It is high time government took concrete steps to stop the misery in the camps by reforming its intervention strategy

After a recent visit to the camps of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Maiduguri, Borno State, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of internally displaced persons, Professor Beyani Chaloka, had this to say: “Food is scarce and many survive on one basic meal per day, while medical care is insufficient. Civilians also require urgent protection, psychosocial support and counselling. Camps should offer protection. Yet I am alarmed to learn that many are in fact exploiting and abusing the most vulnerable. Reports indicate that women and girls face demands for sex to access food or to leave the camps. Early pregnancy and marriage are commonplace while many do not report abuse due to stigmatisation, cultural factors and the knowledge that perpetrators can abuse with impunity. Protection measures must be stepped up and camps must quickly come under trained civilian management to prevent abuses.”

No perceptive observer of the grave humanitarian situation in the North- east of Nigeria would be surprised by the report of the UN special rapporteur because the shameful issues that he spoke about have been common place in the last 12 months or so. Indeed, the federal government is aware of the deteriorated conditions of the about 2.2 million internally displaced persons scattered around the troubled region and Abuja, the federal capital territory. More important is the fact that government is acutely aware that those conditions had been worsened by the unwholesome activities of its officials saddled with the responsibility of ameliorating the sufferings of the people who had been displaced from their normal places of abode by Boko Haram insurgents and terrorists.

Only last week, President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the criminal activities of officials who not only embezzled funds meant for providing succour to the displaced but also stole and sold food and provisions donated by foreign and local aids agencies for the upkeep of IDPs. He asked the security agencies to immediately apprehend the criminal officials and prosecute them. President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, had made a similar charge months ago after a visit to the camps revealed to him the level of human deprivation the IDPs were subjected. So moved was he that he called for an urgent probe into the abject condition of the IDPs.

We think it is high time government took more concrete steps to stop the misery of the IDPs by swiftly reforming its intervention strategy to ensure that funds, foods and other provisions are utilised strictly for that purpose. Perhaps it may help to streamline the agencies and processes for the management of the camps that had become a den of corruption. A starting point is the audit of all agencies, committees and task forces of government with a view to harmonising their operations and removing the overlaps that create confusion and encourage corrupt practices.

The case has also been variously made for a more professional approach to the handling of the situation. Internal displacement is not specific to Nigeria which means that there are global best practices for dealing with such a phenomenon. We recommend that Nigeria taps into that in the interest of its suffering citizens even as we call for the immediate arrests and prosecution of all officials and their collaborators who divert funds, foods and other provisions for IDPs into private use.

Unless government brings to justice those who chose to abuse their office and profit from the misery of the hapless IDPs, impunity would not only persist but would also be seen as a rewarding culture, which many others might wish to imbibe. That certainly cannot be acceptable to any decent society. Meanwhile, all critical stakeholders in our country must rise up to join the efforts to rehabilitate our compatriots who have been displaced and are in distress as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency.