Few days ago, I saw a virtual reality exhibition showcasing the story of 37-year-old Hannatu Yusuf, a mother of nine children and an IDP from Baga in Borno State. The exhibition is about Hannatu's reflection on her most cherished possession that she is still Holding On to after she was forced to flee her home in a hurry when her community came under Boko Haram attack years ago.
Please if you are within Abuja, Nigeria, I encourage you to stop by at Central Atrium, GroundFloor, Jabi Lake Mall to experience in virtual reality the story of Hannatu. The exhibition runs from August 1 – 15th, 2019 and if you are not, you could look up the video of Hannatu.
Hannatu represents the 1.8 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) spread across IDP camps in Nigeria barely Holding On 10 Years On.
July 26th, 2019 marked ten years since the first attack was launched by Boko Haram in Northeast Nigeria & 10 years on, we seem to be carrying on while the battle continues to rage and life never the same for the directly affected casualties.
A child who was born July 26th, 2009 is probably in junior secondary school and another child who dropped out of school after his community came under ruin in the last 10 years would have lost lots of terms in school and may not know where to pick up his school bag in the debris.
In the last decade, nearly 2 million Nigerians who have been displaced from their homes in the three most affected northeastern states (Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe) tolerate the makeshift tents that barely shelters them, holding on with bleak hope of when they would go back ‘home’.
The Casualties 10 Years On
A recent report published by ReliefWeb noted that more than 30,000 people have been killed by the insurgency in the last 10 year. These are the number of people that media was able to capture although the real figure is likely to have been much higher.
We can be sure that the thousands of under five children who might have died of malnutrition due to displacement and loss of livelihood of their parents are not numbered among these 30,000 people.
The count of the fellow Nigerians who have been killed by the insurgency in the last 10 years can be equated to that of the population of the entire British Virgin Islands, which is 32,206 people going by 2019 world population report.
If British Virgin Islands should go into extinct, will life just move on?
Those who died in the bush while trekking kilometers long for days and weeks in search of food, water and refuge are not numbered among the 30,000 killed. We only heard of the nearly 2 million people who survived the hardship of the cold nights, stinging shrubs, insect bites to make it to the strips of lands now known as IDP camps.
Who is an IDP?
I was surprised on two very recent occasions when I heard two young adults sincerely ask; “what is IDP?”
Who are the nearly 2 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in North East Nigeria, Are they mere statistics? Are they lame excuses for some people to get grants and funding for their bank accounts? Are they conversation starters for political debates?
IDPs are actually some Nigerians whose population can be compared to that of Guinea-Bissau.
Just imagine the entire population of Guinea-Bissau being displaced from their homes and losing almost everything tied to their names?
IDPs are real people who literally depend on humanitarian aid to feed, to be sheltered and to clothe.
They are not people who became destitute because they are lazy, they are people who despite the fact that they are intelligent, healthy, beautiful and handsome have lost all that they possess and means of livelihood.
IDPs are humans with dignity despite the fact that they are forced to share one latrine with close to 50 or more people, live in makeshift tents that leaves them at the mercy of mosquitoes and put on the kind of clothes you may not be proud to wear beyond your bedroom. They only became IDPs because they had to flee their homes when they had less than a minute to either run for their lives with whatever they had on them or get killed the next minute while contemplating on what to pick when their communities came under attack.
It hurts to know that one-in-four IDPs in Nigeria are under the age of five and 80% of them are women and children.
It is disturbing to think that at least one under 5-year old child in an IDP camp could be currently down with pneumonia this rainy season due to lack of proper shelter, clothing, nutrition and medical care. How about those whose shelters might have been blown off by storm this season?
IDPs are real humans with dignity; they are Nigerians just like you and I and did not do anything wrong to earn the status 'IDP'!
Since none of us had the chance to choose our ethnic group, state of origin or nationality, you might have come from Dapchi town in Yobe state and your 17-year old teenage niece might have been schooling in Government Girls' Science and Technical College (GGSTC), Dapchi. She could have been one of the girls who was kidnapped February 19, 2018.
She might have been that lone girl still held in captive after a year and half, and still counting…
Where are we 10 years on?
My deepest fear is that we are becoming who we were not as a country.
My deepest worry is that the casualties have been reduced to numbers and statistics not real people.
My utmost worry is that we are moving on like nothing is going on just because we in the comfort of our homes in Delta state, Lagos, Abuja, Akwa-Ibom... and probably taking a warm soak in a Jacuzzi and relaxing with this post.
While we get used to seeing the scenes of destruction on twitter or network news, it is totally different for the millions of people who have been displaced and have to survive everyday.
“What do you want me to do Ryta?” You might be asking right now.
I honestly don’t know what you can do.
I only know that we cannot keep moving on, 10 years on like nothing is going on...
10 Years... just too long!