As Nigeria confronts the Boko Haram insurgency, the surge in the number of refugees has increased overtime. This conflict-induced migration is taking a toll on several socio-economic sectors, ranging from environmental pollution, farming and even food security. Paul Obi writes

Beneath a tree, Mr. Philemon Emmanuel joined other men to while away time, playing games, as sunset chimes towards the south. The women clustered together in whispers over the uncertain future. The surroundings made up of shanties, makeshift buildings and wooden houses bear footprint of complete lack and want. As one approaches, the ambiance of squalour, wreck and poverty stare you in the face. That’s Emmanuel’s new home – the New Kuchingoro Internally Displayed Persons (IDPs) camp, housing about 1,567 IDPs, and located on the outskirts of Abuja, the Nigerian capital.

But before 2009, Emmanuel was a rich farmer in Gwoza Local Government Area of Borno State, North-east, Nigeria, about 896 kilometres from Abuja. In 2013, he owned a large farmland where he cultivated beans in a nearby local government. Then, life was assuring and promising for the Emmanuels. However, as Boko Haram attacks peaked, security of life became more paramount to Emmanuel and other farmers than farming and living in a conducive environment.

“There is one local government we use to call Konduga in Borno State, so we used to go there for farm work. We were farming there when Boko Haram started attacking that local government,” Emmanuel told THISDAY. “They were following us from farm to farm using axe, if they meet you they will ask questions, and if they were not satisfied, they will just kill you. That is what happened in that village before we ran into our village in Gwoza Local Government. In February 2013, they started coming towards our village; I just entered motor and came to Abuja. Before April 2014, they had attacked all the villages in Gwoza Local Government,” he narrated.

If migrating from Boko Haram held territories was the only option left for the IDPs, settling down in their new home was not promising either. Abuja, the Federal Capital, had no provision for IDPs or refugees’ camps. Therefore, the consequences for IDPs’ migration from North-east to Abuja propelled by Boko Haram insurgency became legion. The IDPs had to settle in shanties and filthy environment; their farming suffered a setback and the nation was also confronted with severe food security and shortage.

Back home in Borno State, it was not like the IDPs in New Kuchingoro Camp were idle. They had a life, a promising one despite the ordinary challenges that characterised the daily Nigerian lifestyle. “Majority of us especially Gwoza people, we are good farmers. And that place  –  in Konduga Local Government, I had about 120 ridges of beans,” he said. “So by the grace of God I harvested about 50 bags of beans, Boko Haram even carried 30 bags because they came with their vehicle; they put 30 bags in their vehicle because their vehicle cannot take more than that 30 bags. So they carried 30 bag and left 20 bags for me and I tried to find my way to carry them (20 bags) and ran into our village,” Emmanuel narrated his ordeal from grace to grass.

In their new found home, IDPs very often find it nostalgic whenever they sought land for farming. Beyond the availability of land, the weather and texture of their land was more adaptable to their crops than what is obtainable in Abuja and its environs. You might want to say it’s a matter of climate change effect. Given the shortage of rainfall in the North-east, farming of beans thrive better there as opposed to Abuja, the North-central, where rain is constant. In the case of Abuja IDPs from Borno State, the blessings that rainfall offers is more of a cause to their farming occupation, especially beans farming.

“We have a beautiful land there, in that place, once you spray chemical, you are not going to spray again. But in this Abuja and Nasarawa, you know everyday rain use to fall, but in that our area, rain will not fall like this,” Emmanuel stressed. He added that “once you dig your land and plant on it; you can get the chemical they use to call Germazol, if you spray it and at the end of the day you are just waiting for harvest time. You will harvest the beans. But in this place, I think we spray about four times before we harvest,” he observed.

The inability of farmers like Emmanuel to cultivate crops such as beans has food security implications for Nigeria at a larger scale. About 200,000 metric tons of beans from Borno State are shifted annually to the Southern part of Nigeria. Between 2012 and 2015, when Boko Haram insurgency became fierce, there were rampant cases of shortage of beans, and other crops like tomatoes, vegetables and meat. Figures released last month by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in its report titled ‘CPI and Inflation Report’ indicated that there has been an increase of 20.32 per cent in Food Price Indexes (FPI) from 20.25 in August, 2017. The figures correlate previous year’s FPI. The NBS report stipulated that the hike in Food Price Indexes was as a result of increase in foods items such as beans, potatoes, cereals, fish and meat – items that are produced where Boko Haram insurgency is worst hit. Succinctly, as IDPs like Emmanuel fled from Boko Haram, farming of crops and food items had devastating effects, thereby, precipitating Nigeria’s food security challenges.

That said, Emmanuel’s story and his precarious experience present the plight of IDPs caught up in various conflicts bedevilling the country. Another IDP, Hannatu Andrew, with similar experience, bemoaned the living condition at the camp. Not only that, as IDPs create new homes, the population also increases. An increase in population also means more building of shanty toilets with open defecation, waste dump and other environmental degradation activities. Emmanuel painted a gory picture of the environment in New Kuchingoro IDPs camp, stating that, “we have toilet, but people are not taking care of it. Some people don’t want to use the toilets; they are afraid of toilet infection, so they prefer go to bush and other places,” he said. Thus, the nexus between Boko Haram insurgency and other related crises runs through different layers.

Connecting the various Boko Haram related conflicts with each other, Head of Communications, United Nations (UN) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Samantha Newport, who spoke to THISDAY in Abuja, said the Boko Haram conflict is now multifaceted, with different shades and contexts, as exemplified by Emmanuel’s ordeal. She described the conflict as “very complicated and complex.” “So you need to look at different aspects of the conflict and what we will call root causes. And climate change and the environmental concerns are definitely part of that complex equation,” Newport who has visited Borno several times, said.

Newport further summed up the complexity of the insurgency and the consequences of IDPs’ migration, stating that, “when we think about how the conflict started; why the conflict started; you know at the United Nations we often look at the lack of development and the poverty levels that were already existing in the North-east. So, even the people of the North-east of Nigeria lived on farming, lived on livestock and people lived on fishing. Perhaps you know life was not easy and produce was not bountiful, but it was peaceful and certainly the situation was better to the one we have today which is marred by conflict violence, force displacement. And of course, all of these, in terms of the environment, is underpinned by climate change. So, we have seen desertification and also for example 50 years ago the Lake Chad was the sixth largest lake in the world and today due to the over use of water, prolonged droughts, the levels of the lake have receded and no longer the resource it was. All of this is within the context of population growth and you know Nigeria is set to double by 2050 which is extraordinary, in which ever way you look at it. So I think for the humanitarian crisis itself in the North-east, also has an impact on the environment,” she said.

Speaking further on the environmental impacts of IDP camps, an Environmentalist, Mike Simire explained that the presence of IDPs is bound to increase the population of an area, with the resultant consequences of “poor sanitation, disposable waste system, which may expose the camp and IDPs to severe flooding.” Simire held that such activities are likely to intensify climate change effects. But according to Prof. Emmanuel Oladipo, a university don and climate change expert, an empirical research must have to be carried out to ascertain the extent to which IDP camps and activities therefrom impact the environment and climate change. Oladipo argued that there are no clear-cut basis and indicators pointing to impacts of IDP camps on the environment.

Instructively, IDPs migration and conflicts associated with such are immense in various ramifications. In its Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) Project report 2016, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) postulated that about seven million Nigerians are caught up in the web of Boko Haram insurgency. The report contended that about 1.9 million people have been displaced owing to “intensification of attacks, violation of human rights and humanitarian standards, counter insurgency activities and chronic insecurity.”

Speaking to THISDAY on efforts to mitigate environmental challenges brought about by IDPs camps in Abuja, the Director, FCT Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Alhaji Idris Abbas, stated that there is no statutory provision or law for the establishment of IDPs in the city. He maintained that the best option is to relocate the IDPs back to their state of origin or closer to where the conflict is. “There is no official camp for IDPs wherever in the FCT. You called it camp, and we call it settlement. Wherever you have IDPs, they just chose to stay there, and we just follow them. We are not supposed to set up any camp far from the scene of conflict, that’s the best international practice,” Abbas submitted.

But such attempt to explain away government inaction to provide succour for IDPs mark a great and impending threat looming large and waiting to be unleashed. It is glaringly a failure on the part of government to fulfill its obligations to ensure human dignity, protect the vulnerables and provide the basic necessities of life. It also amount to reneging from its pledges and statutory commitment to protect persons of all shades, including IDPs.

For instance, and within the framework for the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displayed Persons in Africa under the Kampala convention, of which Nigeria is a signatory, state parties agreed as their cardinal objective to “promote and strengthen regional and national measures to prevent or mitigate, prohibit and eliminate root causes of internal displacement and provide for durable solutions; establish a legal framework for protecting and assisting IDPs in Africa.” It is doubtful if Nigeria is living up to such expectations and framework holistically.

As it stands, the IDPs in New Kuchingoro, Abuja, now have zero-appetite for hope vis a vis rescue. Nigeria needs no other evidence; the evidence and stark reality could be found in the lives of IDPs. Emmanuel echoed the bitter pill of where not to be an IDP, stating that, “in our village, we have good houses but look at where we are living now, look at the batchers that we are living in. If rain fall now, it falls on everybody, rain is disturbing everybody here. People are just suffering here.”

Within the afore-mentioned context, the story of Boko Haram insurgency and the compelling migration of IDPs is that which men, women, children, unborn generations, the state, non-state actors and society in general are victims. The consequences are also numerous: from the negative effect on Nigeria’s farming and agricultural system, to environmental degradation and rise on climate change effect and to food security challenges, Nigeria appears to be buying time and postponing the evil day.