Displaced! – Nancy Bitrus Speaks
Displaced! is a series by CSR-in-Action Advocacy to bring to life the stories of those who have been and remain affected by war in Nigeria. It is an initiative of CSR-in-Action Advocacy’s The Good Citizen which casts light on the dire plight of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and is a call to nationalists and humanitarian to support us in perspective about the life we live on a daily basis.
Every week, we bring you real life stories of persons of Nigerian birth who have been cast bereft, without recourse for livelihood, peace or happiness. These stories are brought to you straight from the heart of the destruction the Boko Haram sect has inflicted on the northern part of Nigeria; tales of famine, malnutrition, homelessness, hopelessness and all manner of dehumanisation. This destruction has left many woman spouseless, many girls defiled, many young men fatherless and without guidance and has caused mental imbalance for many of the population.
Wars are an intrinsic part of the tapestry of human existence. As Nigerians, we cannot deny our history of war. The Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafran War, which started on the 6th of July 1967 and ended on 15th of January 1970, was a war fought by the Nigeria government against Biafrans – secessionists from eastern Nigeria – to counter the secession of proposed Republic of Biafra from the Republic of Nigeria. The eastern Igbos felt the need to do so due to economic, ethnic, cultural and religious discord among the ethnically diverse peoples of the newly independent Nigeria.
Fast forward to the 21st Century, and the biggest and longest running wars are those being fought against terrorism. Terrorism is, in its broadest sense, the use of intentionally indiscriminate violence as a means to create terror or fear, in order to achieve a political, religious, or ideological aim. Al-Qaeda, ISIL (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) also known as ISIS (The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), Boko Haram and Hamas are some of the more known international designated terrorist groups.
Happiness indices have placed Nigerians amongst the happiest in the world. This is the case even though international benchmarks have indicated that the average Nigerian lives on less than $2 a day. Until July 2009 when nearly 1,000 people were killed in clashes between Boko Haram militants and Nigerian soldiers throughout northern Nigeria, beginning the Boko Haram Islamist Insurgency in Nigeria, it could not be imagined that a Nigerian would use himself as a human detonator. Nigerians have the sunniest demeanor, always thankful for our situation and always believing the best is yet to come.
Boko Haram usually translated as “Western education is forbidden” was founded as a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist sect, influenced by the Wahhabi movement, advocating a strict form of Sharia law. It developed into a Salafist-jihadi group in 2009. The group seeks the establishment of an Islamic state in Nigeria and oppose the westernisation of Nigerian society and the concentration of the wealth of the country among members of a small political elite, mainly in the Christian south of the country. In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from Chibok with the intention of selling them into slavery. Today, less than 40% of the girls have been recovered and many have been raped, impregnated, killed and compelled to become suicide bombers.
The north-east of Nigeria has been the worst hit by this insurgency, and many Northerners – made up of Hausa, Kanuri, Fulani, Higi, Gwoza and Kanufi tribes – claim that a sizeable number of the insurgents come from neighboring Chad and Niger; mercenaries who are sponsored by powerful backers. Borno State has the highest number of IDPs with 1, 158, 362 followed by Adamawa (125, 689) and Yobe (107, 562). There are 14 satellite camps in liberated communities, mainly in Borno State have 216, 184 IDPs. The camps with the highest population are Ngala with 70, 505; Dikwa 53, 636; Bama 27, 000 and Damboa/Sabon Gari 25, 311 in Borno State.
Sadly, these series of uprising – moral, justified or unjustified – has led to monumental loss of lives and the internal displacement of millions of citizens. An IDP is someone who is forced to flee his or her home but who remains within his or her country’s borders. They are often referred to as refugees, although they do not fall within the legal definitions of a refugee.
A total of 2,114,000 persons have become internally displaced as at December of 2016, according to a report by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) – a number that is contested by indigenes who allege that the actual number is at least double. And with the rising number of IDPs in Nigeria over the past few years, it has become imperative that more support is to be provided to these individuals who have lost their home due to insurgency attacks, communal clashes or natural disasters.
Our first report is on Nancy Bitrus, a once-wife-now-displaced-widow born and living in Borno State. Since 2015, Nancy has lived underneath a makeshift one-room shelter underneath a tree with her 6 children and mother-in-law. She sat on the floor of her red earth baked living cum sleeping area and narrated her ordeal. Although Nancy barely shed a tear (tears had dried up many years ago) the pain and suffering in her eyes left our correspondent misty eyed.
She began softly in her lilting native language “Nikabiya” of the Gwoza LGA…
My name is Nancy Bitrus, I am 52 years old.
I hail from Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno State. Prior to the Boko Haram crisis my husband, children and I lived in Gwoza. My husband worked as a prison warden at Damaturu, Yobe state. Boko Haram raided our village sometime in 2014 and my husband was killed where he worked. His corpse was brought to the village all bloodied with clear signs of beating with sticks and other marks on the body.
My children, six of them (Victoria 23, Stephen 20, Ibrahim 18, Danjuma 16, Andrawus 14, and Barka Simon 12), and I ran into the Cameroun mountains and lived there for about six months, living off wild fruits, roots and wild animals and any other food we could lay our hands on. Eventually when we thought that it was safe, we descended back into Gwoza. When we got to our home, we realised that Boko Haram carted away all our belongings after the attack – foodstuff, cattle, goats and all our other possessions. We had nothing left. We decided to travel through to the State Capital, Maiduguri and managed to hitch a ride with a lorry packed with animals and other fleeing residents.
At Maiduguri, we tried to get into the IDP camps there but they were all full and we couldn’t be accommodated. We turned to roaming nomads within our home state, with no recourse for help. During the movement from place to place I got separated from two of my older kids. For many months we didn’t know where they were and I cried myself to sleep many sleepless nights; first my husband, then the first fruits of my womb. One sunny morning, some travelling distant relatives brought us news that they were alive and in Abuja and Jos separately. We were able to pass word on to my children through concerned friends and relatives and they were finally able to join the rest of the family in Maiduguri.
My kids and I decided to set up a shelter made up of wood, nylon and discarded zinc, under a tree. We have lived there now for the past three years through the dry and rainy seasons. Initially, I sold sachet water and local drinks like zobo and kunnun za kind which I carried around in a cooler. I fell ill and when I recovered I didn’t have the physical strength to continue that business. What I can do now is petty trading of foodstuff and also plant some crops during the rainy season.
The situation has not gotten much better for us. Recently, my mother-in-law and two orphans were rescued at Gwoza by Cameroonian soldiers and we were reunited with them here in Maiduguri. We all live in the zinc shelter.
We have been getting occasional assistance from churches, relations and friends. Once, we were able to get food from the Red Cross organisation, but we are unable to get food subsequently. Unfortunately, we have no means or source of income, even though we are willing and able to work. However, during the rainy we are able to offer our services to those who are willing to engage us to work on their farms in order to raise a little money.
Some days, there is no food at all and we are most times hungry, thirsty, cold or wet at night. We know that there’s a large number of people also in need of food there is nothing we can do about it.
That gentleman in red shorts (She points to a young man staring blankly out of a nearby doorway) only recently escaped from Boko Haram attacks. He has scars on his body from machete cuts. The attack has left him slightly unbalanced mentally. He can’t speak normally presently.
(When our correspondent asks Nancy what her biggest challenges are, she sighs like a woman who has lived 10 lifetimes and responds with two of the most basic modern human needs)
“We need assistance in plenty areas especially food and soap to bath”, she says, with a tear running down her dry, weathered cheek.
Displaced series is not a series about war, religious intolerance or bigotry, it is a platform to restore humanity to the faceless sufferers many simply refer to as IDPs.
About the authors
Bekeme Masade-Olowola is a Nigerian professional writer, sustainability expert and humanitarian. Her passion for social justice and equity led to the formation of CSR-in-Action in 2011. She is a Harvard-trained social entrepreneur and currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer of CSR-in-Action – Advocacy, Consulting and Training – an organisation dedicated to promoting the advancement and awareness of sustainable development, women and youth empowerment, good governance and unity in Nigeria.
Wakari Digal Ladagu was born in Lassa and is from Wamdeo, all in Askira Uba local government area of Borno State. He has lived and schooled in Maiduguri, Lagos and Zaria. He ran a successful business in Maiduguri prior to the Boko Haram crisis and was there through the first four years and witnessed first-hand the economic and social collapse that ensued. He still has family in Maiduguri. Coincidentally, he lived in Adamawa state when Boko Haram overran almost the whole of southern Borno and northern Adamawa in 2014. He now lives in Lagos.