The Big Cover Up Over Deaths In IDP Camps

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  • The Lies And Half Truths Govt Officials Tell
  • More Revelations On Borno Rice Scandal
  • Buhari Angry, Shuns Gov Shettima’s  Entreaties

By James BWALA, Deputy Editor and Yahaya WAKILI Maiduguri

If what the Borno State Government claims to be spending on the feeding and welfare of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs monthly is anything to go by, no IDP has any cause dying of starvation or malnutrition. The Governor, Kashim Shettima claims that the Federal Government has not been assisting in taking care of these victims of human disaster and  that he spends an average of N660 million monthly on feeding alone, which takes fortunes out of the state’s resources. This is even when it is common knowledge that over N100 billion have gone to Borno State in form of cash and material donations since the crisis started. Former Chairman of the state Emergency Management Agency, Alhaji Grema Terab, the man who was directly in charge of the IDPs reveals that the monthly expenditure on IDPs was a far cry from what the Governor claims. The recent manhunt for Terab by the State Government may not be unconnected with that disclosure. Until now, the issue of mismanagement of resources due to IDPs was never made an issue of open debate, as what was uppermost in people’s minds was the issue of attacks, which had become the order of the day. President, Muhammadu Buhari, apparently not happy with Governor Shettima’s grandstanding on the issue of IDPs, had ordered the takeover of the management of IDPs from the Borno State Government. This came on the heels of Governor Shettima’s claims that only N345 Million had gone to Borno State as assistance from the Federal Government. The President has meanwhile told Nigerians that, billions of Naira was disbursed for the upkeep of IDPs across the North East, contrary to Governor Kashim Shettima’s explanations that, he only received about N345 million as assistance to cater for over 500,000 IDPs in Camps across Borno State. The conflicting claims may have lent credence to arguments that, the issue of IDPs is deliberately being manipulated for political reasons. Until the MSF issued a report, indicating that, about 24,000 Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs were in dire health situation with at least 30 people, mostly children dying every day from hunger and malnutrition, the condition of IDPs had been of secondary concern even in the media. But following this disclosure, which seemed to have opened a can of worms, Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, reluctantly confirmed the development, when it became obvious that there were no more rooms left for the manipulation of the situation, during his visit to Bama, where he found out that there were hundreds of highly malnourished and starving people in the camps and has to evacuate them to Maiduguri the state capital. Shettima reportedly ordered the relocation of 61 heavily underfed children to the intensive care unit of the Umaru Shehu Ultramodern Hospital in Maiduguri, where they are currently being treated. Another set of over 400 persons with lesser cases of malnourishment were also moved out of the camp to a special care unit for proper feeding and medication. Investigations however reveal that, prior to the reported cases of evacuation of affected IDPs for attention several hundreds of others have been dying and are still dying in other camps within the state capital. These facts were well known to the authorities, which claim to be spending hundreds of millions on taking care of these unfortunate victims of human disaster. Our correspondent reports that Governor Shettima called a meeting with media correspondents last week, shortly after the expose by MFR where he thanked them for helping him cover up the true situation of things in the IDP camps, even as he took on Bola Tinubu’s media outfit, TVC News as being sponsored to expose him. Shettima who as usual doles out money to suppress media reports on happenings in the state told journalists that, the issue of hunger, disease and deaths in IDP camps was being blown out of proportion, but reports available to us indicate that, the conditions were even under reported, as more deaths occur than being highlighted in the media. nationalTRAIL investigations reveal that diseases like HIV/ AIDS, syphilis, gonorrhea, hepatitis, tuberculosis, diarrhea and vomiting, acute malaria and above all starvation are the major causes of deaths in the camps, with an average of ten deaths per camp per week, which translates to about 220 people dying from these ailments within Maiduguri alone. Chairman of one of the seriously affected camps within Maiduguri told our correspondent that the situation in some of the camps in Maiduguri are even worse than what the Governor saw in Bama, but that their conditions hardly attract any serious mention. According to him, “we bury people here virtually every day, and some of the diseases that kill them were things we could manage under a normal situation, unfortunately our children are dying and our wives hardly get decent child delivery system so both mother and child is vulnerable”. Preferring to speak on conditions of anonymity, the camp leader told our correspondent that, death and diseases are common factors in the camps, but their conditions are often suppressed by the media, which he accused of compromise, thereby making them die in silence.  UNICEF Nigerian Representative, Jean Gough has warned that, some 50,000 children could starve to death this year in Borno state alone if nothing is done to arrest the humanitarian crises facing over 250,000 children under five years, who are suffering from Malnutrition. Jean Gough while observing that,  Northeast Nigeria has been torn apart in the last seven years by Boko Haram insurgents, noted that, not less than 20,000 people have been killed and more than 2.6 million others left homeless when Boko Haram attacked villages in the zone. According to him, with homes and businesses destroyed and farmland devastated, there will be serious problem, “Unless we reach these children with treatment, one in five of them will die. We cannot allow that to happen. We estimate that there will be almost a quarter of a million children under five suffering from severe acute malnutrition in Borno this year,” Unicef Nigeria representative Jean Gough added. Besides the official reports by NGOs and other humanitarian agencies that have been monitoring activities of IDPs, further investigations reveal that, Borno state Government officials have been in the habit of manipulating IDPs to further exploit their poor conditions, by soliciting sex favours, which may have been responsible for the widespread sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS which have been ravaging IDP camps. The officials, some of whom are directly in charge of the camps have been severally accused of misconducts, a development that has now compelled the Armed Forces to take direct charge of the management of all IDP camps. Sources said, for the past few weeks that they took over, the Armed Forces have discovered that the State Government has often been economical with the truth, as it affects the true situation of IDPs and the attendant claims of monthly expenditure on their upkeep. An independent survey conducted round the camps in Maiduguri last year indicted top Government officials as feeding fat on the misfortunes of IDPs, with direct references to the re-bagging of rice, donated for relief purposes into politically branded bags, while reports of some of the items found in the open market became a common knowledge. nationalTRAIL noted that, high levels of mortality, mostly from malnutrition or diarrhea, was also reported, suggesting that the crude death rate (CDR) may have surpassed 2/10,000/day over the past month. Although only limited information is available, humanitarian agencies have raised concerns that conditions within other IDP concentrations in these areas, like Banki camp near the Cameroon border, and the Pulka camp in Gwoza have been neglected. Only recently, it was revealed that some communities in southern borno including Askira/ Uba, Hawul, Chibok, Gwoza and Damboa even suffered greater devastation than some of the communities in the Lake Chad Basin Area, but that such communities are seldom mentioned when it comes to assisting IDPs. It is also true that, since the The Big Cover Up Over Deaths In IDP Camps CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 President Buhari Gov Shettima CONTINUED ON PAGE 6 escalation of the Fight in the northeast region between Boko Haram and the Nigerian Armed Forces in 2012, the conflict has concentrated around Lake Chad, particularly in Borno State. Government forces have retaken significant territory over the past year and Boko Haram fighters are reportedly concentrated around the Sambisa Forest and in remote areas of the Lake Chad region. Reports indicate that, even with the reopening of some routes for businesses in northern Borno State, linking  Abadam, Gubio, Guzamala, Kukawa, Mobbar, Nganzai, and parts of Dikwa, Marte, Mafa, Ngala, and Kala/Balge Local Government Areas, it  remain largely inaccessible to humanitarian agencies. This, we learnt are such that, the severity of food insecurity is unknown, but could be at critical levels given the impact of movement restrictions and ongoing conflict still prevalent in these areas. Some improvements in humanitarian access have occurred in recent weeks and assistance provided by the Government of Nigeria and other international organizations has partially mitigated the severity of food insecurity in some areas. However, reports of theft of relief materials donated to the various IDP camps by Government officials seem to have sparked off fresh controversies over the management of IDPs, with Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, often engaging in open confrontation with his citizens who accused him of diverting the relief items for political patronage. Following the alleged theft of hundreds of thousands of tons of rice and other relief materials in the state, the need for further urgent intervention by donors have become even more increasingly necessary in order to prevent significant loss of life. The theft of the items which the state Government attempted to deny, albeit unconvincingly is now under probe, and initial findings on the involvement of top Government officials may have angered President Muhammadu Buhari, who has refused to listen to entreaties from the Governor, since the incident was made public. Our correspondent gathered that, Shettima spent weeks on end in Abuja trying to meet with the President and explain how the things happened, but the closest he got to see the President was when he ended up in the office of his kinsman, Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff, before leaving the state House disappointed. Responding to these developments, the Minister of Health Prof. Isaac Adewole, said,Nigeria stands to lose at least 80 children in a day from Borno state if nothing drastic is done. He, therefore, announced that the newly constituted ECOWAS Centre for Disease Control has been mandated to deal with the problem head on, adding that a rapid response team had been put up and would be merged with Borno’s response team. Malnutrition has, as a matter of fact, killed lots of children in Northern Nigeria, even before the advent of the Boko Haram insurgency. So, the challenge has always been there; and there have been foreign interventions from Organizations like UNICEF and Action Against Hunger (AAH), which have established centers for the treatment of malnourished children called Community Based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM). The Chief of Communications, UNICEF Nigeria, Ms Doune Porter, who agreed that malnutrition indeed existed in Northern Nigeria even before the insurgency crisis, added that the conflict has made the situation “significantly worse”. She disclosed that from January to May 2016, UNICEF has admitted and treated 2,530 children in Borno State for acute malnutrition. She also informed that a total of 47,423 children from Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States were treated of acute malnutrition under the same period. Governor Kashim Shettima, while delivering a keynote address at a High Level Emergency Roundtable on the Humanitarian Crisis in Borno State which was held at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja with the attendance of the Minister of Health, Professor Adewole; Permanent Secretary of the State House (the Presidency); heads of different organs of the United Nations and donor agencies, including the European Union, the United States Agency for International Development, the British Department for International Development and other actors, regretted the way and manner the malnutrition issue was presented. He said: “Yes, the situation is almost overwhelming, the challenges frightening, but we
are doing our best to confront them. It is common knowledge to this audience that the operation and management of Internally Displaced Persons camps are historically replete with a litany of problems. Even camps located in advanced countries like the Calais Jungle in France or more professionally managed ones like the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya are not without their bouquet of challenges. “It is against this backdrop that I would like to admonish us to exercise some degree of caution and restraint as we strive to bring the myriad of problems associated with the management of a humanitarian crisis of the scale existing in Borno Sate in particular and the North East in general to an end. “For example, the slant of the news report carried by some sections of the international media on the admittedly dire situation in Bama attributed to the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was, to say the least, rather unhelpful. While we do not deny that the challenges the report tried to convey do exist, sufficient justice was not done to the fact that the Borno State Government, a few reputable NGOs, domestic and International and of course, the UN institutions are doing all we could within the limits of our resources to frontally address them. “It is pertinent to mention that the MSF statement issued last week completely ignored the fact that interventions were already being made to address the unfortunate cases of malnutrition at the Bama IDP Camp. As at the time the statement was issued, over 100 children were hospitalized out of over 1,000 malnourished children and adults evacuated from Bama and placed under special care in Maiduguri.
“We constituted a team that successfully evacuated 478 children and 219 adults on Monday, the 13th of June,2016 and all of them were immediately taken to a Special Care Unit and 61 children hospitalized. The following morning, Tuesday, the 14th of June, I was at the Care Unit and the next day, Wednesday, the 15th of June, we summoned all the stakeholders from Bama, including the Shehu of Bama, for a meeting at the Government House, which I chaired, and from that meeting, we all moved to Bama with dozens of buses. “We went with officials from Dangote Foundation and IOM, a United Nations outfit. Alongside the Shehu, we went round the CAMP and 600 additional adults and children were certified malnourished and evacuated to Maiduguri. All of these took place before the MSF statement. “Even before my visit to Bama on 15th June, 2016, I was there on 5th April, 2016, together with Toby Lanzer, United Nations Assistant Secretary General & Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel. I think if this background had been given, the situation would have been put in a proper context without interfering with the objective of that statement by the MSF,” the governor said Following the reports on acute malnutrition across camps in Borno state, President Buhari was said to be angry that persons displaced by the Boko Haram, currently seeking refuge at government-owned camps, have been dying of malnutrition despite the billions of naira and materials provided by the federal, state governments, non-governmental organizations and private individuals to assist the displaced persons.