By Labaran Saleh
It is a well-known fact that Nigeria is presently faced with humanitarian challenges arising from insurgency, communal clashes and natural causes like floods. These have led to the displacement of over two million people, mostly in the northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe as well as some part of the country. Global statistics indicate that the country is among the top ten, behind the others in no particular order of gravity that include Syria, Iraq and South Sudan.
The situation, which is largely caused by insurgency, became noticeable in 2009 and apparently continued to widen in complexity, number of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and the attendant challenges of providing necessary supports to them. At the early stage, the pattern was a simple displacement when communities were attacked and immediately left by what was commonly known at the time as “unknown gunmen.” But as the attacks became more frequent and deadly leading even to occupation by the insurgents, the population were forced to flee in taking cover outside their communities in distant towns and even across the border to the Republics of Niger, Cameron and Chad.
Consequently, camps were spontaneously set up for the IDPs mostly in schools and other public places that lacked basic facilities for accommodation of such large number of people. Such necessities as water supply, sufficient toilets, sleeping items and medical facilities. The federal and states governments struggled in providing the requirements as well as deliver other basic supports to them including food and non-food items to them in the camps. This has been followed by supports from other private individuals, corporate agencies, non-governmental organizations, international donors and the United Nations organs in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, the recent misgivings towards the care for the IDPs are unfolding a dangerous phenomenon with the tendency of seriously impacting the on-going humanitarian activities; chief among these is the use of the media in the spread of unfounded rumours and misinformation about the camps and condition of the IDPs. Although, it is necessary to hold the government and other voluntary care givers accountable for their actions, this should be done with facts and constructively in appreciation of the enormity of the challenges and risks often involved in humanitarian care.
Few weeks ago, reports emerged about the IDPs numbering over 25, 000 in Bama camp that were said to have been abandoned, starved and seriously malnourished with about 20 daily deaths. However, not much was said about the fact that they were the people who have been under the siege of insurgents in Sambisa and neighboring communities for long before being recently freed by the military in the raging fierce battle with the terrorist their enclaves. The reality is that the terrorists are having tough times in fending for themselves not less of their captives.
In her reaction to allegation, Princess Modupe Ozolua whose NGO, Empower54 was in the camp and moved the nourished persons from Bama to Maiduguri noted that only about 500 persons were actually malnourished with less than 70 acute cases out of the 1,800 persons transported with the help of the Borno State government to the special care centre in the state capital. She explained that the huge numbers of the IDPs moved to Maiduguri were made up of the family members where a case of malnourishment was found not necessarily that all of them were directly affected.
The reports that many of them are receiving treatment in various hospitals have since been disproof with a recent investigative visit to medical facilities in Maiduguri. On the number of deaths, a camp manager at the special care centre confirmed the death of 20 of them since their arrival.
Reacting to some of the unfounded reports, the Borno state’s Governor said some care givers are taking huge advantage of the pains of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the state by defrauding foreign philanthropists under the pretense of trying to help victims of Boko haram insurgency in the state.
Similarly, unknown to many distant observers and discussants about the IDPs issues, those camps outside Maiduguri (satellite camps) are under the control of the military because of the on-going operations to completely rout out the terrorists in the adjoining bushes and forests but sometime those camps are consider not safe for humanitarian workers. Bama, where the incidences of malnourishment have been reported is one of these. Details of camp situation were given by Commander of the Nigerian Army Field Brigade based in the town, Colonel Adamu Garba Laka during the recent visit of a team from the Presidency to the camp over the allegation of the starvation and malnutrition. At the camp, the delegation led by the Special Adviser to the President on Social Investment Mrs Maryam Uwais was conducted round by Colonel Laka who told them that the IDPs were recently rescued from the enclaves of the terrorists. He confirmed the availability of foods in the camp for the IDPs, which were delivered by the Federal Government through NEMA and other organizations but noted that those with the problem of malnutrition had brought in from their previous captivity. He, however, encouraged the government to fast track the provision of necessary care, including medical supports for the IDPs in the camp instead of transporting them to Maiduguri. The Borno State Commissioner for Health was present at the camp said the state government would scale up the medical supports to the IDPs as requested by the Army Commander.
Another very important issues of concern presently trending, is that of relief diversion as contained in a footage which has been circulating on the social media. The said video contained some allegations, that have been erroneously misconstrued to involve every agency engaged in the camp management in Borno State. Some sections of the media reports have gone way ahead to speculate existence of a syndicate that has been diverting the relief items, not knowing that there are existence Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between NEMA and the governments of Borno and Yobe states in the management of the humanitarian interventions in the states.
Under the understanding, for example in Borno State, NEMA delivers 24, 000 bags of rice for interval of two months to the state government who in-turn warehouse and brings same to the camps along with condiments and other cooking accessories. The last time NEMA delivered the relief items to the state was on 28th May 2016 with evidence of waybill and acknowledgement from the SEMA. The MoU is a public document, but surprisingly a recent media publication, in attempt to smear the reputation of NEMA, averred that the North East zonal coordinator Alhaji Mohammed Kanar, a deputy director in the agency and who is responsible for its implementation was not even aware of its existence and contents.
On the issue of re-bagging rice intended for IDPs by some officials as being alleged, those familiar with Borno State would confirm that the warehouse in the widely circulated video does not belong to NEMA. In any case, the Governor, Alhaji Kashim Shettima has directed security operatives to investigate the video while the report is being awaited. No official of NEMA has ever been indicted, arrested or charged for relief diversions since the beginning of humanitarian intervention to the IDPs.
It is also very important to explain that NEMA is a federal agency established to strengthen and support the state governments’ owned SEMAs in the management of disasters and humanitarian interventions. NEMA’s role is principally concerned with coordination and mobilization of resources and strengthening of capacities for the relevant agencies including SEMAs to enable them efficiently and effectively respond to emergencies and humanitarian challenges.
Financing of the current humanitarian challenge is low and inadequate and no single government agency can provide all the needed supports. For instance, the Deputy Director Relief and Rehabilitation of NEMA Mr Daniel Obot, on FRCN network program “Radio Link” last weekend revealed that there was no any special funding available to the agency for the huge humanitarian management except the regular emergency fund (Disaster management). The implication is that the agency could have been technically broke. But despite this, the agency is faced with barrage of accusations and allegations.
While constructive criticisms are desirable to continuously improve the humanitarian supports to the IDPs, there is need to properly understand verify issues before going to the press. Besides, humanitarian situation in Nigeria is much better than what obtains in many places including those said to be managed by global organizations.