Internally displaced persons and a new life
Closing the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps as is being contemplated by the Federal Government would be welcome once adequate security and other basic amenities are provided to make life worth living for the returnees. Anything less would amount to sheer wickedness. Already traumatised men, women and children should not be taken back home for them to continue with a life that is brutish and uncertain .
The government should, therefore, be more circumspect in deciding when and how to close the camps, more especially, since the war has not ended and the Boko Haram insurgents are still very much in the business of wreaking havoc on innocent citizens.
While the desire that displaced refugees should go back home to live their normal life is a legitimate one, government should, indeed, weigh the timing and circumstance very carefully. The safety of the returnees should be paramount, their healthy living should not be compromised and a fulfilling life should be guaranteed.
Minister of Defence, Dan Ali had, the other day, at Aso Rock, disclosed that the Federal Government was fine-tuning plans to close the IDPs camps in the North East in order to help the refugees return to their homes and begin a new life.
That government wants the IDPs to return home and settle down for economic activities in their various communities is not bad but what prospects await the people? Their return, as said, may be to help them kick-start their new life in those communities as they get back to farming, trading or whatever business they choose, but what guarantees are there that this would happen?
The Boko Haram insurgents may have been largely dislodged from the North-east and the army has taken over their two major strongholds of Sambisa Forest and Camp Zairo as reported, but the area remains under a cloud of fear.
While the report that the dreadful Sambisa Forest has been converted to a training ground for members of the armed forces and is being opened up with a network of roads is encouraging, care must still be taken to prevent a situation in which innocent citizens become easy targets for the blood-thirsty insurgents.
Of recent, the clamour for closing the IDPs camps has been rising. But it is not clear why this is so given that the situation is not yet altogether normal. The insurgents are still in operation, though on a reduced scale. Abductions are still going on even as suicide bombers are on the prowl. Truth is that the crisis is not totally over and the people still live in fear.
It is understandable that those calling for the closing of the IDPs’ camps may have been swayed by the burden of cost of maintaining the camps and the inhuman conditions there as hunger as well as poor hygiene inflict maximum damage on the people. The impression being given by the authorities that Boko Haram insurgents have been substantially weakened is, however, compelling a false sense of security. Yet, frustration with the unending insurgency and its impact on the refugees cast a pall over the nation. How to solve the refugee crisis, therefore, seems a problem as daunting as defeating the insurgents in the first place. This calls for great care.
The other day, the Borno State Government set for itself the target of closing all Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps by next year. Governor Kashim Shettima said in Maiduguri that the state had nearly two million displaced persons even though not all of them are living in camps.
In the same vein, the Adamawa State government had earlier said that it would soon close all IDPs’ camps in the state. The Deputy Governor of the state, Martins Babale, made the disclosure in Yola while briefing journalists after a State Security Council meeting. Babale said that the administration was not happy with the continuous existence of IDPs in camps across the state.
The Children’s Government of Nigeria, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), recently called on the federal and state governments to close IIDPs’ camps in the north-east. The group reportedly said that the camps should be closed down “immediately” on the ground that they had negative effect on women and children.
“Many of the women in the camps live irresponsible lives with nobody to check them. If they return to their various communities, they will be more careful. “The children also live carefree lives due to the absence of parents or guardians. They are denied even basic means of livelihood,” according to the group.
Government should, however, be circumspect in closing the camps so that the supposed solution to a problem does not become another problem. Adequate preparations should be made for the refugees. They need to be well-rehabilitated in an atmosphere of total security and serenity. They also need physical, financial and psychological empowerment.
So, the Federal Government should not embark on or allow states to do what could be an ill-fated programme of closing the IDP camps without first ensuring that the situation is stable so that the returnees are not exposed to more serious danger in their communities.