In the larger of the two dimly lit rooms of a photocopying and computer business centre somewhere in the heart of Maiduguri, eight women sit waiting – a few of them cradling their babies in their arms. As the minutes approach an hour, their smiles become creases. The uneasy silence in the room is punctuated only by the sounds of the keyboard from the typing of a lanky teenager on one of two working desktop computers in the room.
One of them is 32-year old Maureen Stephen from Madagali in the neighbouring Adamawa state, one of the over 2 million people who have been displaced since the beginning of an insurgency crisis in the North East region of Nigeria, powered by Boko Haram.
After graduating from Sir Kashim Ibrahim College of Education, she moved in with her husband, a farmer in Madagali. More than a decade later and with her husband dead at the hands of the insurgents, she was sent money by a former classmate at the institution to return to the city with her children. The money also paid for rent for their one-bedroom apartment in Bulukutu, on the outskirts of Maiduguri.
Maureen and the other women are a few of the 5,985 Internally Displaced People (IDPs) who are benefitting from the nine-month long Unconditional Cash Transfer (UTC) initiative of the Action Against Hunger (ACF International), in a $4.6m grant from the USAID-funded Food for Peace Programme. The UTC is one of two such initiatives, the other being the ‘Porridge Mom scheme feeding 68 groups of 15 women each, together with all their children under five. They were registered in a household-household evangelism programme of the organization.
Under the UTC, the beneficiaries get either groceries or money, depending on their choice. Those who choose the latter get N17,000 monthly (up from an initially budgeted N14,200, stretched because of inflation), equal to approximately 50% of their basic living costs. They come with their registered IDs and a card credited monthly by a Turkey-based fintech company.
Sadiq Abdulkareem, the man everyone is waiting for is one of the four employees of one of the cash vendors in Maiduguri, one of 28 in all who are part of the UTC in Borno state. Having run out of funds to disburse, he had gone to get money from another cash point. Soon after the hour-mark passes, he saunters in, his steps slow but steady in the manner of a man who knows his importance. The sight of him in his yellow kaftan, the starching slightly perturbed by the drizzling outside, is a welcome relief to those waiting. Immediately, he gets down to business and begins to attend politely to them.
Some of those employed by the cash vendors are IDPs who count themselves lucky to be empowered. Sadiq is not one of them but the recent graduate of Library & Information Studies from the University of Maiduguri knows that his job is an important one nevertheless. So when the cash with him was exhausted, he got into the rain to refill his till.
“There is a sense of fulfilment from helping them so I am happy to do it. Some of them have paid rents and school fees from this money.”
Initially, Maureen’s older children seemed worried when she started bringing home the groceries, afraid that their beloved mother was probably stealing to get them food – until she explained about the ACF’s work. “Now when I bring food home, all of them are happy.”, she says breaking into a smile, her Hausa bursting forth rapidly like water from a high-pressure pipe suddenly set loose.
For Falmatu Modu, a 20-year old who is also in the room, the well-being of her parents, siblings and the guardians of her husband, 30-year old Umar all depend largely on the money the young Kanuri woman gets from the UTC. Displaced by a Bama attack in 2014, she and her family are some of the majority of IDPs who live outside the camps. Her own homestead is in a settlement called Mairi, also on the outskirts of town.
Thanks to her savings, Falmatu now knits caps for sale to supplement the funding from the UTC, for her family. In Maureen’s case, she now sells tarwada (dried catfish) bought from the Baga market within Maiduguri to her neighbours and fellow IDPs outside the camps, in Bulukutu.
The programme ends this August but for women like Maureen and Falmatu, the UTC has been quite helpful and will be instrumental in fashioning a new life beyond its’ timeline.
“As long as the communities host IDPs, and IDPs remain displaced away from their homesteads, this support will to continue, as families might not be able to make a living”, says Thierry Laurent-Badin, director of programmes of AFC International in Nigeria.
“But in parallel to the food security focused programs, more livelihoods and income-oriented activities will start, trying to reinforce household income creation, and therefore their ability to be economically stable enough to access food and other basic needs. Once families are moving back home, there will be significant support to the rehabilitation of livelihoods, like agriculture support to restart the agriculture cultivation in family fields, which have not been cultivated since the displacement. With this support, families will become self-sufficient again, once peace prevails and farmers can go into their fields and cultivate.”