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Multiple fires in displaced persons’ camps may have been set deliberately

17 April 2024
Reading time: 5 minutes

The Borno State government is investigating claims that malevolent parties may have paid youngsters as much as ₦10,000 to set multiple fires in IDP camps since the start of 2024.

Rumours are rife that unknown malevolent parties have been paying youngsters as much as ₦10,000 to start multiple fires in internally displaced persons’ camps across Borno State.

Since the start of 2024 a number of fires have broken out in different community camps. At least 10 small children have died and thousands of displaced people have been left homeless. Property and belongings worth millions have been destroyed.

A video that has gone viral online is stoking speculation that the fires were started deliberately and that youngsters were paid to set the blazes.

In the video a young man, said to have been arrested by civilian joint task force members, confesses to deliberately starting fires. He claims that two non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the names of which are being withheld, paid him and his accomplices ₦10,000 for each fire they started.

The suspect alleges the “scheme” started more than a year ago. He says he and his accomplices were told to target Monguno, Gubio and Maiduguri in Borno State.

Although the credibility of the video has not been confirmed, Usman Tar, the Borno State commissioner for information and internal security, said the government was aware of the video and investigations were ongoing.

He told RNI that suspects were in police custody and the two NGOs mentioned in the video had been questioned and were under investigation.

“The state government is committed to identifying the root causes of the fire incidents. Once investigations have concluded, measures will be taken to prevent further outbreaks.

“There is always the possibility that the fires were started deliberately but they might also have been caused by negligence. In the past fires have started when kerosene stoves were left unattended or electric appliances, such as generators, were left on by mistake.

“Most community camps are congested and when a fire starts in one thatch house or tent it spreads quickly, especially if there is a strong wind.”

Tar agreed that the number of fire outbreaks in displaced persons’ camps since the start of the year was “alarming”.

The  most devastating fires so far this year occurred in the Muna and Muna Kumburi IDP camps in Maiduguri, the Water Board camp in Monguno and the Fariya Garkin Block in the Jere Local Government Area.

Fires also gutted parts of the Gamboru Market in Maiduguri and the cattle market in Monguno.

On Monday, April 15, another fire broke out at Fariya Garkin Block, destroying at least 12 houses and tents.

Malam Adam, a resident of the camp, told RNI that the fire started about 1am on Monday.

“Residents used sand and water to put out the blaze, which was doused before firefighters arrived. Luckily, the fire was extinguished before it could spread to more houses and tents. Only 12 houses were burnt down.”

Abdullahi Idrissa said residents suspected that the fire was started by a woman who is known to be mentally ill.

“When the fire started, we ran out of our houses shouting loudly to wake people and let them know there was a fire. We saw the mentally ill woman standing outside her house with her belongings. We don’t know if she started the fire but we suspect as much. It has not been confirmed.”

On Thursday, April 11, an elderly man and two young boys aged two and nine died in a blaze in an IDP camp in the Mafa Local Government Area of Borno State.

At least 1,000 houses were burnt to ashes.

Hauwa Ibrahim said the fire began at midday.

“We still don’t know what caused the fire. But it was tragic. An elderly man and two young children died in the blaze.

“I am begging the government and humanitarian agencies to support us. We lost everything in the fire. We urgently need food, shelters and clothing.”

Abdullahi Bukar, a psychiatrist at the Federal Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital in Maiduguri, confirmed that there had been cases of fires being started by people suffering from mental illnesses.

“Unfortunately, the trauma of the insurgency has led to thousands of people suffering from all forms of mental-health-related illnesses. Anxiety, depression and other serious mental disorders are common, particularly among displaced persons.

“The trauma of having to flee from deadly attacks by insurgents and seeing their loved ones murdered, maimed and raped has left many with mental disorders. Their experiences have had a devastating effect on their mental capabilities. Living in IDP camps is difficult and most people do not have access to proper mental healthcare.

“It is common for people who have experienced extreme violence to develop mental disorders which can result in strange behaviour.

“The outward signs of a mental illness are often behavioral. A person may be extremely quiet or withdrawn. Conversely, they may burst into tears often, exhibit great anxiety or have outbursts of anger.

“Even after treatment has started, some individuals can exhibit antisocial behaviour, such violently attacking and chasing people. There have been cases when such individuals have set fires, not realising what they were doing or the consequences of their actions.

“These people need proper mental healthcare, including ongoing counselling, to help them to rein in antisocial and violent behaviour.”



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