Every morning, a group of women files out of an abandoned, uncompleted housing estate in Goronyo Local Government of Sokoto State. What they have in common is that they are all widows living in a makeshift camp for displaced persons.
Originally conceived as resettlement estate for persons displaced by the 2010 floods in Goronyo, the abandoned, uncompleted estate now houses 500 persons displaced by bandits’ attacks in Malanfaru, Riyojin Tsamiya and Kamitau villages in Goronyo.
Of the 50 widows in the camp, 28 lost their husbands in the bandits’ attacks. All of them now have to fend for themselves. So every morning, they file out of the camp to gather firewood which they sell to buy food and other essentials that they and their children need.
For the past 11 months, since their displacement, this has been their lives. The memories of the homes they came from are still fresh in their minds. “When the bandits attacked our village, some women and I fled to the bush and on our return, I discovered the corpse of my husband among the 21 killed,” nursing mother, Azima, 25, said. “My baby was 40 days old when the father was killed.”
Hindatu Bawa, clutching her one-year-old daughter, Rahina, looked dejected, unkempt and sad. Bandits had gunned down her husband, a farmer, on the day they attacked their village. “My child was just one month old when the bandits attacked our village and killed 21 dwellers, including my husband. After I identified his corpse, I joined the other women and trekked over 30 km to this camp,” she said.
At the camp, life has not been ideal. There are food and water shortages and a lack of security worries the displaced persons in Goronyo, especially as increasing bandits’ activities in neighbouring villages portend danger. “The need to make a living compels us to trek for miles into the bush looking for firewood to sell and feed.
It is what we do to survive this life of uncertainty,” Hindatu said. The search for firewood is a team effort for the widows. About 20 of them set off each morning for this hunt.
“We leave camp about 9 am and return around noon,” another widow, Jimma Ibrahim, 40, said. On a good outing, Jimma gathers N600 worth of firewood. On other days, she makes about N400 daily. “
We sell the firewood within the camp where retailers and households buy them,” she said. The money she makes helps cater for her five children in the camp. It is no way near enough. “We are in dire need of food and cloth for our children.
We need support to survive the hard times,” she said. For Zainabu Abu, another widow, her encounter with the bandits revealed to her their motive and foretold her future.
“When the gun-wielding bandits came, they met me outside and the leader said it is your husbands and sons we want to kill and then put you in poverty,” she said. “They burnt houses and killed our men.”
She and the other survivors trekked for close to four hours before arriving at the camp in Goronyo to live in the poverty that the bandits had wanted for them. Spokesman of the IDPs, Samaila Garba, 40, said some of them could not bear the dreadful conditions of life in the camp and decided to go back home to face whatever would befall them. Their homes are not in any way safe since bandits are still grazing their rustled livestock around the villages.
“We have our families here, and we have been struggling to provide for them,” he said. “For me, I use my motorcycle for commercial purposes while others took to menial jobs in the town to survive the situation.” Garba, who makes about N500 daily, said, “We are in a serious problem. We need the government’s assistance, especially on security.
Every day, we hear about people getting killed or kidnapped in surrounding villages and no one bothers to look our way.” It is the rainy season and for most of the IDPs, this is supposed to be one of the busiest times of the year as they prepare and plant their farmlands. However, now, they can only languish in self-pity while scraping for a living.
“We cannot risk our lives going back to the village,” Garba said. “But if we can get a piece of land on lease [here], we can make use of it.” Umaru Garba, 45, along with his wives and 10 children, fled from Malanfaru village after the attack. Life in the camp has been really hard. “We have spent over 11 months at the camp and the situation is quite challenging,” he said.
Umaru engages in petty trade at the camp’s entrance and feeds off the proceeds. With the limited chance of farming, it is hard finding another way to live and feed his family. “We suffer a lot to get even water to drink and the camp where I live with my family of two wives and ten children is not secured,” he said.
“We are at the mercy of the gun-toting kidnappers and bandits who are terrorizing nearby villages. We are afraid of another attack,” he said. Abubakar Musa, 35, often goes into Goronyo town to look for menial jobs to feed his wife and three children.
“I usually visit construction sites where I can get something to do. Any job available, I can do it to feed,” he said. Others have found ways of doing handwork within the camp. One of them is Samaila Garba, 40, from Riyojin Tsamiya. He is the only tailor in the camp and moves from place to place, mending clothes.
“I don’t sew new clothes but mend old ones, and I can make about N300 a day. I also sew children’s cloth,” the husband of two wives and father of 10 said. For the children, life in the camp is very strange and difficult.
Shuaibu, 11, said people go indoors as soon as it is 7 pm. “Life here is quite challenging compared to the one at our villages,” he said. When probed on what he meant, he said, “Food was more available at home. We barely get enough to eat here.”
Yet, in this hardship, while grieving the dead and their loses, the IDPs are bringing new lives into the world with 30 births recorded since the camp was established.