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– Humanitarian IssuesTHISDAYLIVE – THISDAY Newspapers

By Kayode Komolafe
0805 500 1974
It is 147 days today that about 60 students of the Federal Government College in Birnin Yauri, Kebbi State, have been in captivity. Another tragic news is that today marks the 130th day in kidnappers’ den of four students of the Bethel Baptist High School in Kujama, Kaduna State.
These hapless victims of the crisis of the Nigerian society remain in captivity while their colleagues who were abducted at the same time with them have regained their freedom in batches. Although the authorities have denied that ransom was paid to secure the freedom of some of the students, the kidnappers have reportedly insisted on payment as a condition to set the students free.
It is the duty of the Nigerian state, employing all its apparatuses, to ensure the freedom of scores of students held by kidnappers in parts of Nigeria. When that is done, governments at all levels would be acting according to the spirit and letters of the constitution which stipulates that the “security and welfare” of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. The students in captivity are certainly among the “people” referred to in the constitution.
It is tragic enough that the Nigerian state has failed these students in the fulfilment of this primary duty; it would be a disaster if the society itself forgets these victims of the climate of insecurity enveloping the country. Their conditions in captivity remain an open sore on the conscience of this nation that has failed to give hope to the generation of these students.
To be sure, the students in captivity are among hundreds of kidnapped persons in the country. Their kidnappers demand ransom for them to regain their freedom.
It is noteworthy that the police and other security agents have liberated some of the victims taken to the bush and many kidnappers have been arrested. Some suspects have also been taken to court. A lot of positive steps by the officialdom should be duly acknowledged.
The fate of the abducted students is related to the material condition of other victims of insecurity facing existential crisis even in freedom. A few days after the United Nations observed that 11million Nigerians were in need of humanitarian assistance, the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFMIR) told legislators in Abuja that one million people have, in fact, been displaced in the last 12 months alone.
The lot of those whose lives have been dislocated by the wave of insecurity in the country is hardly a central issue of the shouting match in the public sphere. The predilection of many a commentator is often to widen and distort the ethnic, regional and religious divides.
As a matter of fact, the news about the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and other victims of the crisis emanates more from external agencies and non-governmental organisations. An example is the news generated at the weekend when the outgoing United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon, visited Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom. During the farewell visit, Kallon said the United Nations had estimated that about 11 million Nigerians should be given humanitarian assistance. According to Kallon the multi-dimensional crisis of insecurity in various parts is swelling the IDPs camps. He listed the causes of displacement as the terrorism of Boko Haram war in the northeast and the terrorism (or is it banditry?) in the northwest; the farmers-herdsmen violence in the north central; the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers and those of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) in the southeast among others.
Besides, the United Nations official also made reference to the fact that in the ranking of the 2020 Global Terrorism Index, Nigeria is considered to be the “third most terrorised nation,” behind Afghanistan and Iraq.
As a solution, the United Nations representative called for justice, the entrenchment of rule of law and socio-economic inclusion of the youths in particular as the basis of policy.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis affecting 11 million souls should compel an emergency response in the true sense of the word. Here we are talking of approximately the equivalent of the combined populations of three other West African countries – Mauritania, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau – as victims of humanitarian crisis! Persons making up this part of the Nigerian population live in precarious conditions in which access to the basic things of life – shelter, food and clothing- cannot be taken for granted. The conditions of women and children in the camps are particularly pathetic. Children die in the camp of dehydration simply because potable water is lacking.
To make matters worse, the camps are sometimes attacked by terrorists and other criminals. For instance, the IDP camp in Abagana in Benue State was attacked some months ago. Some of the IDPs who left the camp after the attack have been forced by hunger and homelessness to return after a while. Such is the desperation that defines the lives of those who depend on humanitarian provisions to live. For this category of IDPs, the tragedy is a double one: they were driven out of their homesteads by terrorists only to be attacked by criminals again in the camps.
The security of the various camps around the country should be bolstered.
The complexity of the humanitarian issues thrown up in recent months should engage the attention of policymakers and their experts more intensely.
This is because rather than abate the problem is, as the statement by the NCFMI indicated, getting worse.
According to a Federal Commissioner for the NCFRMI, the agency responsible for the welfare of IDPs, Imaan Sulaiman-Ibrahim, the commission is working on constructing more resettlement centres in Borno, Katsina, Edo and Kano for the accommodation of the displaced persons.
Appearing before the House of Representatives Committee on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), the federal commissioner said inter alia:
“Due to the current unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Nigeria and the alarming growth rate of displacement, the number of IDPs has increased in the past one year by about one million, causing the number of displaced persons in Nigeria to rise to a frightening three million,” she said.
“Nigeria is also a host to about 73,000 refugees from 23 countries, with over 500,000 Nigerians awaiting repatriation from Chad, Cameroon, Cameroon, Libya and other countries.”
It is also instructive that NCFMRI added that the proposed N1.7 billion for personnel and N4.5 billion for capital component in the 2022 budget would be inadequate for the commission.
In philosophical terms, at the heart of the worsening humanitarian crisis in Nigeria is the premium placed on the dignity of the human person in this country.
In the reckoning of the United Nations Human Rights Council, a humanitarian crisis does exist in Nigeria with more than three million people in the camps of IDPs. In Borno state alone, about 32 official camps exist. The subhuman conditions in the camps should compel government officials to rethink the approach to the crisis.
It is tempting to say that the solution to the problem of an IDP, for instance, is for him to return to his village from where he fled. That, of course, is the ultimate solution. There is also a strong and legitimate view that the closure of the camps should not wait for the “end of the war.” Farmers need to go back to the land in order to prevent famine in many communities.
However, the matter is not as simple as that because of the indeterminate nature of ungoverned spaces in many parts. The villages and farmlands should be secure enough for farmers to muster confidence to go back home. There have been reports of IDPs killed in the process of returning to their communities. Security still remains the word. The return of the IDPs is a process that should be scientifically handled. The victims should be assisted materially and psychologically to return to normal lives.
The matter becomes more complicated because some of the victims might be returning to their community to meet those who unleashed violence against them and members of their family. The culprits are now called “repentant terrorists.” Without a thorough exercise to establish the “truth” for the purpose of “reconciliation” the reintegration may be riotous. The process does not have to be elaborate; but it must be genuine in order to achieve the purpose. Is there anything at all that could be borrowed from the experience of Rwanda and that of South Africa? Are there historical parallels to draw in the circumstance? The non-prosecution of arrested suspects will even make the process more difficult.
The good news is that apart from the activities of the federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development as well as those of some agencies, private organisations, foundations foreign and local non-governmental organisations and individuals have been part of the efforts to give relief to the millions in dire need.
The magnitude of the problem, however, is such that the best of the combined efforts of these governmental and non-governmental bodies are not good enough to give sufficient succour to those in materially vulnerable situations in the camps and elsewhere which could be more dangerous.
That is why with about 15 months to general elections, it is strange that the tragic news from the humanitarian sector is hardly an issue of politics and rigorous public conversations. The condition of these millions of people ought to be given greater attention by the government and the public alike.
Beyond ethnic, regional and religious balancing, political parties do not seem to be focusing on these problems. Are the party strategists thinking about these issues at all? Pray, what is really the content of this politics if the fate of these 11 million people is not a central question? To which end is power sought? Beyond capturing more states, politicians should proffer concrete solutions to these problems as part of the necessary national conversations.
The news of millions of people in desperate humanitarian situation and scores of students in the den of kidnappers should never be perceived as routine in any humane society. It is in every respect an indication of emergency. So if no one else takes the news of kidnapping as that of an emergency, at least a parent having his child in the bush with kidnappers will doubtless have a sense of emergency at every moment of the day. The policymakers and indeed the rest of the society should imagine themselves in the shoes of these parents.
Indeed, the response to the news about the victims of terrorism in IDPs camps and the jungle of kidnappers is a measure of humanity that subsists in the society.


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