Thousands in Nigeria Still Displaced Three Months After Religious Clashes

Thousands still displaced from their homes and in dire need of shelter even three months after attacks on Christians in Kano in May.
( [email protected] ) Aug 19, 2004 10:36 AM EDT

Three months after a spate of attacks on Christians in Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria, thousands of people are still displaced from their homes and in dire need of shelter.

Bishop Foster Ekeleme, the Kano state chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, an umbrella body for churches in the country, said, "We have tried to ensure that our people do not suffer too much. Thousands of our members are displaced and we are still compiling the list of those killed, who are in their thousands also."

Nearly 30,000 people fled from their homes after Muslim rioters attacked Kano's Christian minority on May 11 and 12, killing at least 30 people. Sources say the attacks were provoked by a Christian massacre of Muslims in Yelwa, a small town in Plateau State 220 miles to the south, a few days earlier. Since then 2,000 displaced people have been living on an open football pitch at an abandoned police training school, according to the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks.

A large but undetermined number of displaced people in Kano still remain, like Okon, at the military and police barracks, where they sought refuge.

"I cannot tell you how many are still in those locations. As of June 1, about 8,000 people were spread across the camps, with Bompai hosting the largest number", Moussa Abdoulaye, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Red Cross in Kano told IRIN on Wednesday.

The Bompai Police Barracks, in the industrial area of Kano, is one of six sites still housing the displaced people. There, men sleep on mats in a shed or in the open, while others play cards. Women meanwhile sell cooked food, such as boiled corncobs and water in plastic sachets.

The displaced people have received sporadic assistance from the government, the local Red Cross and certain religious organizations, but the situation in the camp remains appalling. Most of its residents lived in the open and had to shelter under trees and balconies of people's houses when it rained.

"We need a place to stay. That is the most important thing for us," Agnes Ekoto, 33, told IRIN.

Conditions at the other camps are no better and many of their residents are starting to despair.

"We have been abandoned here, government people left us here to suffer. We don't have food and we don't have money to rent a place and we cannot go back to our former houses because they have been destroyed," 42-year-old Michael Okpara, a community leader at the Panshekara camp said.

Many would like to leave Kano altogether, but cannot afford to do so.

"[The Kano state government] promised to give us money to leave Kano if we wanted. A month ago, we made a list and gave it to them. It is over a month now since we gave them the list and we have not heard anything from them," Amani, the chairman of Bompai camp, told IRIN on Wednesday.

"We are tired of living like this. We cannot continue to live in a place where we are killed every two years," he added, referring to previous bouts of communal rioting.

Sule Ya'u Sule, the official spokesman for the state government said the authorities were doing their best to look after the displaced people in this city of eight million.

"We as a government have not abandoned the people. Only last Friday we sent food items and other relief materials to the various camps. We have so far spent about 50 million Naira ($45,000) on this," he said.

Sule denied any knowledge of a list of displaced people wishing to leave Kano, where tight security remains in force to prevent a recurrence of religiously inspired rioting.

Armed soldiers have erected tents as temporary quarters for themselves at several strategic locations in the city, but most of them look bored. One soldier who declined to give his name said, "We were ordered to remain on the streets. When they say we should return to barracks we will gladly do so."

Police said 30 people died in the May riots, but some Christian leaders claim that many more were killed.