The uncertain future of Nigeria’s 2 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

27 April 2018

For our purposes, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are those displaced by natural disasters or conflict from their homes and traditional support structure and have not crossed the borders of their countries.

Source: Women’s UN Report Network

Nigeria is currently hosting approximately 2.1 million IDPs in thirteen camps across the country and more than 56% of them are children. Long-term solutions to solving the issue of overcrowded and underfunded IDP camps are unclear and the idea of a coherent government agenda on the resettlement and reintegration of its citizens is yet to be established. With the Nigerian Government making claims to have defeated Boko Haram –an Islamic militant group wreaking havoc in Northern Nigeria for the last 9 years- paralleled with continuous accounts of raids, kidnappings and murders; the notion to introduce resettlement itself must now be questioned when considering the prospective livelihoods of Nigeria’s IDPs.

Growing up as an IDP

With well over a million children currently displaced, the array of dangers prevalent in IDP camps has prompted international NGOs and the national government to consider plans for resettlement. Restricted road access, deliberate attacks on aid workers and subsequent humanitarian operation suspensions at the hands of Boko Haram has left IDPs suffering from malnutrition, poor sanitation and an overwhelming lack of security. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable inside IDP camps and the Borno State Protection Sector Working Group (made up of national and international aid providers) reported in May 2017 that sexual exploitation, rape and other sexual abuse are major concerns in nearly all 13 IDP camps across Nigeria. In 2016, Human Rights Watch reported that government officials are complicit in sexually abusing displaced women and girls. Most commonly, these victims of sexual abuse are coerced into sex through false promises of marriage or financial and material assistance when they are most vulnerable.

Despite on-going reports of unwanted pregnancies, rape, child labour and trafficking, 13,000 babies were born in IDP camps from 2013-2017. From birth, these babies will sadly face insecurity and injustice as access to healthcare and education for internally displaced children is hard to come by. Since continued conflict is causing further displacement, the international community is finally seeking to hold somebody accountable for safely returning IDPs to their villages.

Children awaiting food aid in Yobe camp. Source: News Agnecy of Nigeria

Who has responsibility?

As stated by the OHCHR it is the responsibility of the Governments of states containing IDPs to provide assistance and protection and any international assistance is merely supportive. “At the international level, no single agency or organisation has been designated as the global lead on protection and assistance of internally displaced persons”. Therefore, in the absence of a legal framework or institution for IDPs, the Nigerian Government must take decisive action.

Yet with incidences such as the 2016 ‘IDP fund scandal’ in which a Senate committee reported ‘gross mismanagement’ of the funds allocated to the Northeast, the impending resettlement process must be as transparent and efficient as possible. This is particularly crucial in the wake of President Buhari allocating $150 million of Nigeria’s 2017 budget to the rehabilitation of the North-East. Following his lead, the African Development Bank then pledged a $250 million loan for rebuilding and recovery, whilst USAID announced $92 million in additional assistance.

However, ‘throwing money at the IDP crisis will not solve the problem if the political drive is lacking’. Sustainable steps in resolving ‘Africa’s largest displacement crisis’ will take strategic planning, inter-agency collaboration and international support. Since the increased budget allocation and donor funding in 2017, hundreds of thousands of Nigerians have begun to return home. Yet Refugees International stress that due to ongoing insecurity in rural areas from the existing threat of both Boko Haram and the Fulani Herdsmen, the voluntariness of IDPs resettlement is in question. In spite of this, at the end of 2017 the governor of Borno (Boko Haram’s birthplace) announced his intention to close all IDP camps across the state by May 2018.

Is resettlement the answer?

The complexity of resettlement is not to be overlooked. A report by the Norwegian Security Council in September 2017 reported that from a sample of 3,455 displaced households in Borno State, only 27% reported that their previous homes were undamaged. 71% of interviewed IDPs had not received news on their planned place of relocation and 43% reported lacking the means to ensure access to land; thus reinforcing the aid dependency they have grown accustomed to in camp and drastically reducing their adaptive capacity and resilience.

As of March 2018, Nigerian President Buhari has stated that his government is willing to pardon insurgents who ‘lay down’ their arms and the Information Minister Lai Mohammed announced negotiations with Boko Haram regarding a possible ceasefire and ultimately an end to the conflict. Until such talks are concluded, the Nigerian Government must carefully consider the individual livelihoods of each IDP currently facing danger both inside IDP camps and on the road to resettlement.


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