the bounty of a peaceful agrarian community of Auno, a village some 24 km east of Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.

The villagers had been warned of an imminent attack by the Boko Haram, but they paid little heed; until one night when horror struck.

Comfort and her kinsmen came back from the farm after the day’s business and were ready to retire when Boko Haram insurgents entered her village; burning houses, killing and maiming people.

When the dust settled the next day, Comfort, her two children and a few others who were lucky to escape the onslaught found themselves in the bush. For the next three days, none would taste food, she said.

“We ran into the bush when they came. We didn’t know where we were going but just wanted to escape from the terrorists. We didn’t eat anything throughout, but God kept us,” she said recalling the experience.

That incident kick-started her journey to Lagos where her husband, Moses, has been working as a commercial motorcyclist since running away from village, to escape capture by terrorists, early 2015.

But this move turned out for the worse. Since her arrival, the family could only afford to feed on one meal per day, rarely two and never three. Their meals are either rice, beans or garri.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Malnutrition is carving an indelible mark in the lives of her children as they have become susceptible to illnesses and diseases. On this day, both of them had high temperature and coughed at intervals while the interview with their mum lasted.

They are obviously sick but Comfort believes the sickness would not be cured by paracetamol she miraculously used in reviving Godin months ago.

“There is no money to feed these children. It is when his brothers (referring to his husband) come that they use to give us small money. Sometimes, they bring garri for us.

“My children are sick because of this condition. Sometimes after eating they will tell me mummy, I’m not satisfied. Both have been sick for a month. There is no money to take them to hospital.”

Her predicament could be understood, her husband has been unemployed for up to five months.

Like Comfort’s wards, a sizeable number of children who along with their parents escaped Boko Haram attack in North-east Nigeria live in Debojo and other unofficial IDP camps in Lagos, Nigeria’s wealthiest state. They are joined in this this edgy situation by displaced residents of Otodo Gbame, in Lekki who were forced out of their homes by the Lagos State Government. They all share a common problem; hunger.

DEBOJO: COMMUNITY OF IDPs

Debojo, a beach town few kilometres to the all-important Lekki Free Trade Zone was bubbling with life on Friday, June 15, when this reporter visited. It was Sallah Day. The community is one of those harbouring thousands of Boko Haram evictees.

Soon, the first private free trade zone in Nigeria and the biggest in West Africa, is expected to spring up at the zone with facilities such as airport, land and sea ports, largest oil refinery in Africa, a fertiliser plant, petrochemical plant, a sub-sea gas pipeline project among others.

The free trade zone would turn out to be a picture perfect of what Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode, and his predecessors conceived, for the state, whose internal revenue dwarfs that of all other Nigerian states.

Blighting this picture however, is a community of the wretched, sick and hungry. Debojo is just a stone-throw from the Lekki Free Trade Zone.

The community houses about 800 families, many of who were forced to relocate from either Borno, Adamawa or Yobe – three states most affected by the activities of Boko Haram in the North-eastern part of the country.

Over two million people have been displaced from their homes since the Boko Haram insurgency started in 2009.

A few took residence in established camps, most of which are in and around Maiduguri. Others sought refuge in neighbouring states and Abuja. Some in neighbouring countries like Niger Republic and Cameroon. Others preferred to go far away, to places like Lagos, to start a new life.

Debojo hosts one of the largest concentration of IDPs in Lagos.

NO LONGER MY CHILDREN – WIDOW

Rhoda Ibrahim is one of those who ‘escaped’ to Lagos in search of survival. She resides in a room apartment on number 27 Debojo Street, Ibeju Lekki.

Her village, Chibok, came under fierce attack sometime in March 2015. Rhoda said many of her relatives died in this attack. That was the last straw she, her husband and five children could bear. But a bigger tragedy lay ahead, unknown to her.

Chibok is mostly known for an attack launched by the Boko Haram sect on the night of 14 to 15 April, 2014, where 276 female students were kidnapped from the Government Secondary School in the town. About 100 of the girls are still believed to be with their abductors.

One month after settling down in Lagos, her husband, involved in illegal oil bunkering, died in mysterious circumstance which she safely chooses to tag accident.

Since her husband died in April 2015, a month after he set up a provision shop for her, she has been living on the goodwill of good Samaritans.

“If you are talking about food, then these children are no longer my children. It is people that are helping me to feed them. They eat once or twice in a day. Rice in the morning and garri in the afternoon. I love my children but I don’t know any possible way to cater for them. I want people to help me before hunger kills them,” she said pointing to the hopelessness of an empty shop.

The situation has forced Rhoda to part with her first child, Hannatu, 15, who is currently under the care of a church. Also heeding the advice of relatives, Rhoda in January enrolled her second child, Jacob, 13, in a vulcaniser’s shop.

She is left with Ruth, 10, Ladi, 4 and Joy, 4, all whom are out of school, to cater for.

Rhoda was afraid her woes may be compounded soon as Joy is currently sick and has not been taking enough food.

“This one, she’s not well as you see her (pointing to Joy).”

Asked if the child was taken for medication, Rhoda replied in the negative.

“With this condition? How will I take her to hospital when they haven’t eaten?” she snapped.

Beyond a medical diagnosis, frequent and timely plates of good food, coupled with vitamins intake could change the narrative of the family for the better.

“Our problem is food. My children are suffering. I don’t want them to die. There is land for us to farm back home but we dare not go back now.”

SAD NATIONAL REALITY

In 2017, the United Nations Children Funds (UNICEF) declared that about 11 million children in Nigeria are suffering from acute malnutrition, with the North-east and North-west regions among the worst hit.