The humanitarian situation in Nigeria deteriorated significantly in the first half of 2018 as the conflict intensified in the North East which reflected in the increase of new displacements from the 142,000 reported during the same time period last year. Clashes between government forces and Boko Haram became more frequent in the north-east of the country, displacing 217,000 people as the announcement of elections in 2019 heightened tensions in the region. Violence between herders and farmers also escalated in the Middle Belt region, where 1,300 people have reportedly been killed and 300,000 displaced since the start of the crisis in late 2016. In the most notable event, around 38,000 people were displaced in Plateau State in late June. According to the internal displacement monitoring centre, there were about 417,000 new displacements between January and June 2018.
Nigeria’s National Population Commission says the number of displaced people in the country increased by 4.5 per cent as at January 2018. Chairman of NPC, Mr Eze Duruiheoma said the Displacement Tracking Matrix round xxi of January 2018 identified an estimated 1.7 million IDPs in over 321,580 households across six states of North-East Nigeria with 40 per cent residing in camp-like settings in urban areas, plus 1.4 million returnees.
Refugees International states that more than 1.6 million Nigerians are displaced within the country, and 7.7 million people are in urgent need of emergency assistance. Additionally, conflict continues to cause more displacement, and humanitarians estimate that 930,000 Nigerians in need are located in hard-to-reach areas due to ongoing fighting and military restrictions on movements. People internally displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East are spread across at least 13 states.
Presidential Seal on Looting of IDP Funds
In 2016, the Buhari administration established The Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE) to help coordinate and lead efforts at rebuilding infrastructure and rehabilitate millions of victims of Boko Haram insurgency that has devastated Nigeria’s North East. The agency received over 8 billion Naira out of which N6.8 billion was expended on projects and N231.5 million on recurrent expenditures. However, the commission has been plagued by reports of misappropriation of funds meant to provide succour to Nigerian IDPs.
According to National Assembly findings, Mr Babachir Lawal as the then Secretary of the Federation superintended and converted PINE into the bizarre money-making enterprise, awarding contracts to cronies whose firms did not pass the requirements set by law. Some of the beneficiaries paid parts of the proceeds of the contracts to Mr Lawal’s company and his private account in tranches. After receiving payments from PINE, at least five companies separately paid about N450 million to the Eco Bank account (182001809) of Rholavision Engineering Limited owned by Mr Lawal according to CAC and self-admission, and his private account (0003004417) with Diamond Bank, bank statements showed.
According to a CBN confirmation attached to the report, Mr Lawal was still the signatory to the account of Rholavision until February 15, 2017, which shares the same Bank Verification Number with his personal account and 13 other accounts in commercial banks. Between March 29, 2016, and April 20, 2016, Josmon Technologies Limited transferred N317 million to Rholavision after receiving two “grass-cutting” contracts worth N530.6 million for the removal of invasive plant species in Yobe State.
Babachir Lawal was later sacked from office after major outcry but he is yet to be prosecuted. As he enjoys his loot and President Buhari ignores the large-scale looting of supplies, funds and resources meant for IDPs which happening under his watch, IDPs are in hunger and face different challenges that threaten their existence.
2019 Election and the order from Buhari for IDPs to go back to unsafe territories.
According to Reuters – Nigerian government officials have ordered thousands of displaced people to return to an unsafe area as pressure mounts to show progress in the war against Islamist groups ahead of a presidential election, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Those who have gone back say they only did so because the officials told them they would get no more aid if they remained in refugee camps. Returnees say their home area of Guzamala in the northeast is not safe and they cannot earn a living there. Western diplomats and aid officials have expressed concern that sending displaced people back to their home regions is part of Buhari’s political agenda, and that of the ruling party as local elections are being held.
“Pushing these people back just to make a point when the security situation remains tenuous is a terrible idea,” one diplomat told Reuters.
Reuters reported that the IDPs were being forced home not just to show that the security situation is better but also for them to vote in the places they had registered before they fled their homes.
Aid officials and Western diplomats also say the government’s forceful return program for the IDPs is geared towards elections. As the administration of Buhari continues to neglect the growing number of IDPs across Nigeria, it has become obvious that he is ready to trade them as collateral damage to fulfil his second term ambition. This act cannot be justified, it is inhumane and puts innocent children and women at the risk of death, rape and being forcefully co-opted into the Boko Haram army.
Ovoko Williams is a freelance writer and media relations consultant. His works have been published on a number of publications including Pulse, Vanguard, Daily Trust, Daily Post among others.