Among the myriad of conflicts relentlessly decimating lives in many states across the Federal Republic of Nigeria, two in the Northern region of the country stand out like a festering sore thumb. These are the vicious Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East and the egregious onslaught of Fulani herdsmen in the North-Central states. Since the outset of Boko Haram’s ruinous campaign in June of 2009, after the extrajudicial killing of the Islamist sect’s leader, Muhammed Yusuf, many lives, businesses, and homes have been destroyed. Similarly, the consuming fire of conflict ignited by Fulani herdsmen has led to the loss of lives and displacement of many persons. The disturbing conflicts of death and dispossession championed by these nihilistic groups have also led to the internal displacement of many people in those areas lucky enough to escape death. Today, in the different states in both the North-East and North-Central regions of Nigeria are a number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)’s camps. These are now the abodes of many of the people violently displaced by those pitiless bands of murderers.
It is the depressing humanitarian condition in these camps that I seek to highlight and urge compassionate Nigerians to intervene in, in order to help address the mind-boggling situation of the IDPs. The issue calls for a strategic intervention on the part of respected, informed, and public-spirited individuals and groups. It is my fervent hope that the humanitarian condition of these IDPs will move and rouse these Nigerians into action for the good of the people concerned and the country as a whole.
In an address he delivered early this year on “Sustainable Cities, Human Mobility and International Migration” at the 51st Session of the Commission on Population and Development in New York, the chairman of Nigeria’s National Population Commission (NPC), Mr. Eze Duruiheoma, revealed that the Displacement Tracking Matrix round XXI of January 2018 identified an estimated “1.7 million IDPs in over 321,580 households across six states of North-East Nigeria with 40 percent residing in camp-like settings in urban areas.” According to newspaper reports, the NPC chairman noted further that the number of IDPs represented “4.5 per cent increase compared to the 1,702,680 identified in Round XX” of December 2017. These displacements, the chairman maintained, are “due to security issues in the country.” Evident in Mr. Duruiheoma’s address is the fact that there is no abatement in the rise of IDPs in the Northern region of the country.
Although the Federal Government has deployed the army to these theatres of conflicts, normalcy is still far from being restored there. What is even more worrisome is that the IDP camps have become another site of conflicts where the inhabitants, to analogize, who had escaped from the poisonous fangs of the Boko Haram and the Fulani herdsmen’s tigers are now increasingly ending up in the belly of the hyena of hunger, illness and disease, insecurity, avoidable deaths, and poverty. In other words, the IDP camps have become another conflict arena devaluing the lives of the beleaguered inhabitants. If what led them to these camps was traumatizing, what they are undergoing here is even more traumatizing.
For example, on 17th January, 2017, about 236 IDPs were reportedly killed and over 100 injured after a Nigerian Air Force jet “mistakenly” bombed an IDP camp near the Cameroonian border in Rann, Borno State, Northeast Nigeria. According to newspaper reports, the pilot had mistaken the camp for a Boko Haram bivouac. One can only imagine the trauma of those whose family members were snatched from them by that tragic incident they thought they had escaped from. Some who had lost family members before coming to this camp lost some more here.
Similarly, there are reports that soldiers and members of the civilian joint task force deployed to IDP camps to provide security rape women and girls and in other instances demand sex from mothers in exchange for food. According to reports, many women inhabiting the IDP camps in Borno State are not finding their sojourn in those temporary homes any peaceful because soldiers assault them sexually. In June 2017, these women filed a petition through the assistance of the Knifar Movement, a body advocating for the rights of displaced persons, to the National Assembly to come to their aid. They revealed in their petition that about 466 of them have died in the “Bama Hospital camp, while 279 others in the area are being detained in military barracks and Maiduguri maximum prison for offences they did not commit.” For these IDPs, the hardship and violence they are faced with in the camps are hardly distinguishable from the conflicts they ran away from.
What is more, the condition of children in the IDP camps proves even more distressing. According to a UNICEF Nigeria Humanitarian Situation Report, January – June 2018, about “4.5 million Children [are] in need of humanitarian assistance.” In a report published last year by The Independent Newspaper (London), UNICEF revealed that “the terrorist insurgency of Boko Haram has left 400,000 children severely malnourished and millions more in desperate need of humanitarian assistance after they fled their homes.” According to the paper, the agency warned that “90,000 children could die of Severe Acute Malnutrition in the coming year  unless the international community takes swift action,” meaning more than 240 child deaths each day. As the avoidable death of children mounts in those neglected camps, widespread abuse, systematic violation of children’s rights, coupled with sexual exploitation and coerced recruitment of children into armed militia groups, reign unchecked. And quietly the Nigerian state, by its inelegant attention to the fate of these kids, displaced by an insurgent group whose punishing existence was totally avoidable in the first place, is watching some of its children morph into killers.
Insurgent groups like Boko Haram are always in need of fresh hands to deploy into their evil mission. Already, there are reports of children being used by Boko Haram as suicide bombers in communities and IDP camps. This group poaches children from the poorly protected and loosely managed IDP camps and presses them into nefarious activities like detonating bombs and acting as informants. Between January and June this year, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), Boko Haram has used “43 children for suicide bombing.” UNOCHA informed that last year the Islamist group abducted and used “146 children (mainly girls) as human bombs.” The IDP camps in the Northeast have become fertile grounds for Boko Haram and other insurgent groups to replenish their human agents. In fact, as many newspapers reported recently, quoting the Borno State Police Command, terrorist organizations like Islamic State of West African Province (ISWAP), a faction of ISIS, has its spies operating from IDP camps in the state. Early November this year, Boko Haram attacked another IDP camp in Borno State and left in the wake of that attack a number of dead bodies, some of whom were children.
The humanitarian condition of the inhabitants of the IDP camps and the ineffective security arrangement of these impermanent abodes call for urgent intervention. If Boko Haram and other groups continue to fish for children and young people in these camps, it will be difficult to bring the 10-year-old insurgent activities in that region of the country to a meaningful end. Already, research on conflicts has established the fact that neglected, unprotected refugee and IDP camps, as well as poorly protected communities, are veritable sites for the abduction and recruitment of children into armed groups which turn them into heartless killers. In their illuminating study – “No Place to Hide: Refugees, Displaced Persons, and Child Soldier Recruits” (2010) – of the underlying causes of child soldiering, Vera Achvarina and Simon Reich considered 19 cases drawn from conflict zones in Africa and reached the conclusion that “IDP and refugee camps, if unprotected, form an important resource pool for child soldiers – whether conscripted or voluntary.”
Without doubt, as in other things, the condition of children in and out of special camps in Nigeria attests most consistently to the failure of the Nigerian state. Therefore, it will make a huge sense if patriotic, peace-loving, and kind-hearted Nigerians can intervene and be uncompromisingly forceful in their demand of a better attention to the plight of the IDPs. If the ongoing governments’ neglect of those camps continue and the various factions of Boko Haram gain more access into those places, abducting children and turning them into killing machines, the war against insurgency will endure and more theatres of war engendered. Something needs to be done as a matter of urgency to bail the IDPs out of their dehumanizing misery and grant them comforting relief from the excruciating torture and agony of hunger, insecurity, violence, and deprivation.
It is against the backdrop of the foregoing explication of the sorry state of the IDPs and the camps in which they are languishing in Northern Nigeria that I feel constrained to call upon well-meaning individuals, civil society organizations, and other organizations with local, national and international partners to intervene. As it is to any minder of events in Nigeria, the Federal Government of Nigeria, especially under the current administration, loves to leave problems to resolve themselves. But the horrendous humanitarian condition in the IDP camps is not an issue that will automatically resolve itself. Neither will the insecurity devaluing and cutting short promising lives cease of its own accord. The IDPs’ saddening condition calls for strategic intervention on the part of revered, well-connected, public-inclined citizens. In addition to all the efforts concerned Nigerians and groups will undertake to address the IDPs issue, there is also the need to get the Federal Government to change its attitude to the Nigerians in these camps and act pragmatically to address their plight. There is an urgent need to nudge the government to put together a coherent policy to handle the IDPs’ issue. Such a policy will also include the resettlement of these people into communities for them to begin to live normal again.