The problem of internally displaced persons (IDPs) is one that has continued to hunt Nigeria as a country, especially the FCT despite the administration’s refusal to acknowledge their existence. In this report ENE OSHABA highlights the issue as it affects their survival and government’s inability to alleviate the situation.
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) records indicate that there were 50.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) around the world in 2019. Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, had about 2.6 million people living in displacement.
The number of displaced people has been on the rise following Boko Haram’s insurgency especially in the North-east region.
Additionally, herder-farmer clashes in the Middle-belt and North-west have been reported to also caused eruption of criminal and communal violence that have caused people to flee their homes.
Experts have described the challenges as unending and creating a continuous cycle of people being displaced, often more than once in their lifetime, making them live below the poverty line.
Speaking on the development, the Programmes Director, PAGED Initiative, Ummi Bukar, said the Nigerian IDP situation was getting worse; noting that almost all states in the country were littered with IDP camps.
”We are all becoming IDP’s because what started off in a few states is now affecting every state and everybody in the country almost every state has IDP’s in camps and a lot of these them do not have access to empowerment unlike those in Borno state who have access to so many capacities.
Reports show that 99 per cent of the world’s IDPs displaced by conflict are in low and middle income countries (LMICs). Within these countries, populations in more marginalized areas are often severely affected by displacement. Thus, those who are displaced tend to face greater economic difficulties to begin with.
The vulnerabilities among displaced people have highlighted that gender dynamics also influence access to income-earning opportunities; with women having less access to start-up capital giving them a lower chance of successfully starting businesses.
This is the situation of women in IDP camps and communities in Abuja as the case of 29-year-old mother of five, Mary Amos, who hails from Bama in Gwoza LG of Borno state.
Mary fled her home town as attack by insurgents killed some of her family members and the search for safety brought her children and her to the New Kuchingoro IDP Camp located in the highbrow Games Village Area in Abuja.
Narrating the situation in the camp, Mary said it has not been easy as they manage to get through the day with little income she makes from her petty business which is barely enough to provide for their feeding and basic needs.
“I sell vegetables when I buy like N1,000 worth of vegetables. My profit will be N200, the profit is what we will manage and this is not enough to feed my children and I. We buy sugar, garri and sometimes kukar (Baobab leaves) to make soup and manage like that.
“I had a grinding mill, which I acquired on hire purchase, however, I was pregnant and when I put to bed I could not continue the business and periodic payment the person that I made the arrangement with came and took the mill away. Since then I have been selling vegetables.
Working together to survive
Mary explained that their major support comes from NGOs, Churches and associations formed by the displaced women, one of which is the Women Together Association.
She said the association was sustained through contributions from its members to enable them help each other in times of need, adding that this has reduced their sufferings.
“The Association helps us in times of need, like fetching water, cooking for our sick members. When one of us is bereaved or hospitalised we cook and keep the person company. We contribute money sometimes N50 or N100 to help the person while on the sick bed.
“Donation of food stuff by NGOs and churches is what helps us to eat varieties of food. They come with food items like rice, beans and different kinds of grains, which we manage by cooking in small small quantities so it can last for a while,” she added.
According to her, “It is through these contributions I was able to visit my mother in Cameron last December because it has been over seven years since I last saw her because I was told that Boko Haram is still in my village. My mum in Cameron too has nothing to do to help her financially, no business, nothing. If you go there and see the pitiable condition they are living in you will cry for them.
“Unfortunately things are more difficult for us now because we don’t usually get help like before and some are even dying from hunger, starvation, no soap to even wash clothes. I am tired of asking for help from the government as the government does not listen to our plea.
“We hear that in Maiduguri the government gave grants and loans to help displaced persons but here in Abuja we did not get any of such grants or loans because the government doesn’t t recognise us. I thought of going back to Borno state but my village Galva in Polka, Gaza, is still under attack so I cannot get help from them either.”
Continuing, Mary said: “Six years ago we wrote our names to the government for assistance. We did not get anything until during Covid 19 they came and distributed small rubbers, those used mostly to wash hands, with soap and sanitizer. That’s what we got.
“Politicians do come here to campaign but render no financial assistance to us, they just come to campaign and ask us to vote for them and our lives will be better, but after the campaign we no longer get to hear from them.”
Speaking on alternative sources of income, the mother of five lamented that capital was required as they needed to purchase or hire farmland.
She said, “To farm you need to have money to buy or rent land as well as buy chemicals like pesticides and insecticides, you will need money as much as N30 to N100,000. Then you will buy the grains for planting and with the high cost of commodities in the market grains go for about N700 per measure.
“The farming system is such that one can work for someone else and commission will be paid, this includes sometimes grain and I can use this to plant on my farm.
“The farm land is mostly in Nasarawa state as the land is more suitable for farming. This place the land is not that fertile so the yield is not much, yet it is hard with herdsmen intrusion.
“For me, I will appreciate if I get money to sell my little items in a shop. This is because if I want to go into farming I will not be able to send my children to school. But if I am into business, I can prepare them for school and at the close of school I can go and pick.
“Since I cannot go to school I want to ensure that my children will be educated. What I need now is financial assistance to run a business,” she stated.
Govt caters for IDPs, Refugees Commission insists
According to the United Nations (UN), Understanding the extent to which IDPs are currently concentrated in urban areas was an important step towards determining how best to implement programmes and policies that enable IDPs to achieve self-reliance through social and economic empowerment.
Some cities provide solution to protracted displacement as living in cities presents new opportunities for displaced persons in terms of access to employment, labour markets, social networks and security that might not be available in settlements.
However, living in cities also presents its own challenges. This is particularly true for cities that are ill-equipped to handle large population due to strained resources.
In Abuja, for instance, displaced persons often lack the necessary skills required to gain formal employment and therefore depend on the informal sector to earn a means of livelihood.
Responding to issues of IDPs, Deputy Director, Resettlement and Durable Solution, National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, Musa Kangiwa, said Abuja IDPs were attractions for media, noting that normal Nigerians were also suffering, due to inflation and other factors.
While refuting the claims of the displaced people on absence of economic empowerment from government, Kangiwa disclosed that, the commission was in charge of durable solutions in assisting the IDPs from the camp.
He said government had put in place various empowerment schemes with some still in process, adding that the job of the commission was to find sustainable livelihood for IDPs by relating them with financial agencies and institutions or organizations that can help in their cases to at least alleviate the problems.
“There are places in Nigeria and in this Abuja that are not IDP camps but are worse than IDP camps. The fact that you are an IDP does not mean government should put you in paradise, forgetting the constitutional right of others. Government cannot make everybody rich.
“In terms of intervention, we have done a lot, one thing with the IDPs if you leave countless truck load of relief materials to them by the end of the month, when it is exhausted they will say they have never seen you before. Everyone of them has their individual problem just like every other Nigerians,” he added.
Recounting government’s intervention the deputy director said the commission had partnered many organisations, including Dangote, Innoson, Nigerian Army, and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to empower IDPs economically.
Kangiwa said, “In collaboration with CBN, we initiated a loan system where IDPs can access as much as N500,000 but this can only be through a cooperative with a proper structure, that is a leader, secretary and other appropriate structure with terms and conditions.
“Also Innoson Motors is presently training more than 500 selected persons of concern in various aspects of Automobile engineering/repairs. Not to mention other projects like, ‘project educate all,’ ‘Project skill up,’ ‘Project NCFRMI GoDigital, and ‘Project resettlement city,’ all these projects are equipped with starter pack to help establish them after the training.
“Although in some intervention not everyone will benefit as certain criteria qualifies you access to the loan, some will succeed while others will not. The good thing is that some of them benefited.”
Speaking further, Kangiwa narrated a situation when the Nigerian Army had seek to recruit some of the IDPs but the situation that presented then was that many who were interested could not meet the criteria of a compulsory credit in Mathematics and English, which ended up not having up to 10 people who met the criteria in the whole IDP camps in FCT.
“Not all of them can be trained, somebody that do not have a primary or secondary qualification how can you train them? These are the limitations and the IDPs are economical with the truth as they will not tell you that for one reason or the other they did not qualify for a particular intervention.
“Some time ago we took statistics of those that are interested in farming and crop production from their respective association and cooperative we then went to cereal research in Zaria and got hybrid cereal that suits the Abuja soil type and gave to them, the commission bought the seeds in measured quantity of about N20,000 for a person, they went to Abuja Market and sold it for N5,000.
“Farmlands were provided by the FCT administration, if they had been patient they will have gotten more from this intervention, the few that were patient have about four-five hectares of farmland, this is also still on.
“In 20016, the Saudi Arabia, through the embassy in Nigeria donated date farm through the federal ministry of foreign affairs to the commission. I personally handled this intervention, with nine states plus the FCT benefiting, to distribute but they took it to the national mosque and sold them.
“Also there was collaboration with Dangote to build about a thousand houses but the ones that got it sold it and then return to the camps. Some have taken the IDPs situation as a lifetime situation and do not want to see anything outside of it.
“The solution is to exit the camp and that is what the government is working on. Plans are in motion, as census of skills will be taken to provide a settlement plan according to those chosen. This is because in Abuja we no longer have IDPs what we have is economic migrants who have moved from their homestead to search for greener pastures,” he said.
Govt leaving in denial says NGO
Reacting to the claims that there were no IDPs in the FCT the Programme Director, PAGED Initiative, Ummi Bukar, said the FCT government was living in denial.
“The government’s denial is like an ostrich sleeping with their heads in the sand. Saying there are no IDPs does not change the fact that there are IDPs and that there is a serious issue that happened that made them IDPs so saying they don’t exist doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t exist because they are there.
“It’s an embarrassment for the government but rather than being embarrassed by the situation why can’t they just do something to ensure that IDPs are not there in the first place,” she queried.
Bukar expressed worry that displaced persons in the FCT were not being well catered for like those in the North-east like Borno state, noting that most of them have learnt skills but can’t do much with what they have for lack of finances.
“At Durumi IDPs Camp for instance each of them, most especially the women have like 10 skills they have learnt but they don’t have capital to do anything and so the more they stay in camp the more they identify as IDPs and the more its difficult for them to see themselves as anything but IDPs and with the economic situation and the government showing no interest in changing anything.
I really don’t know what else to say about the situation because it’s not easy for them to go back home because their homes are not safe.
“Government should fix the security situation so that everybody can go back home, if IDPs return home with the level of skill and capacity they have gotten if they return home they can utilize for their best in their homes but staying in camps they can’t do much and more IDPs are coming out every day because the security situation in the country is almost hopeless.
“Nowhere is safe and that was why I said we are all IDP’s because anybody can enter your house now and do what they want.
“Government should do their work of providing security so that IDPs can go back home, continue in their farms to pursue business because there is nothing they can do in camps,” she said.
Stakeholders have tasked the Nigerian government to invest in innovative ways to support IDPs to become self-reliant in terms of their livelihoods. For instance, the government could learn from countries like Brazil and Ecuador and develop a labour mobility project that situates IDPs in other parts of the country where they can be gainfully employed.
The Brazil-Ecuador pilot project involved sending Colombian refugees in Ecuador over to Brazil where they were recognised as refugees by the Brazilian government and granted access to work coupled with temporary financial assistance from the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Through partnering with local private actors, jobs were found in the service, construction, and textile sectors, which have found a somewhat lasting solutions to their economical situation of which Nigeria can attempt to help the sufferings of the IDPs.
Bukar, however, disclosed that her NGO is creating a platform where IDPs can give back to the society from all the skills they have learnt, saying this will give them a sense of belonging and help them reintegrate into the society easily.
“There is lots of concentration on IDP’s and so they have lots of skills and there are lots of people at home who don’t have such skills that they have so we are collaborating with the IDP’s to help them to also give back and feel that sense of belonging that they are contributing to the society because they have expressed worry that they left their various homes with their dignity and now everybody calls them IDPs so they are excited to teach housewives some delicacies, cap sewing, soap making and a lot more and helping them achieve this foster their skills and help them gain back their dignity.
“Government on the other hand should fix the security so that everybody can go home. Government should give them capital, there are organisations that does internship of people that have skills and link them up with people that are more successful in such skills so they will learn and get better; for instance those who learnt plumbing can be linked up with renowned plumbers to learn more and be more established but that is also like saying that the IDP’s situation will continue so the best thing is to remove the tag of IDP’s and let them go back home,” she stressed.