Saturday, April 30, 2016
Caring for Nigeria's internally displaced persons
With the exception of the period of the three years fratricidal civil war of 1967 – 1970, I do not know of any other point in time when Nigeria witnessed an upsurge in the number of internally displaced persons as we do now. Factors that give birth to IDPs range from the natural to manmade. Natural disasters such as flash flood, earthquake, famine and tsunami can displace people from their homes making then to seek temporary refuge in a safer environment. Unfortunately, in most part of Africa, Nigeria inclusive, the main cause of people’s displacement are not natural disasters but manmade or self-inflicted conflicts such as ethno-religious disputes. Conflict is inevitable and could bring both good and bad outcome. The current refugee problem Nigeria is grappling is mainly as a result of the acts of insurgency being perpetrated by the dreaded Islamic sect popularly known as Boko Haram.
This ugly phenomenon started like a child’s play in 2009 with the arrest and premeditated murder of some of the leaders of the religious sect in Maiduguri, Borno State by Nigeria’s security agents. What was deemed to be a reprisal attack by members of the Boko Haram against Nigeria security agencies has gradually snowballed into mindless and indiscriminate killings of thousands of innocent souls as well as destruction of private and government owned properties worth trillions of Naira. Aftermath of the internecine ‘religious’ war is the displacement of millions of people from Adamawa, Borno and Yobe States.
The conflict has caused gross human rights violations. As of October 2015, there are an estimated 2,233,506 persons internally displaced in Nigeria. According to information received from Social Welfare Network Initiative, one of the non-governmental organisations working on IDP issues in Nigeria, “the actual displacement figures could be much higher, especially as 27 local government areas in the most affected states are currently in insecure and inaccessible areas. 92 per cent of internally displaced persons live among host communities while 8 per cent are located in official camps run by the government. SWNI noted further that the “Conditions in informal and formal IDP sites remain problematic, with lack of sufficient services, poor coordination, family separation, restrictions on freedom of movement and continued insecurity.”
While it is true that the insurgency in the North East is mainly responsible for the current IDP situation in Nigeria, I must hasten to add that the herdsmen and farmers conflict over cattle grazing is adding significantly to the number of IDPs in Nigeria. The killings in Agatu, Benue State in February 2016 as well as last Monday’s murder of over 40 persons in Nimbo, Enugu State by the herders has added to the IDP statistics. We must not also forget that arising from the International Court of Justice judgment over the Bakassi Pennisula in a protracted boundary disputes between Nigeria and Cameroon, several thousands of persons have been displaced in the Cross River community. Likewise, the flash flood experienced in 2012 across several states in Nigeria displaced several thousands of people many of whom have returned to their ancestral homes.
As highlighted above, the problems of IDPs in Nigeria include lack of sufficient food, protection, Medicare, conveniences including toilets, bathroom, beddings and many more. It is not as if government has not been up and doing, it is just that it would seem that federal government and concerned state governments are overwhelmed with the challenge. This appears so in the light of dwindling resources for effective governance arising from the dip in oil price in the international market.
Nevertheless, it is on record that federal government through the National Emergency Management Agency as well as their state counterpart, State Emergency Management Agency are trying their level best in providing for the welfare needs of the IDPs. Federal Government has even gone a step further to establish the Nigeria Foundation for the Support of Victims of Terrorism (Victims Support Fund) under the leadership of General T.Y Danjuma (Retd.). VSF has garnered billions of Naira through a fundraiser held in August 2014 with which it is at present helping in the care and support for the victims of insurgency. VSF has donated relief materials, provided psychosocial support, economic empowerment and education for victims of terror in Nigeria.
Among other government initiative to ameliorate the pains of victims of terror is the Presidential Initiative for the North East as well as the Safe School Initiative launched in June 2014. Above all, the counter-insurgency campaign led by Nigerian armed forces against the terrorists is yielding positive results as the power of the terrorists have been considerably degraded though they still pose a potent threat to peace and security in the affected states.
Many non-state actors have also been chipping in their support for the IDPs in Nigeria. Among them are the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, United Nations Children Fund, Catholic Relief Services, Forward in Action for Education, Poverty and Malnutrition and many other NGOs too numerous to mention. Families and individuals have also been helping out through provision of voluntary services such as hosting victims of terror as well as donation of relief materials to them.
However, all the efforts and initiatives of these state and non-state actors seem like a drop in the ocean in terms of what can really bring succor to the internally displaced persons in Nigeria. There is also need for better coordination between and among those working to help victims of terror.
On the part of government, one thing is urgent, that is the domestication of the Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons otherwise known as Kampala Convention. The 2009 Convention was developed with the primary objective of providing sustainable solutions to the issue of internal displacement in Africa. On April 17, 2012, Nigeria became the 12th African country to ratify the Kampala Convention. Even before the ratification, way back in 2006, Nigerian government began a process of developing a national policy for the protection of internally displaced persons. The policy which has twice been revised in 2009 and 2012 has remained as a “draft” policy having not been adopted. Am not sure IDP challenge will go away soon in Nigeria. It is therefore important to do the needful by ensuring a proper legal framework as well as funding for the care and support of IDPs.