Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote is reported to have donated over 11 million USD to Nigeria’s internally displaced persons (IDPs). The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also donated 1 million dollars. International donors channel funds by donating millions of dollars to Nigerian agencies and government, in addition to the billions of naira officially budgeted by the Nigerian government and its agencies, yet we continue to receive photographs of malnourished IDPs, mostly children. Nigeria’s IDPs have not crossed a border to find safety. Unlike refugees, they are on the run at home.
While they may have fled for similar reasons, IDPs stay within their own country and remain under the protection of its government, even if that government is the reason for their displacement. As a result, these people are among the most vulnerable in the world.
The recent mass protest by hundreds of IDPs in Maiduguri contradicts repeated claims by some government agencies that cases of starvation in camps are isolated. Furthermore, citizens’ reports counter claims by the government that malnourished children are fresh from Boko Haram captivity.
Nigeria is a country reputed for turning every disaster into a money-making venture. An increase in the population of IDPs is an opportunity for get rich quick officials and non-governmental organizations. They see the IDP crisis as an opportunity to share in the National Cake; they do not see the sorrow, tears and blood of the vulnerable. Here is another opportunity for those trusted with taking care of the vulnerable, now diverting millions into private pockets, stealing food, and re-selling it on the open market.
Millions of dollars’ worth of food donated to Nigerian IDPs have been stolen or one way or the other. Those who are responsible for making sure that food gets to the IDPs are often from the same areas as the IDPs – they speak the same language, a reaffirmation that corruption and wickedness does not have a tribal mark, they forget that they share the same religious affiliations with the victims. Christians stealing from Christian IDPs, Muslims stealing from Muslim IDPs, and Animists doing the same.
Retired General Theophilus Danjuma from Taraba State has been appointed by President Buhari to head a committee on the North East, after having failed spectacularly serving a similar post during the Goodluck Jonathan administration. A Nigerian expert based in the USA with internationally recognized experience in dealing with refugee crisis offered our government his expertise but was rejected for the simple reason that he is not from the North East.
While there are very many gallant people in the North East and other parts of Nigeria, without any links to government, who have stuck their necks out to support the IDPs, Borno State government and unfortunately, the Federal Government, continues to use unnecessary tribalism and nepotism to try and address issues that are technical.
President Buhari and his team are better off acknowledging the compete failure of the Danjuma committee. Billions raised under President Jonathan have yet to be accounted for, while the Buhari government continues to use the same old tired policies of the past; the same set of people who turned the National Emergency Management and its affiliated agencies into some money-making venture are still applying the same failed methods.
What Can Be Done?
1. No government can or should continue to feed millions in Internally Displaced Persons camps. Apart from the obvious corruption it breeds, it also leads to complacency on the part of IDPs, creating a culture of dependence on government for basic handouts. Solution: urgent rehabilitation of liberated areas and resettlement of IDPs into liberated communities. Government should come clean on the REAL status of liberated areas. That IDPs are not settling back into those communities is an indication that they may not feel safe. What happened to the reconstruction program announced by President Buhari? What are the timelines for reconstruction? Are liberated communities really safe? At the moment the Nigerian government is not committing (at least publicly) to a verifiable timeline on when and how thousands of IDPs are going to be resettled.
2. Recruitment of security personnel, including the Police, to assist the Nigerian Army in maintaining law and order in liberated territories. The Nigerian Army does not have the capacity to continue to police civilian areas and needs to be freed from policing so as to be able to launch an urgent mass infantry battle into Sambisa forest, which is the operational HQ of Boko Haram. If you do not cut off the head of the snake then the snake will have the potential to strike. Sambisa provides cover for Boko Haram. They are mobile, they carry out ambushes against civilians and our military. For how much longer do we have to wait to liberate Sambisa? Or do we concede that territory to Boko Haram and negotiate diplomatic relations with new Caliphate? The Buhari government announced an international coalition against Boko Haram. But aside from routine area bombardments of Sambisa by the Nigerian Air Force, Boko Haram still maintains an operational base where it churns out routine propaganda videos and is presumed to also hold over 200 Nigerian girls seized from the North Eastern Nigerian town of Chibok. The girls have been in captivity since April of 2014.
3. Urgent restructuring of all government agencies in charge of National Emergency – to strengthen coordination, to integrate all processes in a way that makes them more efficient and ensuring that only the most capable and technical are in charge, with clear deliverables and accountability mechanisms not just to the President but to the people of Nigeria. My experience with NEMA is that there are a lot of square pegs in round holes. There are too many staff members tasked with such important responsibilities but without skills, experience, and capacities and who only got their positions through association with government officials. Those who have the capacities within NEMA are usually the most frustrated, with no say in decision-making or operational issues.
4. Borno State government should urgently enact a law with stiff punishment for anyone found re-bagging or selling items meant for IDPs. Borno State government should dissolve its political appointees in the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) and source for competent incorruptible people within and outside Borno. Borno hosts the largest number of IDPs. If it gets it wrong, Nigeria gets it wrong. Nigeria can not afford to feed millions in a camp. We are all IDPs in our little ways; the corruption of the minority 1% has turned majority of hardworking, honest Nigerians into IDPs within and outside Nigeria. Borno cannot continue to be a milking pot on the National budget. The State must be restored to its past glory as a frontline international trading post and a tourist destination for all.
5. Nigerian Government needs to urgently re-strategize and prioritize. The pictures of malnourished children are real. The UNICEF report of millions starving is real. Government should clearly be treating this as the emergency that it is and stop burying its head in the sand to look good. A problem acknowledged is half solved.
6. State Governors from the North East of Nigeria must convene an emergency meeting and mobilize wealthy Nigerians from all parts of Nigeria but particularly from North East of Nigeria to at least give back part of the stolen wealth to feed the victims of the poverty they created.
7. President Buhari should visit Maiduguri IDP camps as a sign of solidarity. While it is impossible to expect the President to do all things personally and be in all places (that is why he has a team of advisers and Ministers after all), it is imperative that he is seen to show compassion first and foremost, assess progress and identify gaps and challenges first-hand. This way he can give clear instructions on the kinds of reforms he would like to see. And to ensure that he is briefed regularly and he in turn briefs the people of Nigeria at any chance he gets.
8. At times a lot of IDPs sell their food for other commodities because it is not only food they need. So this has to be tempered with the real needs of IDPs and also not infringe on their rights to exchange what they have been given.
9. President Buhari and his ruling APC must urgently commence a national recovery efforts on the Nigerian economy. This will reduce the incidences of theft of food in IDP camps; probably by volunteers and other people who can hardly feed themselves and their families but see the food they steal as a just reward for service.
10. NEMA and government must make it easier for individuals to contribute to IDPS and donate items. The red tape created by NEMA and State agencies, depriving individuals and private agencies direct access to donate to IDPs, must stop. Donation drop-off areas should be opened in six Nigerian geo-political zones and locations should be made available on radio and television so those who want to donate can walk in and drop items.
11. A website tracking donations and distribution should be created so donors can track the movement of items.
12. The opening of donation centers in selected Nigerian embassies for Nigerians in the diaspora coordinated by the Presidents adviser on the diaspora and ensure that it gets to Nigeria and to the refugee camps. While this might pose operational challenges given the noted inefficiency of government processes and operations, this will at least generate visibility on the issues within the Nigerian community in the diaspora.
13. Fast track legislation to make it easier for those who may want to adopt orphaned IDPs.
14. The security agencies must bring to book everyone involved in diverting funds meant to feed, rehabilitate and resettle Nigeria’s internally displaced persons,
The time for the Nigerian Government to act is now. Failure to do so would be creating another Frankenstein monster; the neglected IDPs could come back to haunt us all in a vicious way.