In this festive season, we as a nation need to reflect upon and more importantly take action on the misery of the growing numbers of our compatriots who have been forced to migrate and become either refugees in neighbouring countries or internally displaced persons (IDPs) within the country. We need to act and show charity as individuals, as members of charitable and religious organisations and above all as governments at the national, state or local levels. There is nothing as destabilizing as being forced out of one’s home and community and becoming totally dependent of others for help. When that help does not come, the level of misery increases.
Last week, the Prime Minister of Niger, Brigi Rafini visited Diffa province in his country, which shares a border with Borno State to see for himself the problems posed by Nigerian refugees. His conclusion was categorical; Niger cannot cope with the numbers of Nigerians crossing the border. The humanitarian crisis was beyond their means. He explained that after one attack by Boko Haram, 17,000 refugees turned up at Gagamari village, 20 km away from Diffa, within one week multiplying the population of the village by five. As the people of Niger are themselves very poor, they simply do not have the capacity to cater for them although they are doing the best that they can. The estimate of monthly expenditure necessary to take care of Nigerian refugees in Diffa alone is 17 billion CFA. The Government of Niger simply does not have the resources to cope he explained. There are currently over 100,000 Nigerian refugees in Niger alone. The numbers in Cameroon and Chad are also growing.
In addition to the refugees, Nigeria currently has over four million internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been forced to leave their communities and homes due to violent conflicts. We have the dubious distinction of being the third worst country in the world ranking of IDP numbers. Worldwide, the number of internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) according to International Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) in 2013 stood at 33.3 million people. Their spatial distribution shows that 63 percent of IDPs are located in only five countries affected by conflict – Syria (6.5 million), Colombia (5.7 million), Nigeria, (3.3 million), the Democratic Republic of Congo (2.7 million) and Sudan (2.4 million). Because these figures change in response to the conflict situation within countries, the caseload and therefore the ranking of the countries also change over time. The number of IDPs in Nigeria has grown considerably since the 2013 estimates and is today over four million.
The Boko Haram insurgency, conflicts with militants in the Niger-Delta, inter-community conflicts and cattle rustling in the north central zone (Plateau, Nassarawa and Benue States), rural banditry in the North West as well as election related violence (Kaduna, Zamfara, Katsina and Sokoto States) kidnapping in the South East and the 2013 flooding of River Benue have all conspired to provoke the displacement of millions of people from their normal places of abode. The most serious cause generating the increase of IDPs in the country is of course the insurgency in the North East zone. The current figure of the number of IDPs emanating from Boko Haram terrorism in the North East, according to the United Nations, is 1.5 million. There has been a spike in the numbers due to increased attacks and expansion of the zone of Boko Haram attacks and conquest of Nigerian territory over the past six months.
UNICEF has identified six major drivers of population movements in Nigeria leading to an increased need for humanitarian aid. They are insurgency, communal conflicts, natural disasters, environmental degradation, poverty and electoral violence. The key problem in Nigeria is that nothing is ever done to resettle the IDPs. The IDPs that ran from the post election violence of 2011 have not been resettled. Neither have the victims of the 2013 floods. The IDPs from the Boko Haram insurgency and inter-communal conflicts continue to grow partly because nothing is done to address their long-term needs.
IDPs live a life of misery after being uprooted from their homes and livelihoods. There are a few camps but they do not have good facilities such as rooms and toilets. Most IDPs have to seek out friends, relations and village mates to stay with. Others are dependent on religious organisations. Given the general poverty in the land however, taking care of IDPs is a real strain on hosts and host communities. NEMA appears after a tragedy has occured and provides some emergency relief such as indomie noodles, which does not address the nutritional needs of the people and beddings. NEMA however does not have the mandate to address the real needs of IDPs in terms of food security, education, child protection, health, nutrition and water, sanitation and hygiene.
The National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons has statutory responsibility for IDPs in the country. They have however not been heard of since our problem of refugees and IDPs became chronic. They simply have not been provided with the resources to do their work, not even the resources to register and monitor the conditions of IDPs. Virtually all the available resources go to NEMA, which has strong political support but has no mandate to address medium and long-term needs of IDPs and refugees.
The plight of the growing numbers of Nigerian refugees in Niger, Cameroon and Chad must be taken up as an issue of urgent national importance. They are in foreign countries and have no access to friends and relations to take care of them. The countries they have run to are too poor to take care of them. The National Commission for Refugees has no resources to address their problems. I do hope that my avid readers in the Presidency and National Assembly will rise to the challenge of addressing the needs of the over four million Nigerian refugees and IDPs in this festive season when they distribute hampers to their friends and colleagues.0