It was the rainy season when Maryam Musa and her escaping family left Gwoza, walking through kilometers of forests and Savannah on foot, sleeping in the open field as they sought to escape from invading Boko Haram terrorists.
Finally, they arrived at the town of Kalinfadi where they would meet several other escaping families heading to Cameroon.
Musa, one of the thousands of displaced persons forced to flee their homes in Gwoza, narrates how she narrowly escaped the clutches of terrorists that made living a hell for residents.
Since 2009 when Boko Haram attacks broke out in the North eastern part of the country, thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes in search of a safe haven, away from the terrorists’ enclaves.
A UN High Commission on Refugees’ report in November 2021, said that over three million Nigerians have fled their homes, especially in the Northern parts.
They fled due to terrorism, effects of armed conflicts, violence, as well as natural and human made disaster to seek safety in IDP camps.
However, for Musa fleeing from her home was just the beginning of her story as an Internally Displaced Person (IDP).
She and members of her family would go on to experience some of the horrifying experiences of their lives.
“We were told that if crossed over to Cameroon the terrorists chasing us would abandon the chase and we could stay as asylum seekers,” she said.
According to her, they walked several kilometers on foot traversing forest, Savannahs by day and night until they found themselves in Kalinfadi, a town between Nigeria and Cameroon.
Musa’s quest for survival made her find a way with her surviving children to Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja for reprieve and to start afresh with the expectation of a fresh start in life.
Sadly, while at the camp, she was confronted by the challenges of inadequate access to healthcare, food, shelter, water, education, among others.
These challenges exposed female and children IDPs to exploitation, Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) and other abuses and exploitation.
“Most of the male in our families were either killed by the terrorists or remained at home trying to save the little they can from our homes or trying to restore all that we lost.
“As a result, when we first came to these camps, we recorded cases of SGBV and teenage pregnancies, where young girls and women were either sexually abused or violated.
“Most of these abuses stem from the need to have our basic needs provided, while some were as a results of not keeping tab on our children’s movements in the camp,’’ she said.
Hauwau Adamu, another displaced person at the camp said they feel neglected and abandoned by the government.
“Rather than feel safe, we feel neglected, abandoned and deserted by the authorities that are supposed to protect us.
“We are far from home; we lost our loved ones, our properties, our homes. Who do we return to?
“What do we have left? Where do we start from?’`, lamented Adamu, a 32-year old mother of six at Wassa IDP camp.
According to her, even though some of the IDPs left the camp for their villages or other places for greener pastures, some still return to the camp when they find nothing to fall back to.
Mrs Eizabeth Duile, a philanthropist and Chief Operations officer, Civitas Auxillium Foundation, an NGO, who has trained several women in FCT IDP camps on vocational skills urged women and girls empowerment and improve access to quality education.
According to her, it is the responsibility of government to provide protection, safety, social support and health services to the vulnerable populations.
She explained that inadequate access to these has further exposed the IDPs to various forms of abuse or SGBV, illiteracy, ill health, amongst others in their quest to survive.
She said the poor level of awareness on SGBV and other forms of violence especially among persons at the grassroots was under-reported leading to inability of government to take adequate inaction towards addressing it.
“I do not even see the government doing so much in the IDP camp in the first place. When it comes to GBV, it is hardly talked about.
“When you ask people, especially the women at the camp, they talk about it. It is either they do not know or they simply hide it.
“Or they, perhaps, see it as a normal thing that would have happened because you are a woman, because you did not dress well or it was meted against you because something you did.
“So the victim becomes the one who is punished and everyone just moves on with their lives,’’ she told News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
Duille, said there was need for more awareness to curb the menace not just in IDP camps but in every part of the society.
“It is time that we talk about it more and more; create more awareness, especially in camps, which is what we are doing; to enable women and girls know why we need to work against GBV.
“It happens in our families, societies, religious places, but then we cover them up and want to protect even the perpetrators and punish the victims, especially when it affects women.
“People need to know what to do, where to go to, if it happens to them, their child or their neighbour or anybody at all.
“If I do not know what to do and where to go to, I will most likely not want to talk about it.
“The Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act, VAPP, law that protects women and children must be active across all states.
“Also, the security operatives need to be carried along most especially the police because it is a civil offence
“They need to know where to go to and people need to be trained in communities to help you; and we should get to know the help lines too,” she told NAN.
The Federal Government budget for 2023 is N21.83 trillion, out of which N10.3 billion allocated to the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI).
NCFRMI is the agency responsible for IDPs nationwide and strategies on reintegrating them into the society.
Mr Lloyd Duru, Registrar, Mediation Training Institute (MTI) said he expected governments at different level to be transparent in handling IDPs and proffer solutions to how best to assist them.
“If you analyse any conflict, the tendency is to notice that apart from the parties in disputes, there are shadow parties and conflict entrepreneurs who benefit from a conflicts.
“So if there is sincerity of purpose and those sponsoring conflict situations are clearly identified, the solution comes very handy,’’ he said.
Mrs Laitu Adamu, who described herself the women leader and coordinator of women in all the 18 IDPs camp in FCT, decried the hardship, which often exposes IDPs to sex and gender-based violence.
Adamu said government had failed to provide enough protection for IDPs and also failed to provide them with basic needs.
According to her, this leaves them at the mercy of philanthropists and some elements who may take advantage of the situation to exploit them.
“We appeal to the government that if they cannot provide education, they should empower us with skills that will enable us have source of livelihood.
“We are over 3,400 residing in this camp with over 300 households. We have philanthropist bringing support and sponsoring some children in school.
“But the government is not doing much for us, some people fall sick and die because of lack of access to healthcare and funds to care for medical bills.
“You will watch helplessly your sick relative until the person dies.
Even when you take the person to the hospital, they are neglected due to lack of funds, especially when you mention that you are from the IDP camp,” she told NAN.
In 2015, the Federal Government signed into law the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act (VAPP).
It urged states to adopt, domesticate and implemented the Child Rights Act and other instruments to curtail the increasing cases of SGBV in the country, yet, these cases still persists.
Gender activists have questioned the readiness of government to punish SGBV offenders, saying the law is either too lenient or government is the judicial system is lethargic in interpreting the law.
Ms Grace Auta, a legal practitioner and Technical Adviser/ Head of Women Unit, Hope for the Village Child Foundation, an NGO, said in spite of laws that punish offenders, such as the VAPP Act, Child Rights Act SGBV and other harmful practices still persisted.
“But if you ask me I will say the laws are not punitive enough, hence these crimes not are reducing.
“And the government needs to do more in terms of implementing the already existing laws and imposing punishments on those guilty of these sexual offences.
“Implementation is a huge problem, and the slow pace of the justice system sometimes makes survivors and their families give up on seeking justice.
“So the government needs to ensure speedy dispensation of justice for the victim and survivors, perpetrator and the society as a whole and the punishments need to be more stringent to really serve as deterrent,’’ she said.
Mrs Pauline Tallen, a former Minister of Women Affairs, had on several occasions called for capital punishment as penalty for perpetrators of SGBV.
“This is due to the fact that some victims do not survive it and some survivors never live a normal life afterwards.
“The crime rids some survivors of the will to live, and this invariably amounts to killing them, even if not physically,’’ the media quoted her as saying.
A 2019 survey by the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics identified 30 per cent of Nigerian women aged between 15 and 49 having experienced physical violence.
Also, a shocking 68 per cent of them were reported to have encountered emotional, economic, and sexual abuse.
According to Ms Beatrice Nyong, UNWomen Country Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, cases of SGBV were not reducing in spite of advocacies, policies and support from stakeholders.
Nyong said SGBV remains one of the most serious human rights violations with detrimental effects on the public health as well as the social, political, and economic advancement of society.
Although it is difficult to put a figure on the financial implications of experts say it is estimated at billions in some places.
For instance in 2021, gender-based violence across the European Union was estimated to cost around 366 billion euros a year.
The quest to end all forms of violence and abuse against women and girls in the society has compelled stakeholders to initiate various interventions.
Most importantly they provide support and resources towards addressing the causes and effects of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence.
For the challenge to be surmounted, the media has a major role to play particularly as the area of public enlightenment. It is also important the such abuse and violence are reported in the most professional manner based on available facts.
Harmful practices against women and children such as tradition and religion-based ones which are usually seen as norms should also be exposed.
It important that the media should also follow up on breaking gender-based violence news until victims receive justice.
Ms Adaora Jack, the Executive Director, Gender Strategy Advancement International (GSAI), urges the media to bring the protection of the rights of women and the inclusion of women with disability especially the vulnerable to the front burner.
“GSAI’s mission is centred on five pillars; gender advocacy, accountability, gender justice, gender driven research, and partnership, aiming to position women’s rights as a national priority through the powerful tool of media“, she said.
Given the slow pace of curbing SGBV there was urgent need for the government to be intentional and enforce total implementation of policies that will ensure its total elimination in the society.
The world and developing countries such as Nigeria can no longer fold arms and watch women and children suffer SGBV. The time to act is now.
Source: News Agency of Nigeria