Dayo, 31, was referred to Mora Hospital in Cameroon in late July by MSF teams in Banki, Nigeria. Photo: Josephine Makamukanga/MSF

Dayo, 31, was referred to Mora Hospital in Cameroon in late July by MSF teams in Banki, Nigeria. She accompanied her sick four year-old son, Barine. The child urgently needed to be admitted to hospital as he was suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Before arriving in Mora, Dayo says her hunger had been so severe that sometimes she felt she was losing her mind. “When somebody spoke to me, I couldn’t even tell if it was a man or woman.”  She had refused to take the rare medication that the medical teams in the area prescribed after a consultation. On an empty stomach, the tablets cause unbearable side effects.

Nine days after Barine was hospitalised, his health has improved significantly, even though he is not yet able to swallow the doses of therapeutic food required to treat his malnutrition. Unfortunately, two of the five children who MSF referred at the same time as Barine have since died. Despite being admitted to hospital, their condition was too severe.

Like Barine and his mother, over 15,000 displaced Nigerians have been living in catastrophic conditions for nearly five months in Banki. Devoid all activity and impossible to leave, Banki now resembles a ghost town.

“I come from a village 15 kilometres from Banki. One day, armed men arrived in our village and forbade us from working or travelling. They were violent and terrorised us. My husband, children and I fled into the bush, armed with only machetes and sticks. That’s when hunger set in. We cooked what dried millet and beans we were able to obtain. We could only cook during the day as at night, the fire would have attracted the attention of the people we were trying to hide from.

Then our village was burnt down. I lost my mother, father and mother-in-law in the violence.

We arrived in Banki with nothing, not even a plate or a pot, and I had only the clothes on my back. We couldn’t leave the town and there was nothing to do apart from wait for the delivery of supplies, upon which we were entirely dependent. Luckily, the authorities are distributing some food to the population, but it really is not enough. We receive barely two kilograms of rice or corn per week, and sometimes it has to last two weeks. If we need fuel, we take wood from sheds to burn, and you can find various objects and utensils in abandoned houses.

In all the time I have been in Banki, I have yet to see any soap. In addition, we have to be really careful with water, given that the little we receive each day has to be used for drinking, hygiene and washing our clothes.

Scared of going back

Although Banki is my home, we are too scared to go back. I heard that in one night alone, three children and two women were kidnapped, along with all their food. I am so worried for my children there. I know that my younger brother is looking after them, but my other son is ill. Each time I get a meal in hospital, I think about the people who are still there.

I want all my family to join me here. I would be happy to live with them underneath a tree, as long as it were here. I don’t want to return to Nigeria. There is nothing left in Banki.”

Find out more about MSF's work in Nigeria.