Many of the people displaced in the Niger Delta by the current military offensive say they are eager to return home. We report from the makeshift camp at Ogbe Ijoh where supplies and patience are in short supply.
Thousands of people have run for their lives in the past two weeks as the army pounded militants strongholds with helicopter gunships and ground troops. Crammed into a refugee camp and compelled to sleep on concrete classroom floors, the displaced civilians, all of them women and children, are eager to return home. Rose Adams was one of them.
"We want to go to our villages, because here we are not living a good life," said Rose Adams. "No place to sleep, we are just sleeping on the floor, which is not good for us. We are begging that the [traditional] rulers will help us to appeal to the federal government to call [its] soldiers back so that we can be able to go to our villages freely without any problem or shooting or war."
Christy Ogbe, another of the nearly 4,000 displaced people at the Ogbe Ijoh camp says the presence of the military in the creeks of the delta is a source of anguish for most residents.
"I am begging the federal government to take JTF [Joint Military Task Force] away from our place so that we can go home, because the mere sight of them is hypertension to most of our people," said Christy Ogbe.
The Niger Delta's 20 million inhabitants are mainly fishermen or families who make a living on the region's vast water sources. Martins Osowa of the National Emergency Management Agency says being left with no means of earning a livelihood has compounded the misery of the displaced.
"That sea route is their means of livelihood," said Martins Osowa. "The moment they cannot sell their catch or do any trading, they are not in good shape."
Lagos-based Rural Africa Health Initiative is among aid groups mobilizing to assist inmates at the Ogbe Ijoh camp. Group leader Dr. Showemimo Fredinas spoke to VOA.
"Today, we are here in Warri to see the refugees as a result of the crisis in the riverine area of the state," said Showemimo Fredinas. "We have just presented some relief materials in the form of blankets, insecticide-treated mosquito nets and oral dehydration salt to help in taking care of the displaced persons."
The Nigerian government has been criticized for restricting aid agencies' access to the creeks, where some reports estimate hundreds of civilians may have been killed and tens of thousands displaced by the fighting.
A military-sponsored tour for two aid agencies took place last week, and provided an opportunity to assess what was left of the local communities. A senior official of the Nigerian Red Cross, Augustine Egbero, who was on the trip, told VOA the degree of destruction was not as widespread as previously speculated.
"We were in Oporoza, we saw Kurte, but we did not enter Krute," said Augustine Egbero. "We were in Azama, we were in Ote Ijoh or something like that, then Kulukuluma. It was not as they are saying it. There were houses still standing there. Like in Oporoza, two visible compounds were affected, invariably Tom Polo's house and the king's palace. Krute had some houses burnt, it is much in Krute. We could not get to Okerenkoko."
This may be great news for anxious displaced residents of the Niger Delta. The implication is that they may be able to return home as soon as the fighting stops.