I wish to express my profound appreciation to the leadership of Tozali magazine, the organizers of this event – its 7th Henna Ball Awards – for affording me the opportunity of participation in the capacity of Guest Speaker. May I also commend the organizers for their diligence in the choice of the topic: The IDPs ]Question as a Stain on Nigeria’s conscience and for pledging to devote a chunk of the proceeds of this event to catering for the needs of IDPs, especially women IDPs. What an example of not just talking but putting your money where your mouth is.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are victims of violence fleeing from their homes or community but have not crossed an international border for safety. They are forced from their homes inside their own country. Therefore, they are in need of protection, shelter, food, non-food items (such as blankets) and camp coordination/camp management.

According to the UNCHR, Boko Haram and other non-state armed groups as well as clashes between herders and farmers have pushed some 3 million Nigerians (as of November 2021) out of their homes, especially in parts of North-East Nigeria and the country’s Middle Belt, but increasingly also in North-West Nigeria. The protracted crises in this region has resulted into conflict-induced food insecurity and severe malnutrition. This has not only raised some pertinent questions but has become a stain on Nigeria’s conscience.

The Situation in Nigeria:

If you look at the condition of Nigeria, especially the North, is at and you don’t feel the pains, you are the one that is sick. No thanks to the activities of these disheveled terrorists or bandits. The IDPs question is more of a Northern phenomenon, although there are IDPs camps scattered all over the country as a result of the parlous security situation in the Nation. Therefore, kindly bear with me, if I make conscious and deliberate effort to address this topic from the perspective of a Northerner.

The night has fallen on Nigeria, especially the North. It’s a night so tepid for most of our people so much so that they crave cruel kindness – just something that has meaning even if its meaningless. Ever wondered what it means to be on a bilious race with no finish line or what it means when life becomes worse than death? To escape from this night that only stagnates for most of our people is like traveling on a highway that is well paved with spikes of steel or attempting to sail on a clay boat.

We all know that the North bears nearly 90% of the insecurity brunt of the country. If estimates are anything to go by, not less than 50,000 northerners have been killed while over 3 million have been displaced in the Northeast alone. No one has the record of Northern lives lost to rural banditry, the farmer-herder clashes and ethno-religious conflicts. The number grows exponentially when we add to this, death occasioned by urban violence unleashed by an increasing army of mostly jobless youths suffering from substance use disorder.

Added to the above is the threat posed by school dropouts and out of School children. According to global data on out-of-school children, Nigeria has now 20 million out of school children. The data further shows that 1 in every 5 out-of-school children is in Northern Nigeria and 60 percent of this number are found in the North.

When it comes to prosperity, the North has not fared well either. Even when the North was not under siege by terrorists, bandits and sundry criminals; we accounted for not less than 87% of the poverty burden in Nigeria. The data on malnutrition is even worse. How do we ensure our people develop mentally when we cannot feed them?

It is like we are now trapped in a death spiral where large segments of our population are addicted to rage and lager segments are addicted to delirium. The rage is misdirected at a Government we wrongly believe is big enough to solve all our problems but unable to do so. We have discountenanced the very idea of a limited Government which is that, the government itself is limited and therefore limited in what it can do for us. It can do much but not so much. As difficult a message to sell but it is the raw truth.

Infantilised by perceived failure of relevant authorities to meet the demands of certain sections of society, some fringe elements have resorted to dark fantasies resulting into a collective self-delusion whereby they don’t know what they are against and do not also know what they are for. These elements have constituted themselves into terrorists and other non-state armed groups (NSAGs) whose activities is the unremitting orgy of violence the general public is subjected to almost daily. Although internal displacement in Nigeria may be attributed to layers of complex and often overlapping triggers and drivers, some of which we have highlighted above, unbridled mayhem still remains the major cause.

Plight of IDPs in Nigeria:

Findings show that the major problems confronting displaced Nigerians are lack of food, problem of shelter, poor health care, poor access to education, and lack of access to clean water supply. Research after research have proven that displaced persons suffer significantly higher rates of mortality than the general population. As if that is not enough, there have been public outcry regarding rampant cases of physical violence, sexual assault and abduction unleashed on IDPs across all the camps in Nigeria. The stories are so deprecating to a point that we have turned ourselves into a world wide object of ridicule. Of all the heart rending stories, it is the plight of women IDPs that bother me the most. It is said that, “sex crimes are a serious problem because they violate personal freedoms, traumatise the victim, and often lead to undesired pregnancy, unsafe abortions and complications tied to early childbearing age, or even death”.

Most IDPs are forced to do unthinkable things just to survive. Since women significantly outnumber men and nearly all are either the de facto and/or de jure heads of their households having lost their husbands and breadwinners to the crises that drove them to the camps, you can only imagine the pressure on such women to do all within their means in order to earn extra income to support their families. This is one major cause of the accentuating cases of exposure of women and girls in the Camps to sexual abuse. There are also abounding reports of women and girls being coerced by male residents and security personnel to provide sexual services as guarantee for protection or extension of favours.

The Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) compiled 5,623 incidents involving child abuse and other sexual and gender-based violence from January 2018 to July 2022 for Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. The study said that, “640 arrests, or 88.6 percent of the total number of SGBV incidents in four years, were recorded, apart from the 82 offenders that had been charged across various courts located in the three states”. The report also noted that the centre secured eight convictions, of the total number of sexual offenders taken to courts. How pathetic!

The Human Rights Watch documented sexual abuse including rape and exploitation of 43 women and girls living in seven IDPs camps in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital. It was also reported in their assessment that gender-based violence was a feature of displacement in the disasters of North East Nigeria. Moreover, most studies have concluded that the culprits and perpetrators of gender-based violence (GBV) at IDPCs were civilians, military, and emergency management officers detailed to protect and support internally displaced persons. The report said, “Government officials and other authorities in Nigeria raped and sexually abused women and girls displaced by the clashes with Boko Haram. The government neither did anything to defend the displaced women and girls nor ensured that they had access to adequate basic rights and services. Also, there was no serious punishment for the abusers, who were camp leaders, vigilante groups, policemen, and soldiers”.

Accounts from Victims:

Just listen to the chilling accounts given by some victims:

1. Aisha Umar, a 15 year old IDP in Borno State, took her life after being raped by an official an International Non-Governmental Organization, identified as Huzaifa Adam, 35years. The deceased, who was into menial jobs for survival, was reportedly lured to the apartment of the suspect at 303 Housing Estate, near Dalori IDP camp, Maiduguri, under the guise of cleaning the place. The girl was crying on top of her voice while being raped and was quoted as saying, “Why would you do this to me? Instead of bringing shame to my parents after deflowering me, I rather die than go home.” Out of pain and heartbreak, Aisha entered the kitchen took a knife and stabbed herself to death. When Huzaifa noticed this, he picked her up to rush her to the hospital and on his way to the hospital, he had an accident and killed another person on the spot. It was a case of double murder.

2. In the then Gombe IDP camp, a 16-year-old Laraba told icirnigeria.org that an official of the State Emergency Relief Agency named Ibrahim took her from the camp where she was to his home on the pretext that she would be helping the wife with household chores. In her words, “I was happy leaving the camp, but when we got to his house, there was no wife. He raped me continuously for three nights, locked me inside his house for days and threatened me.” She continued, “I managed to escape and came back to the camp. I got pregnant. An old woman we call ‘Kaka’, gave me some leaves. I was bleeding for almost two weeks and smelling.”

3. For 15 year old Lami whose parents were killed by Boko Haram insurgents in her village on account of which she managed to escape to one of the camps in Maiduguri on an open truck. In her words, Lami said, “some government officials came to the camp and took many young girls away and later sold them as slaves”. Having been sold into slavery, she ended up in the house of one, Alhaji Aliyu whose brother and wife abused her. She recounted, “… that was how I got to Alhaji Aliyu’s house and it was there, every day, his brother forcefully slept with me. “After that, he would beat me and one of Alhaji’s wives too would always beat me. One day she attacked me with a knife. That was how I got the wound in my skull. Thankfully she survived the brutal attack but the Alhaji himself, his rapist brother and the wife that stabbed her with a knife in the head were never arrested much less prosecuted.

Above accounts are just a tip of the iceberg and not the goriest I have heard of or read about. Honestly, some of the stories make you want to puke. Therefore, the question where is our conscience, is not the only question, it is every question. Don’t we know that we are not only responsible for what we make happen but also for what we allow? Have we forgotten that Community just doesn’t happen to us, we make conscious, deliberate efforts to build community. Who are we waiting for to help us out of this mess- the government? Although I must concede the fact that we are not individually responsible for the plight of the IDPs but I cannot deny the fact that we are individually and collectively responsible to proffer a solution. We cannot remain passive in the midst of this moral crisis except our conscience is scorched. I dare say that the conditions under which IDPs live are actually the conditions of the hearts of their fellow citizens.

What is the way out?

In the midst of all these crises, what have we done as individuals and what has the Northern establishment done? I do not make any excuse, I am part of the establishment. We have done nothing to our collective shame! Imagine the Northern establishment had organized a submit where select IDPs from all the camps are invited to share their plight and thereafter establish a trust fund for IDPs in which every Northerner is required to pay in his/her month’s salary within a quarter while those who can give more give as God lays it in their hearts. No doubt, if that had happened, we would have set aside enough funds to cater for the needs of all IDPs regardless of what the Government chooses to do.

But what does the Northern establishment do? We love Political gatherings and how we love to interface with Presidential candidates! We always talk about leadership but are always shy to provide it. When faced with the reality of our failures as leaders, we always seek to cover same with bombastic grandiosity. Just ask yourself this question, if Sardauna, Tafawa Balewa and their contemporaries were alive today, will they allow this scourge to fester without rising to the occasion to tame it? How we love to talk about them and how we hate to re-enact their examples.

Our religious leaders and Institutions can also do so much but they are also too busy. They can build hospitals, schools, provide food and clothing and set aside funds to fund the prosecution of all perpetrators of sexual violence in IDP camps. But how our religious Leaders love crowds and yet hate the individual! As individuals, we can do so much too. Journalist can help amplify the plights of the IDPs and serve as their voices. Lawyers, Teachers, Doctors and allied Medical personnel can offer pro bono services. Spirited individuals and Organisations can offer scholarships and food stuff.

I tell you a story. When I was in office as speaker, I led efforts to create the North East Development Commission (NEDC) to help pull together resources for the recovery, reconstruction and development of the North East because then the North West and North Central had not become theaters of conflict. The Initiative won support of all NASS members because of the pathetic situations and with great difficulty we were able to pull it across the finish line. Don’t ask me what has become of the NEDC. I am getting discomforting signals but I don’t have any concrete evidence so it will be most distressing for me to make a value judgement on the bases of those signals.

Under our leadership also, we managed to pull all North East Members into a caucus that met fortnightly. I lead select members on a visit to all the major IDPs camps across all the Zones with the exception of Camps in Maiduguri on account of scheduling issues with the then Governor. We took along with us tons of relief materials which we donated to the IPDs and heard their stories first hand. At the Wasa Camp here in Abuja we sank boreholes for them and built a dispensary and donated it to FCT administration to run in order to meet the most immediate health needs of the IDPs. We raised money to help address the plight of IDPs and by the time I left office, our account had a balance of over N50m.

In addition, I tried in vain to push discussions about getting the international community to organize an international donor conference for Nigeria on humanitarian grounds. The argument was that if the international community helped to organize such fund raising event for Kosovo, Iraq and Syria, why wouldn’t they do so for Nigeria. I got the Oxford Union to agree to give us a slot to canvass: why the international community should organize such a donor conference for Nigeria

The European Parliament was also prepared to receive us for same reasons. All that was left was for me to communicate when we will be undertaking the journey. But because I didn’t have the budget to fund the outing of the delegation, I sought the assistance of a Governor who was at the epicentre of the crisis but his lack of interest in the matter was shockingly embarrassing. Attempt to even get him to be the lead presenter at both Oxford Union and European Parliament were not enough incentives for him. That was how the project was abandoned. No one picked up the matter, it was just like a lone voice crying in the wilderness.

Concluding Remarks:

Whatever may be the case, we cannot lose hope. The very fact that we are talking about this gives me hope. Our hope must be rooted in the telling stories of China, Rwanda, UAE, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, etc, which all prove the point that we can turn our ashes into glory and that nothing is impossible, if we don’t give in or give up. The stories of those countries are a validation of the saying that every problem comes with its own solution but it takes only those looking for the solution to find it. No doubt, it will take leadership for us to replicate those stories and I am happy that so many of us here are stepping up to provide that leadership.

The kind of leadership that compels us to begin to teach kids not only to hate violence but to show immediate disapproval to signs of incipient violence. That way, they cannot grow up to become disaffected rebels. This is because it has been demonstrated over time that no individual becomes what he or she hates. It will take the kind of leadership that recognizes that compassion is not tossing a coin at IDPs, it is pulling down the system that produces IDPs. Leadership that believes that history does not just happen to us, we make history happen. Leadership that knows that not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

Individually and collectively, we can provide healing for many broken IDPs, most especially women IDPs who are trapped in this existential crisis. Believe me, if we purge our conscience, we can be the difference and we can win history if we resolve to go to work on this issue that diminishes all of us. Let us therefore leave here with the sole resolve to be the change we want to see in this fight.

Civil societies and human Rights groups should get more involved in carrying out serious advocacies against all the vices being perpetrated by officials that are supposed to manage the IDPs Camps and protect them. They could also help initiate criminal prosecutions against officials involved or help blow the whistle to reduce the menace. If you are not steered in your spirit after listening to these compelling stories then you must have surrendered to fatalism. We cannot do so and still keep a stainless conscience!

Thank you for your kind attention. May God bless you all.

Rt Hon Yakubu Dogara, CFR