Having lived in the internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp in Gwada for over two years, Auta Bala is tired of idleness and living from hand to mouth — but she has learned to mask her sadness, burying it beneath her smile. The 13-year-old can often be found roaming around the camp joyfully, hopping from one room to another in a bright blouse that complements her mood. In 2019, Auta escaped from Kaure – a village in Shiroro LGA of Niger state – alongside her 73-year-old grandmother. Over the years, Kaure had experienced incessant attacks by gunmen who terrorise the area and neighbouring communities, forcing many residents to relocate. With villages emptied, sources of livelihoods such as farmlands, animals and valuable property relinquished, thousands now face an uphill battle trying to survive. Abubakar Bello, governor of Niger, disclosed in April 2021 that members of the Boko Haram sect had hoisted their flag in Kaure. According to the governor, the terrorists were “trying to use the area as their home just like they did in Sambisa” in Borno state.
Losing her only relative
In 2021, Ladidi Bala, Auta’s grandmother, motivated by the paucity of food in the IDP camp, decided to return to their farmland in Kaure, which had enough produce waiting to be harvested. The old widow and her granddaughter were attacked and kidnapped by gunmen on their way back from the farm. Ladidi was beaten many times while in captivity but could not shed a tear — because she believed she would be killed if she did. While they were held hostage, many young girls were raped, including Auta who was only 11 years old at the time. They were both released after some weeks and had since remained in the IDP camp where Ladidi recently died.
Alone but surviving
Following the loss of her grandmother after a protracted illness in November 2021, Auta had to find a way to survive. A smile spread across her face as she brought out Ladidi’s photo while she recounted how she died. “She died after a very serious sickness in this school (IDP camp),” she said, a rush of sadness replacing her smile.
Auta’s selling spot.
To earn a living, Auta sells wara — a local delicacy made from soya beans. Daily, she takes up a position at the front of the IDP camp on a small wooden stool, where she fries and sells wara. To raise the capital to start the business, Auta said she usually travels to Chibiani – a village near Sarkin Pawa, the headquarters of Munya LGA — to work on farms. “I sit over there to fry wara. I sometimes sell up to N200 or more daily. It depends on the number of soya beans I can process,” she said.
Thriving in an IDP camp
It has been over two years since Christiana Ezekiel fled Kaure with her four-year-old daughter and husband to the IDP camp in Gwada. With no land to farm and their assets left behind, Ezekiel’s husband has been financially handicapped, forcing the 26-year-old woman to devise a means to help her family get by. She started a provisions store with the N20,000 she was able to escape with — but Ezekiel had to relinquish the shop when their needs surpassed their means. In September 2021, she travelled to her hometown in Kaduna state to live with her mother. There, she stumbled upon what she referred to as “a saviour from abject poverty”. According to Ezekiel, she joined women who were knitting dresses, veils and other fabrics. She mastered the work after two months and returned to her husband in the IDP camp. Armed with the N9,000 her mother gave her as a parting gift, she bought threads which she paid for in instalments. She then started knitting dresses in a corner of the IDP camp. “When I made the first set of dresses and veils, I sold them each for N10,000,” she said. Ezekiel said she made N30,000 from the business and used part of the money to clear her debts. She gave some of it to her husband, bought food items and rented a shop worth N12,000 where she continued her knitting business. Aside from the dresses and veils, she also knits children’s clothes, caps and even towels. “The second set I braided were children’s outfits. I made three caps which I sold for the sum of N2,000 each and the veils were sold for N1,500 each.” Currently, Ezekiel has two IDPs learning from her as apprentices. “I am very grateful to God because I used to ask my husband for money whenever I want to buy Maggi (seasoning), but now, I give my husband money,” she added, beaming with pride. “My business has been moving well, in fact, all the dresses I am currently knitting have been paid for.”
Education by any means possible
In 2020, Roda Dauda, a mother of two, fled Kaure to the IDP camp after gunmen attacked her village and murdered her husband. Before the attack, Dauda said the model school in Kaure had stopped functioning, consequently delaying the enrolment of her daughters in school. She said the teachers barely attended classes, and when they did, they usually subjected the students to work on their farmlands. This, she said, discouraged the few parents interested in ensuring their children get an education. “Most of us are from the village and not all of us contemplate education because we had a way of earning comfortably but I have always wanted to put my children in school,” she said. “When the thieves (gunmen) invaded Kaure, all the teachers ran away and the school was abandoned.” On arrival at the IDP camp, Dauda struggled to survive and provide her girls with their daily needs, hence she could hardly afford to pay their school fees. When the dream of enrolling her children in schools started to fade, Dauda decided to beg an “uncle” to register them in a home lesson alongside other students in the Tawali area of Gwada. Lydia, one of her daughters, is eight years old. She recently started her education and can now recite the English alphabet fluently.
In her previous life, Dauda was a hairstylist, but such services are not exactly lucrative in the IDP camp where food and clothing are prioritised over beauty. Hence, she had to start making moi-moi (steamed bean pudding) and hawking it around Gwada. Currently, Dauda says she is working hard to ensure that her children are ultimately enrolled in proper schools.
Sustainable intervention for Nigerian IDPs
Nigeria is home to 2.7 million IDPs.
Nigeria has the third-highest number of IDPs in Africa. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), as of December 2020, Nigeria had a total number of 2.7 million IDPs, largely due to violence and conflicts across the country. The Displacement Tracking Matrix reported in 2020 that 80 percent of the IDP population are women and children. With many women widowed and children orphaned, the need for humanitarian support continues to heighten. The National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI) said over one million Nigerians were displaced within the past year because of the humanitarian crisis in the country. Recently, Sadiya Farouq, minister of humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development, announced that the federal government will continue to give the sum of N5,000 to the poor and vulnerable as part of its strategy toward alleviating their plight. There have however been criticisms that the initiative does not provide the IDPs with sustainable means of livelihood. Most of the IDPs in Nigeria are rural dwellers who were engaged in farming and petty trading before fleeing their communities. The likes of Ezekiel who was fortunate enough to acquire a skill has been able to provide for her family. The sustainable development goal (SDG) 8, which is to promote full, productive employment and decent work, is only achievable when women like Ezekiel, Dauda and Auta are empowered.