Nigerian refugees in Chad root for Buhari but can`t vote

AFP| Updated: Mar 29, 2015, 01:26 AM IST

In the Chadian capital N`Djamena, Modou Mallam brandished his blue voter`s card but the Nigerian refugee could not vote in Saturday`s presidential ballot like thousands of other refugees scattered across neighbouring countries. 

The young man fled to Chad three months ago after a spate of attacks by Boko Haram Islamists against his city of Gamboru in northeast Nigeria, joining a flood others spread across the region.

The bloody insurgency -- which has claimed more than 13,000 lives over the past six years -- has seen some 18,000 Nigerians escaping to Chad, 74,000 to Cameroon and 125,000 to Niger. 

At a makeshift camp near N`Djamena, around 100 refugees -- taxi drivers, farmers, merchants -- voiced strong opinions on the contest for power between incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan and his main challenger Muhammadu Buhari.

"We support Buhari 100 percent," around a dozen old men shouted, backing the candidate who like them is Muslim and comes from the north of the country.

Buhari has been a severe critic of Jonathan, a Christian from the south, and his handling of the Boko Haram rebellion.

And the refugees have long felt that the power elite in Abuja has ignored the northern region and its deep poverty."The government or Boko Haram, it`s the same thing. No one protected us when they came and massacred us in our villages, " 70-year-old Mohamed Abdulahi said.

"And when the soldiers pursued them, they killed even more people" than the insurgents, he added.

They call the current president `Bad Luck`. Another refugee, Ali Ahmad, said Jonathan was "a traitor and shouldn`t stay in power."

Awa Maidiriga, 18, holding a three-month-old baby in her arms, said she would have liked to have cast her first vote ever for Buhari. 

But she like all the refugees has other preoccupations.

"We don`t have even the minimum. I don`t have milk for baby. For months we`ve only been eating rice with oil and a little salt," she said.

Most of the Nigerian refugees fleeing to Chad in the past few months have settled in the north, on the banks of Lake Chad, where there is a big camp where they are receiving international humanitarian aid.

Here too the refugees harbour a bitter resentment toward the Nigerian authorities.

"Our ambassador came here two months ago. He took out of the camp the Ibos and Yorubas (the predominantly Christian ethnic majorities in southern Nigeria) but left all the Muslims behind," said Mohamed Abdulah angrily.

"We haven`t received any aid, any food" from the Nigerian embassy, he said.

"The only ones who give us anything are the Chadian police who guard us. They pay out of their own pockets for a little oil and some firewood," he said.