Maiduguri — A city of camps
Life after fleeing Boko Haram violence in northeastern Nigeria
A morning like no other
There is a hot, dry wind blowing this morning in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria. Yet, despite the high temperature, about five hundred people gather at the mobile phone-based cash distribution site set up by WFP and the Nigerian Government. People look worried and tired. Some have been waiting since dawn.
At the entrance of the distribution site, which is in an enclosed courtyard, there are two rows of people. They come from different parts of the town.
All of them have been forced to flee their homes due to the ongoing Boko Haram violence.
20-year-old Lami Moussa is in the queue with her two-year-old daughter, watching intently the people lined up in front of her. She fled her village two years ago, she says, and is now living at a displaced people’s site in the city. “With this money, I want to buy food and clothes for my daughter,” she says with a ray of hope in her eyes.
Inside the courtyard, the atmosphere is more serene. There are several stands set up for the distributions. First, staff carry out an identity check, and they are briefed about the process and the sim card and cash they are about to receive. After a second identity check and registration in WFP’s database, the much awaited moment arrives. Each person will receive a sim card, and then the first monthly cash assistance of 17,000 nairas, approximately US$ 11.
At the end of each month, they’ll receive a text message to advise them that the monthly cash assistance has gone through and that they can withdraw it from the mobile phone company’s offices.
Fama Ali (left), a mother of seven children is counting the money she has just received with a big, playful smile on her face. “We didn’t have food to eat. With this money, my children will be able to eat. I am very happy,” she says.
It is 5 pm and the distribution is coming to an end. Tomorrow, the same exercise will be replicated in another area of the city.
In NYC. Not in the US, but at a camp in Maiduguri
The next morning, I am heading to NYC (National Youth Service) camp in the heart of Maiduguri. It was first used as a base for young Nigerians carrying out their military service but it now serves as a home to 4,800 displaced people. I am welcomed by a SEMA (State Emergency Management Agency) staff. SEMA is the agency in charge of managing the camps.
Falta Modou (below) from Bama village has been staying at NYC for over a year and a half. She is there with her five children.
“Boko Haram came to our village and destroyed everything. They physically abused my daughter, Falmata, and they abducted my son and husband. I haven’t got any news from them. We walked for two days in the bush before arriving here,” she adds as 15-year-old Falmata listens in to our conversation.
The impact of Falmata’s ordeal is obvious — she looks afraid, nervous (pictured left). After a while, she starts to talk to me: “I want to become a doctor so that I can help other children who were abused.”
I ask Falma is she would like to go back to Bama one day. “Home is home, no matter what,” she says with a smile.
35-year-old Kolo Mohamed (below) is the head chef of the camp and is also a native of Bama village. “We walked for 77 km, trembling with fear. We wanted to escape the Boko Haram attacks at all costs,” she exclaims.
In addition to her own six children, Kolo has decided to adopt four other children. They are children who have also been displaced by the violence, their parents dead or missing. “I decided to adopt these four boys because I wanted to give them the opportunity to grow in a family,” she explains.
In her open-air kitchen, she loves cooking for the residents of the camp. “All these people, particularly children, need to eat well in order to grow and be in good health. I want all the children of this camp to be able to go back to school. I want them to have a better future,” she says with no shred of hesitation in her voice.
A city within the city
My next destination is Dalori 2, a displaced people’s camp located on the outskirts of Maiduguri. It is like a city within the city. A few meters away, I distinguish a long queue. I can hear a clamor. Yesterday’s scenes come to my mind. A distribution of Plumpy’sup, a read-to-use, highly nutritious food to combat malnutrition is underway.
There are mothers and children everywhere, but I am instantly drawn to a young woman and her baby. Her name is Falta Allaye (left): “I don’t have more Plumpy’sup. They told us a few days ago that there was going to be a distribution today. I hope that I’ll be able to get some for my child.”
The demand is high, and sometimes there is just not enough Plumpy’sup for all the mothers at the camp.
The oldest part of the town — a refuge for displaced people
I am heading to the old town of Maiduguri, Madinatu, with Bachir, a SEMA staff working with WFP in Maiduguri.
At first glance, the neighborhood seems abandoned. Then we see groups of children playing here and there. Hundreds of displaced families live here, some for two years.
In the main square, a group of men are gathered, most likely talking about what life used to be like before they had to flee their villages.
One of them, Oumar Garba (pictured left with his family), invites us in his family. They left their village of Baga, about 230 kilometers from Maiduguri, two years ago, after several Boko Haram attacks, he explains.
“I want to go back to Baga. Before, I was a fisherman and I earned a living. Now, I cannot go out fishing anymore. It’s difficult to take care of my family,” says Oumar, his voice filled with sadness.
However, the 17,000 nairas he and his family will receive at the end of each month will help him get by. They have already bought a millet ration that will last the family for several weeks.
Aboubacar Maitalé (below) will start receiving cash assistance as of next month. With 13 children to fend for and no job, he says that it is difficult for him to look at future with hope. “I was a fisherman in Baga and I also grew food. Here we can go without food for two or three days,” he says, with a mix of nostalgia and despair in his voice.
On the way back, I see a little girl crossing the courtyard. Fatima (below) seems to be in good health. Her siblings tell me that since Fatima started eating Plumpy’sup, she is doing much better. As we are about to leave, Fatima’s parents tell us how grateful they are for seeing Fatima healthy again. “It is for moments like this, that we continue doing what we do,” confesses Bachir, visibly moved.
More than 3 million people suffer from hunger in northeastern Nigeria and are in need of urgent support. In partnership with the Government, WFP is scaling up its assistance to reach more than 700,000 people by the end of the year with life-saving assistance. WFP and partners need funding to help.
Photos and text by: WFP/Simon Pierre Diouf