06/25/2022 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The Benue River runs directly through Makurdi, slicing through the state and cultivating the richest soils in Nigeria. Basketfuls of colorful crops line the city streets, supplemented by hanging rows of raw meat and the fishermen’s catch of the day. While driving past the marketplaces and marveling at the natural resources available, I easily understood why locals fondly refer to Benue as “the breadbasket of Nigeria.” Inconceivable, though, is what you will find just a few miles down the road.
In a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), only a 10-minute drive from the center of town, are hundreds of people forced into lives of obscurity. Women who once reaped bountiful harvests now trade sex for a meal to bring home to their families. Children who otherwise would have been able to attend school now wander idly with their bellies swollen from malnourishment or so emaciated that their skeletons show through their skin. In a state so blessed to be called Nigeria’s breadbasket, there are more than 1 million IDPs struggling to survive each day.
These are the same people who were living lives of peace and comfort just years prior. Lives were taken from them in an instant when Fulani militants stormed their communities, killed their family members, and burned down their homes, all in the name of their god.
I spoke with Mary, a woman seemingly in her 20s, whose English revealed years of education.
“I’ve been here for five years now,” she told me, her eyes fixed on the red dirt beneath us. “One day, we were asleep at our homes, and we heard shooting, but we didn’t know the problem that started it. There were more than 50 of them, carrying guns and cut glass.” She paused, then continued, still looking at the ground.
“They killed my brother and his wife that day,” she said, as she looked out and motioned toward the sea of tents. “Now we are living here. We don’t have a clinic, healthcare, or anything to eat. My prayer is for you to help us to go back to our home.”
As Mary spoke, a crowd gathered, and when she finished, others took their turn to tell their stories, each more devastating than the last. When it was time to leave, we joined together in prayer and said our goodbyes. While we left full of good intentions, hoping to effectively relay their message back home, deep down, we wondered if anything would really make a difference.
Our van started to exit the camp, and I turned around to see the crowd waving goodbye. Just then, I noticed a woman emerge from the group. Is she running after us? We continued driving, and she began to slow down, eventually turning back to the crowd in exhaustion.
They motioned her forward as if telling her not to give up. Once again, she continued to run. Yes, she’s running after us. We asked the driver to stop, and we got out and began running to meet her. When we did, she reached behind her back and handed me a child who I hadn’t previously seen, tied around her in a swaddling scarf.
He was skin and bones. Never had I held something so delicate. With one wrong move, I felt that he would break in my arms. He clung to me, not making a noise. He couldn’t have been more than 10 pounds. Later I would find out he was almost four years old.
Thankfully, this child was brought to a hospital that day and nourished back to health. But for millions of IDPs across Nigeria, this story rarely has a happy ending. Having been driven from their ancestral farmlands due to Fulani militant attacks, they have become refugees in their own country.
A four-year-old child starving to death in Nigeria’s breadbasket. I wondered how many more there could be.
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