Government and other stakeholders need to act before it is too late
There is a state of emergency at the internally displaced persons’ (IDPs) camps, particularly in Borno State, as several people are becoming sickly with many children reportedly dying of malnutrition. But it appears to be a general situation in the North-east where, following years of Boko Haram insurgency, many displaced people are increasingly finding it difficult to fend for themselves.
The situation is so bad that both the outgoing United States ambassador to Nigeria, James Entwistle and the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria, Munir Safieldom, in separate statements last weekend raised the alarm about the looming catastrophe in the North-east. “The conditions we are seeing are devastating,” said Safieldom while Entwistle raised a moral poser: “Nigerians are dying of starvation in Nigeria. How can that be?”
Help, however, came for the IDP camp in Bama, Borno State last week when a presidential team led by Special Adviser on Social Investment, Mrs Maryam Uwais, visited with drugs and food. But there are still questions as to why President Muhammadu Buhari himself has not visited. “Pictures that came out of Syria which prompted world leaders to meet in London, including President Buhari, were not as bad as those that came out of Bama… How can he not visit Bama to assess the situation of IDPs?” asked Aisha Yesufu, co-chair of the BringBackOurGirls (BBOG) coalition.
We subscribe to the view that the president should visit Bama and the other camps where the displaced and traumatised Nigerians are domiciled, even as we commend the efforts of Mrs Uwais whose office is collaborating with critical stakeholders, including the Borno State Government, to ensure that those in the IDP camps are neither forgotten or abandoned. But the challenge ahead is still enormous aside the fact that internal displacement is also becoming a national malaise.
According to a recent report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), a Norway-based non-governmental humanitarian organisation, the full impact of displacement in Nigeria is unclear, because figures are often only available after larger-scale crises. “Estimates suggest that violence and disasters caused by natural hazards have forced a staggering number of people to flee their homes, but information is anecdotal and primarily about the minority of IDPs who live in camps. Data collection is inconsistent and unreliable, leading to an alarming lack of understanding of displacement dynamics, and fragmented and inadequate responses,” said IDMC.
However, there is no denying the humanitarian crisis in the North-east where hundreds of thousands of people are traumatised by the violence that prompted them to flee their homes and are afraid to return. “Those whose homes have been damaged or destroyed by conflict and flooding have nowhere to go back to,” said IDMC. “They also tend to live in cramped and unhygienic conditions. The most vulnerable IDPs – the young, elderly people and those with disabilities – are most at risk. There is a lack of strategy guiding humanitarian assistance and only limited discussion of durable solutions at both the national and local level.”
While we commend the efforts of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the facts on the ground remain that there are obvious gaps in addressing the needs of the IDPs, not only by the governments at all levels, but also by the civil society. Even if we disagree about the actual number of Nigerians that are today internally displaced, the failure to define roles and responsibilities continues to hamper the humanitarian and development response. But in the instance case of Bama where the human tragedy is quite revealing, it is important for critical stakeholders, including private sector organisations, to move in quickly. As Entwistle asked: “How can citizens of a nation like Nigeria, with all its abundant human and material resources be dying of hunger?”