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That Nigeria is an ailing nation is a notorious fact. But what irks is the way and manner its contradictions almost always find ways of bubbling to the fore to submerge the inherent positive values of a people otherwise marked for greatness. The case of the country seems to be that of one week one trouble, ranging from the comical to the bizarre and the unbelievable. Nigeria kills hope; enervates even the most endowed and inspired of her citizens; and fritters away the goodwill of the world.
It takes a country like Nigeria to, in one breadth move close to defeating boko haram terrorism and in another, deliberately recreate (by state actions, inactions or both) the circumstances that led to the birth of the deadly sect in the first place. What is going with the Shittes in Kaduna and spreading to other states of the north is an example. The menace of herdsmen who have become agents of death and destruction in the middle-belt and other parts of the country in recent times is another. So also is the resurgent militancy in the Niger delta. The list can go on and on. But the focus of this column today is the fate of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) littered in many camps and make-shift holding areas in the North-east and other parts of Nigeria.
The situation with the IDPs has unfortunately become another sad example of the contradictions of Nigeria; a representation of almost everything that is wrong with us as a people forcefully bond together in a marriage of convenience contrived by British colonialism. Images of malnourished children from the camps are now juxtaposed with stories of sleaze by officials who cart away food and supplies meant for them. It seems the country’s public officials are no longer moved by fear of shame anymore. That is why a probe of this highly distraught situation by the National Assembly is stimulating only a half-hearted and haphazard response from those charged with the responsibility of providing food and care for the millions of displaced persons.
The other day, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, shunned a hearing by the House of Representatives Committee on IDPs investigating allegations of mismanagement and misappropriation of billions of naira voted for this unfortunate and underprivileged lot. It was at this investigation that the nation was shocked with disclosure that N270million was allegedly used to clear grass in the IDP camps where hunger and diseases are threatening to finish up the blood-sucking campaign of destruction which boko haram started. Another frivolous expenditure of N188.69 million allegedly for Nigerian refugees living in Minawao, Republic of Cameroon also came under spotlight. About N12billion was voted for the Presidential Initiative on the North-East (PINE) to alleviate the sufferings of the displaced but a substantial sum of this money seems to have been deployed to aggravate their misfortune.
Mr. Sani Zoro, Chairman of the Reps Committee rightly expressed disappointment over the disdainful non-appearance by the SGF who “did not write to intimate us on why his office would not come to explain why issues of internally displaced persons have remained un-encouraging, in spite of the billions of naira claimed to have been spent.” The lawmaker spoke further: “As the secretary to the government under whose office the rehabilitation of the North-East was placed, we had expected him to come to throw light on the financial expenses made by his office. We also expected him to explain the implementation framework being used to spend money. We have been inundated by reports of diversion of materials and funds meant for the rehabilitation of the IDPs, and the North-East and the scandal had led to international embarrassment for the country. Given the issues of credibility and integrity raised against the agency in charge of the North-East Initiative (PiNE) which falls under the SGF office, we had expected him to respect the invitation.” As I write, there has been no official reaction from Mr. Lawal on these nerve-racking allegations against his office.
In a similar move, the Senate during the week commenced a separate investigation of the IDPs situation. Its President, Bukola Saraki during the inauguration of an ad-hoc committee for that purpose vowed that looters of the funds will be fished out. He said the Committee chaired by Sen. Shehu Sani, the renowned ex-civil society activist from Kaduna State, has a mandate to act on behalf of the displaced 4.5 million families in the North East who are in desperate need of assistance; another 1 million in danger of extreme malnutrition; and the over 2 million who are beyond the reach of aid. “The whole world is watching. We must ensure that there are no cover-ups as this is the first committee of its kind that has been inaugurated to embark on this task,” Saraki told the committee, adding that: “The recommendations that you will submit from the investigation will help us ascertain how much has been spent in our response to this crisis, and will also help us improve our coordination efforts so that the international community will have confidence in us.”
Speaking with the air of someone fully aware of the burden placed on his shoulders, Sen. Sani expressed readiness to deliver on the task. “It is alleged that billions of naira and countless trucks of grains meant for the IDPs have been misappropriated and diverted,” he said, noting rather regretfully that “this has been happening while according to UNICEF, an estimated 400,000 children under the age of 5 will suffer from severe acute malnutrition and more than 4 million people are facing food shortages. It is very alarming that the UNHCR has put Nigeria at Level 3, being the highest level of humanitarian emergency in the world. At a time when our gallant troops are winning the war on terror, some people are choosing to engage in corrupt practices and self-enrichment. This is sabotage bordering on treason. This is blood money.”
But while the trail of this blood money is being tracked by federal legislators, good news about the recovery of 21 out of the over 200 abducted Chibok girls filtered into town. It has been celebration and chest-thumping by the administration which has come under intense criticisms for its failure to rescue the girls as promised during the electioneering campaigns. President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday captured the upbeat mood of his government on the development when he hosted the freed girls at the state house and promised to turn their lives 360 degrees. “My dear children,” he began, “this is a happy moment for me and for all Nigerians. I welcome you back to freedom. It is a moment your parents, the nation and the international community have been eagerly waiting for, since your abduction on 14th April 2014. These dear daughters of ours have seen the worst that the world has to offer. It is now time for them to experience the best that the world can do for them. The government and all Nigerians must encourage them to achieve their desired ambitions.” For emphasis, the President said: “Aside from rescuing them, we are assuming the responsibility for their personal, educational and professional goals and ambitions in life. Obviously, it is not late for the girls to go back to school and continue the pursuit of their studies. These 21 girls will be given adequate and comprehensive medical, nutritional and psychological care and support. The federal government will rehabilitate them, and ensure that their reintegration back to the society is done as quickly as possible.” That is heart-warming. But it will be more than heart-warming if the hundreds if not thousands or millions of girls, boys and toddlers threatened with extreme malnutrition, diseases and death in IDPs camps are protected from blood-sucking vampires in government. In that way, we can retain some hope that Nigeria is not an entirely lost cause; and that we have not all become IDPs in morals, sense of humanity and humaneness.
––Epia, Publisher of OrderPaper.ng is on Twitter @resourceme.