The authorities should move fast to address the worrying exploitation of the IDPs, writes Vincent Obia
Recent revelations about the diversion of items and funds meant for internally displaced persons in various parts of the country have inspired much discussion. Over the past few months, different institutions and organs of government have raised concerns about the astonishing and emotional issue. The authorities must rise to the occasion, and proactively move to save the IDPs from those who are out to profiteer from their situation. Government must demonstrate that they are committed and able to protect the IDPs from persons who have sold their souls to the devil.
Last month, the House of Representatives resolved to investigate allegations that donor funds and materials meant for the displaced persons were being diverted. The resolution followed a motion on matters of urgent public importance raised by Hon. Aliyu Isa, a Peoples Democratic Party member from Gombe State, during plenary.
The House said in the resolution passed on June 23, “Both the federal government, local donor groups, as well as wealthy individuals have committed funds for the same purposes.” It expressed worry “that despite all the donations, a large number of these IDPs are living in hunger, very deplorable and unhygienic conditions without any rehabilitation in sight.
“There are series of allegations of diversion of the donated funds meant for the wellbeing and welfare of IDPs.”
The House mandated its committees on emergency and disaster preparedness; loans, aids and debt management; and IDPs, refugees and initiatives on North-east to investigate the donations and their disbursement.
In a similar vein of annoyance at the exploitation of IDPs, last month, chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, expressed worry over complaints of corruption in the IDPs camps. Magu said the complaints came from international humanitarian organisations and other civil society organisations that were donating relief materials to victims of the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east, camped in different parts of the country.
“We want to be sure that there is transparency, accountability and judicious use of the money allocated to Internally Displaced Persons in Maiduguri and elsewhere,” the EFCC chairman stated while visiting the reopened zonal office of the commission in Maiduguri. “What we are doing is gathering intelligence but the culprits behind the sufferings in the IDP camps will be invited sooner or later by the EFCC.”
The main culprits are civil society groups and non-governmental organisations claiming to be working for the interest of the IDPs. But there are individuals and government officials also involved in the wicked enterprise of taking advantage of the IDPs. Recently, there were reports about some officials of the National Emergency Management Agency caught changing the bags in which rice procured by government, benevolent Nigerians, and foreign donors for the IDPs were sold, on purpose to resell them.
Not long ago, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps in Borno State arrested some men alleged to have duped IDPs in the state into buying fake forms for relief materials to the tune of about N27 million. The suspects were said to have sold 9,000 forms at N300 each to IDPs in some camps in Maiduguri with the promise of providing them special relief materials from the federal government.
It is disturbing to note that while the funds and items meant to bring some succour to the IDPs are being siphoned, conditions in the camps are worsening everyday. Last week, the Islamic Medical Association of Nigeria, an NGO, said two ladies and a man were diagnosed with mental insanity among the IDPs at the Kukareta camp in Yobe State. Chairman of the organisation, Dr Abdullahi Nur, called for “urgent psychological therapy for the IDPs for the shock suffered from the attacks on their communities.”
In May, NSCDC reported what it called a shocking incidence of prostitution in IDPs camps in Borno State in a desperate survival bid by the people. The state NSCDC commandant, Ibrahim Abdullahi, said the IDPs were being lured into the act “because of the situation they found themselves.”
Over the years, progress has been made in raising funds and relief items for persons who have been displaced from their ancestral homes by insecurity caused by the Boko Haram insurgency and other forms of insecurity in the country. But the federal government needs to do more to ensure that the donated resources get to their real beneficiaries.
The Victims Support Fund, which was launched on July 31, 2014 by former President Goodluck Jonathan, is a veritable means of ensuring accountability in the collection and distribution of money and aid for the IDPs. The federal government has tried to summon the needed political, social, and legal support for the victims’ fund. The former government authorised the incorporation of the fund into a trust fund to, among other things, “insulate it from political interference.”
A lot of goodwill has been achieved within and outside Nigeria in terms of response to appeals for relief resources for the victims of insecurity.
But the federal government needs to harness the domestic and foreign goodwill to make a difference in the lives of the IDPs. This it can do by streamlining the process of relief management through the Victims Support Fund, which is manned by a group of prominent and dependable Nigerians. The fund is chaired by General Theophilus Danjuma.
Empowering the Victims Support Fund to manage the issue of relief for the IDPs would be an excellent way to eliminate the disheartening and shameful reports of corruption in the IDPs aid system. It would be in line with the fund mission, “To be the foremost knowledge-driven and programme-based organisation, mobilising sustainable funding and building partnerships for the support and transformation of victims of terrorism and insurgency in Nigeria.” The objectives of the Victims Support Fund include, “To manage, disburse and/or administer support to the victims (of terrorism and insurgency) as appropriate;
“To address related challenges as may be appropriate.”
Other duties of the Victims Support Fund include economic empowerment, health care, as well as educational and psychosocial support for victims of terrorism and insurgency.
With about 2.152 million IDPs, as of December 31 last year, according to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, an independent, non-governmental humanitarian organisation, with headquarters in Geneva, Nigeria is said to have the highest number of displaced persons in Africa. Of the figure, 12.6 per cent were displaced due to communal clashes, 2.4 per cent by natural disasters, and 85 per cent as a result of insurgency attacks by Boko Haram Islamists.
The Nigerian government has a duty to give succour to the displaced and deprived citizens. Only actions that can have a significant impact in comforting the people and protecting them from further misery would make the needed difference in their lives.