by Obed Minchakpu
KADUNA, Nigeria (Compass) -- Thousands of Christians affected by religious conflicts in Kaduna in northern Nigeria are languishing in refugee camps across the state without receiving help from the government.
Many have died in the camps as a result of the outbreak of disease, lack of medical attention and insufficient relief aid, church sources said.
Refugees who spoke to Compass said they would like to leave the camps, but they have no houses to move to because their houses and property were destroyed during the clashes that occurred in February and May in Kaduna.
Refugees reported that even though they had received relief aid from some churches and non-governmental agencies, it was not sufficient to meet their needs and many had died.
The international humanitarian organization "Medecins Sans Frontieres" (Doctors without Borders) frowned at the slow response of the Nigerian government to the plight of the victims of religious conflicts in Kaduna and other parts of northern Nigeria.
"It was unfortunate that government agencies were not willing to provide immediate assistance to victims of religious conflicts in the country," said Peter Lovber, Nigerian logistics coordinator for the organization.
The lack of help has forced many to desert the camps even though it was not safe to do so, Lovber said.
According to Segun Olusola, president of African Refugees Foundation, the Nigerian government was not prepared to deal with the problem.
"We have always been warning about the link between internal displacement and refugees," Olusola said. "For us, it is one step leading to the other, and the magnitude of internal displacement in Kaduna this time certainly resembled large scale movement of people across national frontiers. I hope that Nigerians will learn from the sad experience. They need to prepare for such large scale disaster."
While churches and human rights organizations have been pressing for relief to be sent to the refugees, the Kaduna state government said it would not compensate those who suffered during the Kaduna crisis.
State Information Commissioner Dr. Rabo Bature said the government was not even considering compensation. "There is nobody who can compensate life. Therefore, rule that out. If you lost somebody, you have lost him. There are no spare lives anywhere where government can go and buy and start using them to compensate those that have lost their lives," he said.
Nigerian church leaders say they have made efforts to provide relief materials to some of the Christian refugees at the various camps. Dr. Mike Okonkwo, Bishop of the Redeemed Evangelical Mission, said efforts are also being made to set up a "Macedonia Initiative" to provide relief assistance to Christian refugees. He appealed to other Christians worldwide to support the Nigerian church at this crucial time.
Macedonia Initiative coordinator Pastor Ladi Thompson said that because of the two religious conflicts in Kaduna this year, the town has become "a ghost of its former self and needs reconstruction and rehabilitation in the area of human and material resources."
Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct News Service. Used with permission.