A woman reflects while feeding her baby at a registration centre in Geidam stadium, Yobe state, May 6, 2015
Fed up with their poor living conditions, IDPs in Maiduguri staged a protest against camp officials in August 2016, mounting barricades of stones, sticks and tires along the Kano-Maiduguri highway.
Speaking at the protest, Maimuna Bukar, a mother of four, said,“We are not fighting with government; all we want is food to feed our family. If they can’t give us food, let them let us go back to our villages instead of being left to be killed by hunger here.”
Allegations of fraudulent stealing of essential relief materials meant to sustain IDPs have been commonplace for a while now; but with the way Nigeria works, this is not nearly shocking enough. It’s just something to fill the news cycle for a couple of days before everyone moves on to the next distraction.
The rate at which irresponsible and/or criminal conduct by public office holders has become tolerable and nearly accepted as the norm in Nigeria is, for lack of a better word, disturbing.
This is why any time there’s a public outrage at whatever is the new subject, the outrage is tinged with the realization that it’ll most likely never yield to anything meaningful.
This is to the detriment of the IDP population in the country who have been deprived of the basic human rights the constitution of the country affords them.
Not only are they being denied of sufficient basic supplies, they have also been subjected to widespread inhumane sexual abuse, especially of women and children, in the cruel hands of some security officers and government officials.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report in July 2016 documenting many cases of women and underage girls being sexually assaulted in seven different camps in Maiduguri.
One of the victims, a 17-year-old girl, was raped by a policeman, and according to her, he threatened to kill her when she told him she was pregnant.
Another 16-year-old girl from Baga that spoke to HRW said she was drugged and raped by a vigilante group member after she rejected his sexual advances. Months later when she gave birth to his baby, he ran away from the camp.
Their stories almost match with that of several other women who were taken advantage of by authority figures and abandoned to their fates afterwards, even worse off than when they ran to the camps for sanctuary.
Most of the victims were exploited with promises of food or other basic necessities in exchange for sex.
These men used the undue influence of their positions to prey on vulnerable women and children who were placed in their care, and there’s no reason to believe this practice has stopped.
Another 32-year-old woman speaking about life in one of the camps said, “Life is terrible here in this camp. For the past three days we have not eaten because there is no firewood to cook the food.
“To make it worse, they will not even allow us to go out to fend for ourselves. Most times you have to beg the camp officials to intervene with the guards before they will give you the pass to go out.
“Why will you refuse if any of those people ask you for marriage? You have to survive.”
After a visit to IDP camps in August last year, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani, was deeply concerned about the government’s “tendency to downplay the problem of sexual violence and abuse” of refugees.
In his words, “Food is scarce and many survive on one basic meal per day, while medical care is insufficient.
“Civilians also require urgent protection, psychosocial support and counselling. Camps should offer protection.
“Yet I am alarmed to learn that many are in fact exploiting and abusing the most vulnerable.
“Reports indicate that women and girls face demands for sex to access food or to leave the camps.
“Early pregnancy and marriage are commonplace while many do not report abuse due to stigmatisation, cultural factors and the knowledge that perpetrators can abuse with impunity.”
A child suffering from malnutrition in an IDP camp in Borno
Environmental hygiene is a myth in IDP camps as many of them are overcrowded and alarmingly short on amenities, especially water. This endangers their health in unimaginable ways especially since they don’t have proper access to health care.
At some point, the Borno State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) instructed hospitals to take care of IDPs that possessed the proper permits, but because the hospitals were never duly compensated, this never really happened, depriving refugees of adequate health care that they so desperately need.
Despite the billions that have been funnelled into taking care of the IDPs, by the government, national and international donors, the most significant outcome has been high resolution pictures of their poor living conditions and photo-staged interventions for the most part.
An even more underrepresented demographic of IDPs in the country is those displaced by natural disasters or by communal clashes.
They make up an estimated 15% of Nigeria’s IDP population, and they get even less attention if they are not sharing the same camp with Boko Haram IDPs.
While trying to help get the attention of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to the plight of the camp, the intervention was tangled up when a desk officer of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) turned up with inflated figures that stalled the process until the refugees were soon back in their communities by Christmas.
Last week, the Federal Government had to apologise to the Saudi Arabian government because some of the 200 tons of dates that the kingdom had sent to Nigeria especially for the IDPs in celebration of the Ramadan period had been seen being sold in some markets in
It is yet another deplorable exploitation of the situation of people who are already down on their luck and need all the help they can get.
While decent people see IDPs as vulnerable people to be protected and cared for, other people with dubious intents see cash cows that they can milk dry to maintain their own privileged lives.
Food aid being distributed to internally displaced people (IDPs) in Banki IDP camp, Borno state, northeast Nigeria
They see millions that’s only best spent in their pockets; they see food that’s only best commercialised and used as ransom to have sex with disadvantaged women and children.
You have to wonder what goes through the head of people like this who think of making extra illicit profits at the expense of people whose lives have been stalled by crises they are merely unfortunate to be caught up in.
How does it not make your insides crawl with disgust digging holes for people who are already down?
A young girl at an IDP camp in Riyom Local Government Area in Plateau state
The government does not help the situation with its muted attitude towards seriously investigating and taking serious actions against these animals.
This is either because the government is incapable of doing this, or it is too unwilling to go to the trouble.
In any case, this only leaves room for one suitable theory: IDPs are criminals unworthy of basic human rights.
A refugee problem is one that the government would no doubt wish it doesn’t have to deal with, but since it’s a necessity, the Nigerian government has largely condemned its IDP population to a life of unending agony because they are nothing but an inconvenience.