Children milled around, running, smiling and shrieking, the first and only sign of innocence.
Their faces smacked with dry mucus and eye specks. Hair tangled and grey with soothe. Lack of water means daily baths were unaffordable luxuries. So mothers have learnt the ‘wiping method’: using a piece of cloth to wipe essential parts of the body, and the head or hair was not considered essential to this process.
International Organizations have promised to come fill the tanks they brought with water. When water comes, the hairs will get a thorough wash.
Women sat largely in groups and chatted. Laughed at each other’s jokes and bantered endlessly. But the hollowness in their voices masked horrors they have witnessed in the hands of Boko Haram. The hollowness disguise scenes of watching loved ones butchered to death, of watching daughters being dragged away to be used as sex slaves by strangers with some crazy idea about building a new and glorious society by destroying the lives of the people around them. Together, these women are bound by their grief.
Yet, in their grief, they remember to be different. To steer clear of women who have returned from Boko Haram camps with pregnancies or children. Their common grief does not equate them with women who have been raped and abused by camp officials or security agencies in IDP camps. In their grief, they do not forget to claim ‘purity’.
The Federal Government has launched an investigation into reports alleging that government officials are raping and sexually abusing women and girls who survived the Boko Haram violence.
The move comes after Human Rights Watch published a report detailing accounts by dozens of women and girls who said they were sexually abused or coerced into sex.
The women said they were raped or abused by camp leaders, vigilante group members, policemen and soldiers at camps in Borno State’s capital, Maiduguri. The camps were set up to offer aid to people displaced by fighting in Nigeria’s northeast.
Some of the of the victims had escaped captivity by terror group Boko Haram, only to become victims at the camps where they sought refuge, the rights group said. Many of the women were allegedly pregnant for their abusers at the camps, while several victims were drugged before they were raped.
The Borno State Government says it has requested for the deployment of undercover detectives to all Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the State, following the terrible reports.
Governor Kashim Shettima says he has written to the Inspector General of Police, the Director General of the Department of State Security, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffick in Persons and the National Drugs Law Enforcement Agency, to request for the deployment of undercover security to spy on culprits and bring them to justice.
Speaking during a courtesy call by a delegation from the Senate Committee on IDP’s led by Senators Ben Bruce and Shehu Sani, Governor Shettima said the report by the Human Rights Watch alleged that some female IDPs interviewed said they were sexually harassed by some security officials, to the extent of getting them pregnant.
(Displaced men, women and children fleeing Boko Haram have set up a temporary camp at the National Youth Service Corps CenterÂ in Damare, outside Yola, the capital of Adamawa state in northeast Nigeria. Aid workers say displaced people in Yola outnumber local residents)
“Today, as Governor of Borno State, there is no issue that gives me headache like the unfortunate bye-products of IDP camps. Our citizens were violently sent out of their houses and communities, it is their fundamental rights to be provided alternative accommodation with their food and health care” he said.
He said when granted, the undercover detectives would spy on anyone involved in sexual harassment, any form of prostitution, drug trafficking, possible child trafficking and even the allegations of diversion of food items meant for IDP’s.
“Sadly and very sadly indeed, the IDP camps have become avenues that the horrible stories of sexual slavery, prostitution rings, drug peddling and other social vices are emanating from. Only yesterday there was a report by a Human Rights group alleging incidences of sexual abuses by some Federal and State workers in some of the IDP camps. This is highly condemnable,” he added.
Governor Shettima said he would want these detectives to report their findings to their security establishments and whoever was found wanting should be picked up without notifying him, so long as they have verifiable evidence.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am tired of applying the element of persuasion in handling the issues of IDP’s, we need to wield the big stick. The problem with managing the IDP camp is that you are dealing with a population of two or more local government areas in one location and you cannot imprison them by restricting or stopping them from leaving the IDP camp in the day time. When a female IDP leaves the camp in the morning, you cannot be in control of where she goes and who she sees. If she leaves the camp and returns the following day, she may claim to have visited a family member and little can be done” said Governor Shettima.
The Borno State Governor believes that there are cases of sexual harassment, but that some of the women may be consenting to the advances, largely due to extreme poverty and loss of value system. He however said despite that, sanity had to be installed in the IDP camps.
“Desperate situations call for desperate measures. Sexual harassment of female IDPs is a desperate situation. None of us here is beyond becoming an IDP if Allah decrees and none of us would fold arms if his or her daughter is in a position to be sexually harassed, so we must act now”
Boko Haram, which controlled a swathe of land in the northeast around a couple of years ago, has largely been pushed back to its base in the northeast’s vast Sambisa forest in the last few months.
Aid workers and soldiers have gained access to the group’s former northeastern strongholds, revealing famine-like conditions which UNICEF says could kill 75,000 children over the next year if they do not receive aid.
Which way Nigeria?