A little more than a year ago, Aisha Ibrahim was over the moon as she took her marriage vows with her childhood sweetheart Abdulai, in the town of Baga, in Borno state, northeastern Nigeria. That happiness was short-lived though; she is now in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Kuchigoro, Abuja, the capital of Nigeria.
“It was just God that helped me. We had to flee for our lives. We went through Cameroon before we ended up here. I had no idea where my brothers and sisters were until we got here. I still have not seen my mother or my husband since that day,” says Ibrahim.
She is one of millions who have been displaced due to the violence unleashed by Islamic militant group Boko Haram on communities in Borno State, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).
This year alone, more than 1,500 have died in the Boko Haram conflict, according to Amnesty International. For Ibrahim, the most difficult part is the nightmares.
“I still remember everything like it was yesterday. So many people lost their lives when they attacked. I saw friends get shot; I pray I will see my husband again. We have to live here now because we have no homes to go back to,” she says.
The conflict is also difficult for those that take in the refugees.
“We had to provide an answer quickly for the thousands of people who all of a sudden appeared in Abuja. This was not something we prepared for, the government had to respond very quickly to accommodate all these people,” says Ishaya Chonoko, Zonal Co-ordinator at the Abuja office of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Life in the IDP camp is challenging. Ibrahim sells the food she receives through donations from a local church. Other women in the camp are not so lucky.
“Most of the girls here have to sleep with men in order to make ends meet. It is terrible but what can you do when everything has been taken away from you?” says Ibrahim.
The NEMA North East Zonal Office is responsible for feeding an estimated 1.6 million people in the resettlement camps across Borno. Combating malnutrition and a lack of food is a daily battle in these camps, says Chonoko.
At the IDP camp at the Saint Theresa’s Cathedral in Yola, the capital city of Adamawa state, Nigeria, about 1,500 people, mainly women and children, are cramped into a compound and living in a large hall which was previously a church building.
“Most of the men have died fighting to defend the communities. I lost two of my sons and my husband along with most of the other women here,” says Amina, one of the mothers at the camp.
She lives with her 10-year-old son who is extremely emaciated.
In 2016, the United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated that 75,000 children would die if they did not receive aid in these camps. Another 400,000 children were at risk of severe acute malnutrition in the areas worst hit by Boko Haram.
“We decided to take control of feeding 100% of IDPs to buttress the efforts of both the government and other humanitarian agencies. There are several challenges in feeding over two million people, most of which relate to scarcity of resources and an efficient distribution system and attempts to solve the food crisis requires a group effort,” says Mallam Mohammed Kanar, the North-East Coordinator of NEMA.
When elected, President Muhammadu Buhari promised to crush Boko Haram. Years later, despite many military raids and isolated victories, the militant group is still terrorizing those in the North east of the Nigeria. To add insult to injury, last year, Nigeria’s air force killed at least 52 people and injured another 120 in an air strike on an IDP camp. It mistook the camp for a Boko Haram base.
Although the militant’s stronghold has been dislodged, the lingering chaos and damage of the past years are still felt in the North East.
Life in the camp is a harrowing experience. For now, Ibrahim and Amina can do nothing but hope it will end soon.