Over 500 Nigerians resident in northern part of Mali have fled to Nigeria since the start of the country’s armed conflict about a year ago.
Many others who are desperate to leave could not make it for lack of financial resources, Daily Trust can reveal. The regions worse hit by the crisis that led to the intervention of UN-backed African forces under the auspices of African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) are Gao, Toumbouctou and Kidal.
Nigeria is among the 13 African countries involved in the ongoing military operation in northern Mali.
It was learnt that more than 300 Nigerians fled from the famous Gao town which is over 1200 kilometres away from Bamako, the capital city of Mali, and nearly 200 others from Toumbouctou and neighbouring villages. Toumbouctou, which is one of Mali’s known historic towns, is about 1000 kilometres from Bamako.
No single Nigerian was found to be living permanently in the desert region of Kidal, the home of the Tuaregs. It was however gathered that there were some few of them who used to go to the area occasionally on trade mission from Gao and Toumbouctou.
Gao, which houses the ancient mosque built by the great Askiya Muhammad who reigned in the 13th century, is almost a ghost settlement now. Residents have either fled to Bamako or have left the country. As of now, not a single government organisation works in the once bubbling town.
No government official yet could be found attending to people just as there is no single police station or health institution working despite the heavy presence of military personnel led by French forces. A number of residents said many pregnant women and other sick persons died as there was no single functional hospital; all health have workers fled the town, and it is the same scenario in education and other sectors.
The February 22 fight that led to loss of many lives and property, including the town’s only market, aggravated the situation. Nigerian traders reportedly lost all they had in the market fire during the recent clash between the military men and Ansar Dine fighters.
It was learnt that many fleeing Nigerians were offered financial assistance by relations and friends before they could finally leave as their request for logistics support formally forwarded to the Nigerian Embassy in Mali could not immediately be granted. Those who could not get the necessary logistic support had to remain behind amid perpetually fear of the unknown. Some of them who interacted with our correspondent looked clearly malnourished.
Leader of the Nigerian community in Gao Iliyasu Alhaji Ibrahim Jega told that the remaining Nigerians and other residents were in pitiable condition because of food shortage. Jega, said there are nearly 800 Nigerians living in Gao alone, adding that many of them wanted to leave for Nigeria but were hindered by lack of financial resources. He said the Nigerian Embassy in Mali is yet to respond to their request for logistic support applied for since the start of the crisis.
“I can confirm to you that most of us here in Gao have no food to eat with our family members, no money. Nothing works in Gao except the military personnel patrolling all parts of the town; our condition was aggravated when our traders lost all their wares in a fire that razed the market during the recent clash between the military personnel and Ansar Dine fighters.
“As you can see anybody you meet here is not happy; all Gao residents had to remain indoors for three days during the February 22 fight. And nothing comes yet to Gao, Toumbouctou and Kidal from Malian authorities as relief all this while”, he said. Jega, who said his grandparents stepped into Mali at the peak of colonial rule, also said Nigerian residents in northern part of Mali need some kind of relief to cushion their difficulty and there is no better time for the relief than now. He also said the relief materials donated to Mali by China, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Nigeria are yet to reach those in need.
Nigerian Embassy in Mali confirmed receipt of the request by Nigerians for logistic support, saying a comprehensive memo was forwarded to the National Emergency Relief Agency (NEMA) for possible intervention.
NEMA, in its response through its media chief Yusha’u Shuaib, said the 1110 metric tons of the assorted foods and household items donated to Malian authorities almost 10 days ago were for the internally displaced persons and those who are in dire need of assistance in northern Mali. Mali minister of humanitarian affairs Mr Mamadou Sidibe had earlier assured the international community that the relief materials in stock would be distributed to all those seriously affected by the conflict soon.