Sesôr journeyed into the heart of Plateau to visit the camp that housed the survivors of insurgency and communal clash. Below is our diary from the visit:
Tuesday November 18
The Sesôr Team (My colleague, Ahmed Magem & I) set off for Jos aboard Arik Airlines. The flight was on time. We arrived Jos late afternoon (the transformation in the airport there is yet to fully metamorphose…that caterpillar never reach butterfly stage yet – another story for another forum). Life goes on in Jos, albeit punctuated by an uneasy calm. The beautiful hills and vegetation all around and temperate weather made us forget Lagos’s scorching heat. Lots of fruits and vegetables and people going about their business as usual.
Wednesday November 19, 2014
We had planned to meet with some state officials and our colleague from UNICEF Bauchi, Mo Mukkadas, but had been informed that the meeting would hold the following day. The rest of the day was spent catching up on paperwork and correspondence.
Thursday November 20
We met up with Mo and attended the meeting with the Plateau State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) who graciously welcomed us, advised us on the requisite non-food items needed by the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs for short) in the different camps. – Note that technically, refugees refer to displaced people who have fled across their country’s borders (eg from Mubi, Nigeria to Cameroon) while IDPs are people who have fled and found shelter within their own country (Sabon Gadi, Nasarrawa State to Qua’an Pan, Plateau State for example) and very graciously offered to have us accompany them to Qua’an Pan Local Government Area (LGA) the following day where we could observe the situation of the IDPs for ourselves.
The rest of the day was spent procuring the relief items to take to Qua’an Pan. As this was just going to be an assessment and the first of what we hoped would be many visits, we had prepared to get only a few basics. We got 120 pairs of slippers, 130 sachets of milk for the children particularly, 72 plates, 36 buckets, 60 plastic cups, 30 mats and 30 blankets (Jos is cold during the harmattan season). We were mindful that we had 2 more states we planned to visit and needed to factor in relief materials costs for those states as well as the transport costs for moving items to the camps. Fortunately for us, SEMA called and picked up the items in preparation for the following day.
Friday Nov 19
We set out bright and early for Qua’an Pan, a local government area south of Jos. It is about a 2 hour drive from Jos and home to 4 tribes: The Bwall, the Doekam (pronounced di-kam), the Kwalla and the Muria. We also learnt that the IDPs were camped out in Namu, Pandam and Aningo villages. Qua’an Pan also hosts the Pandam Wildlife Park (unfortunately, there was no time to check that out).
As at press time, the number of IDPs in total had passed the 10,000 mark. Over 10,000 men, women and children. I could not help wondering how the host communities were coping with this influx of people and the pressure these would put on food, water and other resources in this rural part of Plateau State. We would find out soon enough.
We stopped first at the Local Government office – they were glad to know they were not forgotten by their Southern compatriots. Then we started making the rounds – first in search of Doctor Juryit from the Ministry of Health who had gone ahead to do some health checks on the IDPs. We found him after some false turns in one of the villages (Pandam) talking to some women and children about the importance of hand-washing, the use of toilets etc. to avoid infections such as cholera. Most of them were people fleeing suspected herdsmen/mercenaries and were from communities in Nassarawa State. I was touched to find that the villagers had taken in some of the displaced persons and the particular compound housing over 20 displaced women and children had been an unoccupied house belonging to a recently deceased villager which had now been donated by the village to house the displaced.
The women and girls in particular require psychological support as there were reported cases of rape and sexual assault by attackers before they fled. Dr. Juryit reported that he had discovered 8 such cases the very day we visited in another small encampment not far from the one we had visited – 7 girls raped and another woman raped and killed.
It was a bit of a surprise for me to find so many Tiv people (originally from Benue) among those sheltering in Qua’an Pan. Another colleague also found his own tribespeople (the Angas of Plateau) among the affected. Of course, the effects of violent crises do not discriminate between tribe, sex, religion nor age; it affects all.
We could not visit the Aningo community as there were reports that it was not safe to go there and that we might be shot at. A man at one of the IDP camps reported that his brother had gone towards Aningo to find some food and was stripped naked and almost killed – he dove into a river nearby and swam off. Another reported that others had not been so lucky – they were captured and killed. They alleged that herdsmen from further up North (including non-Nigerian mercenaries hired as their muscle) were the ones carrying out the attacks.
We visited Namu but saw very few IDPs there as they had reportedly gone out to find menial jobs or to the market to find some food or other means of livelihood. We said our goodbyes to our colleagues from SEMA and the Ministry of Health and left Namu for Gombe that afternoon.