with Oke Epia
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News of rape of victims of boko haram terrorism in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in North-east Nigeria which broke during the week further confirmed how much humans have lost their humanity in this part of the world. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report of sexual exploitation of girls in the camps in Borno State is horrendous and heart-rending enough. Worse still, it is outrageously outlandish that these heinous crimes against women were reportedly committed by state officials detailed to provide them protection and welfare. And it can get even worse when an investigation into this grimly grievous savagery is to be conducted by a section of the culpable class which can invoke espirit the corps to further aggravate the shame this matter has brought on the nation. Like the late Afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti sang in his satirical lyrics, it may be another case of government magic where the report of such probe can raise more questions than answers. But until then, it is only fair to allow the investigation to unfurl with the hope that those found culpable would be firmly brought to account and justice duly served.
HRW on Monday released a damning report of rape of girls and young women in IDPs camps in Borno State. The global rights body said it had documented 43 cases of women and girls who had suffered abuse in the hands of camp leaders, vigilante groups, policemen and soldiers in seven camps in Maiduguri, the state capital. The report noted that the bizarre situation was made possible because of irregular supplies of food, clothing, medicine, and other essential supplies in the camps. Given such contrived inadequacy (recall that the National Assembly is probing allegations of diversion of supplies for the IDPs and misappropriation or embezzlement of funds meant for their upkeep), women invariably became vulnerable to the antics of randy and soulless officials. For those who may not know, the camps are operated basically by officials of the state government and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), a federal agency under direct supervision of the presidency.
The HRW report said that four of the victims told its field officers how they were drugged before being raped; and that thirty seven others were coerced into sex through marriage promises and baits of food, clothing and other supplies. “Many of those coerced into sex said they were abandoned if they became pregnant. They and their children have suffered discrimination, abuse, and stigmatisation from other camp residents,” the report claimed and then buttressed it with the testimony of a 17-year-old girl who was raped and made pregnant by a policeman. “One day he demanded to have sex with me,” she was quoted to have said, adding: “I refused but he forced me. It happened just that one time, but soon I realised I was pregnant. When I informed him about my condition, he threatened to shoot and kill me if I told anyone else. So I was too afraid to report him.”
The report continued: “In some cases, men used their positions of authority and gifts of desperately needed food or other items to have sex with women,” and quoted its senior Nigeria researcher, Mausi Segun as saying that “it is bad enough that these women and girls are not getting much-needed support for the horrific trauma they suffered at the hands of Boko Haram. It is disgraceful and outrageous that people who should protect these women and girls are attacking and abusing them.”
It is no surprise therefore that President Muhammadu Buhari reacted swiftly to the embarrassing report. In a statement same Monday signed by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the President directed the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, and Governors of the affected north-east states (especially Kashima Shettima of Borno) to immediately investigate the matter. The statement said Buhari will not act on the HRW report until the outcome of the investigation even though he was “worried and shocked” by its content. Noting that “the welfare of these most vulnerable of Nigerian citizens has been a priority of his government,” the President said “Nigerians and the international community can rest assured that the allegations raised in the HRW are not being taken lightly. While the Nigerian military continues to work hard so that these unfortunate victims of Boko Haram terrorism can soon return safely to their homes, the government will do its best to ensure their protection and welfare in the temporary IDP camps.”
It is not only President Buhari that was outraged by the HRW report of rape in IDPs camps. Senate President, Bukola Saraki also expressed shock and linked the situation to what led to the ongoing probe of corruption involving welfare of these displaced victims by the National Assembly. Speaking at a meeting with a United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) delegation led by Angele Dikongue-Atangana, Saraki said: “It is disheartening when you read and hear of cases of corruption in the supply of food items; when you see cases of malnutrition and mortality in the IDP camps; when you see children with cases of malnutrition and you know there can be speedy recovery if the necessary drugs and nutritional items are provided with the necessary food items.”
Incidentally, days before the damning HRW report surfaced, the authorities in the IDPs camps had denied charges that a prostitution ring was in operation with girls being enlisted either voluntarily or involuntarily for the sake of their survival and in fulfilment of the pecuniary motives of accursed officials. A Punch newspaper report said the North-East Zonal Coordinator of NEMA, Mohammed Kanar, denied allegation by the Borno State Governor and the Network of Civil Society Organisations in Borno state that some female IDPs had been conscripted into prostitution. Mr. Ahmed Shehu, according to the newspaper had alleged that up to 60 per cent of female IDPs are raped and subjected to other forms of sexual harassment “because many homes in the areas are headed by teenagers who have lost their parents.” The Punch reported further: “But the NEMA boss told SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday that prostitution was illegal and against the agency’s rule, hence the act was not allowed at the camps. He added that though he had received reports of some female IDPs engaging in prostitution in some parts of the North-East, none of the cases occurred within the camps. Kanar said, “I have heard that some women usually sneak out of the camps to engage in prostitution, but we have yet to apprehend anyone involved in the act.” According to him, feeding in the camps has improved and cannot have made the women engage in prostitution. He further noted that the central feeding system previously used at the camps had been abolished and that residents of the IDP camps had since received adequate foodstuff monthly.”
With the expected denial by NEMA officials, nothing was heard of the grave allegations. No presidency statements. No national outrage. No global embarrassment. As events have turned out, this was because the allegation was raised by a group of locally-based CSOs. That it took HRW to put the matter on a far more grievous and globally embarrassing scale speaks to the penchant of state authorities to ignore bruises until they become festering sores. And this is a major bane of Nigeria’s development across virtually all facets of national life. Well, now that the highest authority in the land has been jolted into seeming action, the world waits to see how this whole issue of IDPs exploitation which is of course a gross manifestation of corruption is resolved. But like I stated in the October 22, 2016 edition of this column, we all have become IDPs in morals, sense of humanity and humaneness. Sad.
––Epia, Publisher of OrderPaper.ng is on Twitter @resourceme.