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.