Wurukum Camp, located a few kilometres from the Benue River, is home to 4,290 displaced persons. So far, 42 pregnancies have been recorded here. At the time of writing, three women had already given birth, with the latest a day to Nigeria's 52nd independence anniversary, celebrated on Wednesday. But conditions at the camp are far from ideal, particularly for the 39 still expectant women and their progeny.
By King James Yiye, Markudi
It's been three weeks since unwanted waters from Cameroon’s Lagdo Dam devastated residents of five states on the banks of Rivers Benue and Niger. I was in Benue State in north-central Nigeria as people swam to safety. Many arrived at makeshift camps in primary schools across the state capital and are remaining there indefinitely, as their houses are still submerged.
At Wurukum Camp, in one classroom alone there are five expectant mothers. They share the 4x5-metre space with at least a score of other people and the wooden desks once used by students.
Patience Joseph, 28, is one of those five women. She is now six months pregnant. The seven children she already has stay together in a single classroom, which they share with 17 other children. Her husband, a junior police officer, goes to work.
"We are caged, like birds with little money. I used to sell soft drinks and pure water in front of my house to take care of my children, but here it is not possible as everyone here na refugee,” she says, breaking into the pidgin English many around here speak.
Patience says she has lost valuable items in the flood, including her children’s clothing, cooking utensils, a refrigerator and livestock. Highlighting the irony of their ad hoc home, she notes: “My children are here – dem no go school again."
Her third daughter, Ojima, is nine years old and wants to be a nurse when she grows up. For now, she, like many others, simply hopes the water will soon give way. Then she can return to pursuit of her ambition.
Over in another classroom, nine-month pregnant Blessing Chukwuma started experiencing signs of labour a few days ago, but they seem to have stopped. “I no see am again,” she says in an uncertain voice that reflects the camp’s uncomfortable conditions, which I suspect are delaying her delivery.
The 23-year-old is meant to be attending a natal clinic here. But just as for Patience, that has been put on hold. Because the caregivers must come from outside, services are irregular – in fact, the exercise has taken place only once since the camp was established three weeks ago. Blessing will have to deliver her baby at Wurukum, but in the meantime, she faces the same challenges as the other mothers.
At home she can cook any time, but here she must be given food. She also lacks absolute control over her first daughter. Two-year-old Chika can be seen playing with the other kids. Her mum calls her to cover her naked little body with a dress, before she touches my iPad, saying "dada". The father Chika may be invoking is a commercial driver who has travelled to far away Jigawa State in northern Nigeria.
The family’s house, a few kilometres away, is still submerged. Blessing does not know when the water will dissipate or, for that matter, when she will return home.
Terumbur Alabar, the camp commandant drafted from the National Emergency Management Agency, tells me there are 501 families at the camp. The largest has 42 members. On top of this, there are reports of fake displaced persons – the hungry poor who come from regions far away from the disaster area to feed on food provided for the legitimately displaced.
Conditions like this are ripe for teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Victor Anyebe, a doctor heading the medical team, claims measures have been put in place to check this, though admits it is not going to be easy. “This is an emergency arrangement, but we hope parents will take care of their children,” he says.
Then again, Ifeoma Ejike, a 25-five-year-old, also pregnant, suggests the camp lacks privacy. "It's not easy, I can't even touch my husband when everybody eye dey everywhere," she says. Ifeoma and her three-year-old daughter share their classroom with 12 other families.
In his speech marking Nigeria’s independence, President Goodluck Jonathan addressed the flood. “I want to reassure all affected Nigerians that I share in their grief,” he said. “The federal government has taken measures to assist the affected states, while considering long-term measures to check future reoccurrence.”
Such assistance has yet to be seen, though Benue State governor Gabriel Suswam says he is "in constant talks with Mr. President” and hopes the disaster will soon be over.
When I speak to Alabar, two days after Nigerian independence day, he tells me: "The fourth expectant mother started seeing signs of labour this afternoon." The commandant is referring to Blessing, but my call to the camp on Friday confirmed that she is still waiting.