Nigeria: Vexing Issue of IDPs

6 December 2019

Disturbed by the challenges that Internally Displaced Persons [IDPs] face at various camps across the country,President Muhammadu Buhari last week noted their growing numbers and the numerous health, feeding and security challenges that they face. Speaking when he received in audience the President of the 74th United Nations General Assembly Professor Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, Buhari demanded urgent rehabilitation for IDPs.

The Boko Haram insurgency that has festered since 2009 has forced millions of people out of some Local Government Areas in Borno State, who became IDPs in Maiduguri and beyond. Many of them depend on federal and state governments as well as humanitarian aid by NGOs and good samaritans. Thousands of them have found their way to other states and Abuja in search of peace and security. Many IDPs have been in the camps for at least six years with no prospect of going back home anytime soon.

The North East Development Commission [NEDC] is saddled with the responsibility of providing humanitarian needs for the 2.7 million IDPs in camps across the North East and help to return them to liberated communities. President Buhari inaugurated NEDC in May this year "to intervene and develop" this region devastated by Boko Haram terrorism. However, the commission may not have enough funds to carry out its mandate as regards IDPs. Its funding will come from various sources including the Federal Government, bilateral donors, African Development Bank, World Bank, UN, European Union, USAID, UKAID/DFID as well as local donors.

IDPs need to be resettled back in their homes, but this cannot be achieved if certain things are not put in place. The first thing is security. Even though Boko Haram violence has been significantly curtailed by military action, it is still bad enough to prevent IDPs from returning to their homes. The three tiers of government--federal, state and local--should all work diligently within their areas of responsibility for IDPs' welfare and ultimate resettlement.

A report titled 'Nigeria: Role and actions of government agencies that assist internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, particularly women (2009 - March 2011)' on the Ireworld website stated, 'The national responsibility to respond to displacement lies with the local governments, and only if they are unable to cope are state governments called in. State Emergency Management Agencies [SEMAs] exist in some states, but they have varying capacities. Only when this second level of response is ineffective does the state government appeal to the federal government for support. The President takes the final decision on whether the federal government intervenes. At the federal level, the National Emergency Management Agency [NEMA] coordinates emergency relief operations and assists in the rehabilitation of victims where necessary."

Many displaced people have been IDPs for years because there is no clear plan on how to resettle them in their homes. No Nigerian should live permanently in an IDP camp with all the stress and psychological trauma that it entails. This is, therefore, the right time to have a workable policy that will serve as an effective guide for addressing all challenges relating to displacements. In achieving this, asides the three tiers of government working hand in hand, there is the need for in-depth coordination of activities of NGOs.

Many NGOs are attending to the plight of IDPs in various camps. It should be NEDC's top priority to coordinate and streamline NGOs' activities in the rehabilitation and welfare of IDPs. There should also be synergy with donors so replication of effort is avoided. Corruption among camp coordinators must also be tackled. Several reports have shown that some camp officials tend to shortchange IDPs.

The future of IDPs is intricately linked to resolving security issues. The goal should be to resettle them in their homes and help them to get back on their feet. Packs of noodles, measures of rice, sachets of oils and wrappers frequently distributed at IDP camps should not be a permanent solution. The sooner they get back home, the better.

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