We are not ghosts, we exist, Borno IDPs cry out

Some of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the MOGCOLIS camp in Maiduguri, Borno state capital, have decried recent claims the state government’s that they were “ghost IDPs”.

The Borno state government had on Sunday announced that it discovered 650 households that are ghost IDPs because they were not physically on the ground when a headcount was conducted to ascertain the official number of their population.

The state government’s declaration had generated a lot of reactions across the country. 

Governor Zulum had on Saturday paid an unscheduled late-night visit to MOGCOLIS IDP camp where he conducted a headcount of the inmates. The MOGCOLIS IDP camp is the most centrally located IDP camp in Maiduguri. It located with the premises of the College along the main road that leads to the palace of the Shehu of Borno. 

Premium Times gathered that the governor visited the camp upon receiving intel that the official population figure at the camp had been altered upwards. 

After conducting the headcount, Governor Zulum had a record of 450 households (which consist of about 2,700 IDPs), as against the 1100 households (or 6, 600 IDPs) that he was made to believe lived in the camp. 

The governor had thereby declared the 650 households that were not captured in his head headcount as ghost IDPs. 

Before departing the camp, Governor Zulum issued “food ration tokens” to the 450 households which qualified them to receive this month’s food ration usually distributed by National Emergency Management Agency 

(NEMA).

IDPs Deny Government Claims 

Premium Times reporter visited the MOGCOLIS camp in Maiduguri on Monday and Tuesday to have a pulse of the inmates about the governor’s visit and his finding. 

On arriving at the camp, our reporter saw officials of the NEMA concluding a food distribution exercise for some of the inmates. 

NEMA usually distributes food for IDPs monthly.

It was however observed by the reporter that many of the IDPs did not receive the regular food palliative. And it is a first time experience for them. 

Some of the IDPs said they were unfairly excluded from benefiting from the monthly food distribution following the late-night visit of the governor. Only those who received the “token” got the food, while those who had no tokens watched in anger and astonishment. 

“We have been denied our regular food supply, and they said because we are ghost IDPs,” one of them said.

“But the truth of the matter is that we are not IDPs because we have been living in the camp for over six years now”, said Falmata Haruna, a mother of five. 

The IDPs, who did not get food because they were not among the 450 households that the governor counted, expressed shock over their being profiled as “ghosts”.

Our reporter tried to probe why they were absent at the time the governor was conducting the headcount in the camp, and their responses seemed to shed light on basic problems that confront many IDP camps in the state. 

The  IDPs that fell under the ” ghost” category have also argued that they could not be counted because they stepped out of the camp to attend important social events at the time Governor Zulum and his crew visited. 

Others said due to the hot weather, they were seated outside the camp gate when they were eventually locked out as soon as the governor drove in. 

Usman Mohammed, a 35 years old male IDP from Abadam local government said “more than two-thirds of the IDPs in MOGCOLIS Camp was left out of the monthly food ration following the visit of the governor last Saturday night.”

“It is not true that we don’t live here in the camp. I was sitting right outside the camp gate with many other male IDPs taking fresh air at night when the governor’s convoy arrived. The gate was immediately locked and we were denied entry despite our pleas for them to understand we are inmates of the camp. We begged for about three hours but the security at the gate said they were instructed not to allow anybody in.  

Falmata Haruna, a mother of five from Malumfatori village of Abadam local government said she was attending to her sick daughter at the hospital when the governor visited. 

“I did not get the meal token because on that day I was away at the hospital to care for my daughter who put to birth via the cesarian session, said Ms Haruna. 

“I have been in this camp for the past six years with my five children. One of them got married two years ago. We depend on this monthly meal to survive. I got the news in the morning that the governor came into the camp on Saturday night and that he distributed the ticket only to those who he saw at the camp. I was worried because even my kids who were fast asleep were not woken to be counted. 

Ibrahim Mohammed, a deputy leader of the Civilian JTF guarding the camp said Saturday was his wedding day and he and many of his male IDP friends were outside the camp at the camp that night. 

” We got the information that the governor was inside the camp and we all left the place we were to join him in the camp. But the security here barred us from entering the camp.  I and my bride live here in the camp, but we were all denied access to the camp. 

He also challenged being profiled as a “ghost IDP”. 

“For God sake how can they tell the governor that we are ghost IDPs? What does that even mean? As a matter, about 20 out of 50 of us that were locked out at the gate are Civilian-JTF members working in the camp. It is unfair to now leave us here in hunger. 

Aisha Ahmed, a 35 years old widow and mother of four kids was in tears as she spoke to PREMIUM TIMES reporter. 

“My father died on Friday and I was out there with my mother when the governor visited the camp to count people,” she said. 

“I still live in this camp, and I have never left since the past five years that we moved in here before I lost my husband recently. 

“I have depended on this monthly food ration all this while, which is not even enough. Sometimes I had to go to my father to get some more food to support us whenever we ran out of food. Now they have denied me the ticket at the time I am mourning my father. My children and I are part of this camp. We should not be denied our only source of sustenance. The governor should look at us with the eyes of mercy and give us our meal token,” she said while crying. 

Mala Mohammed, an IDP from Mobbar and chairman of the MOGCOLIS camp confirmed that he got the meal ticket but lamented that a large number of his fellow IDPs didn’t get it. 

“On that day many of our IDPs here in the camp have gone into the town to attend weddings,” he said.

“We tried to bring the attention of the governor to this but he was not convinced. But we still plead with him to reconsider his decision and let everyone get this food. Things are hard and there is nothing like a ghost IDP here. Some people slept off and did not even know the governor was inside the camp that night.” 

Another vexed IDP said he travelled to Niger with his family to attend the wedding of his daughter and upon his arrival, he was told that he was not going to partake in receiving this month’s food distribution. 

“What kind of decision is this. That we are displaced does not mean we cannot go out to check on our relatives and family. An IDP is an IDP regardless of whether you are in camp or outside the camp. We lost everything we had, that’s why we are here. If all of us are to cramp in here, the camp has no capacity of accommodating us. With the support of relatives, some of us manage to rent a room or two in the town to keep our family; but we still have no means of feeding ourselves because we have no jobs!”

Borno state officials who managed the MOGCOLIS IDP camp told our reporter off the record that they were very concerned that the officials of NEMA did not give “the right information” the governor needed before he decided to conduct a headcount. 

They also said none of them was aware that the governor would visit the camp.

“We all woke up to hear that the governor had visited the camp,” one of them said. 

“The fact of the matter is that many of the IDPs who registered here in MOGCOLIS have at a point left the camp to get a room to rent in the town as a way of safeguarding the dignity of their family. Some had married and needed a very private space to live with their family. But that has not in any way changed their status as displaced people who still need support from the government. That’s why the government recognised IDPs in host communities.” 

The camp officials and some leaders of the IDPs have confirmed that despite the headcount about 100 of those who got the meal ticket could not receive the meal ticket.

Efforts made to get the NEMA Zonal officials in Maiduguri to clarify the reasons why 123 IDP households out of the 450 cleared households were left out of the March food distribution. The NEMA Zonal Coordinator, Ishaya Chinoko, did not pick the call put across to him by our reporter to also explain what the agency is doing to address the concerns of the multitude that felt they were wrong profiled as “ghost IDPs”. 

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