The Continuing Saga of Abuse in Displaced Persons Camps

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The federal government should take deliberate steps to change the vulnerable and dangerous situation in which internally displaced persons live, writes Vincent Obia

Victims of insurgency who are currently sheltered at the internally displaced persons camps across the country may have escaped the worst at the hands of the terrorists, but that has not stopped them from suffering the indignities of displacement. However, for this suffering to be orchestrated by the very people who should be protecting them and helping to ameliorate their situation is by far the worst form of dehumanisation they could face. Human Rights Watch says this is the situation of many in the IDPs camps in the North-east.

The United States-based non-governmental organisation dedicated to research and advocacy on human rights alleges in a report published last week that government officials and security agents have raped and sexually exploited many women and girls displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency. The report identifies the main culprits as officials in charge of the camps, including camp leaders, vigilante groups, policemen, and soldiers. It says while some of the victims are drugged and raped, others are forced into sex through false marriage promises as well as material and financial assistance. Many are abandoned by their abusers after being impregnated and left to suffer with their children, Human Rights Watch reports.

The federal government should take this report seriously and do everything to bring those behind the sexual exploitation of the IDPs to justice. But the government must also accept responsibility for the lapses that have made the displaced persons susceptible to exploitation. The government has a statutory and moral responsibility to ensure the welfare and security of the IDPs. But it has been very slack in this responsibility, thus, exposing the displaced persons to multifarious abuses, suffering, and vices.
The Human Rights Watch report is a poignant reminder of the miserable world of the IDPs.

There have been revelations about the diversion of funds and items meant for the IDPs. Not long ago, some officials of the National Emergency Management Agency were 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. Recently also, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps in Borno State also arrested some men alleged to have duped IDPs in the state into buying fake relief materials forms 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 giving them special relief materials from the federal government.

Civil society groups and non-governmental organisations claiming to be working for the interest of the IDPs, as well as individuals and government officials have been fingered for various acts bordering on the diversion of funds committed for the welfare of the IDPs by governments, local and foreign donor groups, and wealthy individuals.

Though, over the past months, different institutions and organs of government have raised concerns about the attempts to take advantage of the IDPs, very little concrete action has been taken to stop the abuse. In June, in the wake of the allegations about the diversion of IDPs funds and materials, the House of Representatives passed a resolution mandating its relevant committees investigate the matter. Similarly, when he visited the reopened zonal office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in Maiduguri in June, the chairman of the commission, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, said there had been complaints about corruption in the IDPs camps from international humanitarian organisations and other civil society groups that were donating relief materials to the victims of the Boko Haram insurgency. “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,” Magu had assured.

It is not clear if anything concrete has been done on those investigations and what the outcomes are. What is obvious is the deafening silence that has been the federal government’s response to the raging concerns about exploitation of people in the IDPs camps. The result is the exacerbation of the dire conditions in the camps, where displaced persons are virtually abandoned and left to the mercy of the elements. This is despite the hugely successful efforts to pull in contributors – in money and materials – to the wellbeing of the IDPs.

Amid the frustrating conditions, many in the IDPs camps resort to various debasing and dangerous activities in a desperate bid to stay alive. Reports are rife about growing cases of prostitution and begging at the camps.

The latest report by Human Rights Watch should be a wake-up call for the government. President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered an investigation into the report. And the Inspector-general of Police, Ibrahim Idris, has constituted a team to investigate the issue.

But the government must acknowledge the crisis that most unfortunately does exist at the IDPs camps and do the needful things to address it. As has been suggested in previous articles on this page, empowering the Victims Support Fund to take full charge of issues relating to the management of relief for the IDPs would be an excellent way to eliminate the corrupt tendencies that have dogged the IDPs aid system. By this proposal, all funds and materials meant for the IDPs from governments, individuals, and corporate bodies should pass through the fund, which is a trust largely insulated from political interference and managed by a group of prominent Nigerians led by General Theophilus Danjuma.

In addition, officials in charge of the camps must be held accountable for any mistreatment of those put in their care.

The federal government must act quickly to stop the man’s inhumanity to man going on at the IDPs camps. This is particularly urgent as the excruciating circumstances have the real possibility of bringing out the worst in the Boko Harm victims, many of who are still being reoriented away from terrorist susceptibilities.