On food security and safety of IDPs

Nigeria has pledged to do more to tackle food shortages among people made homeless by Boko Haram. PHOTO: AFP / STEFAN HEUNIS

Nigeria has pledged to do more to tackle food shortages among people made homeless by Boko Haram. PHOTO: AFP / STEFAN HEUNIS

As the Nigerian military continues ongoing mopping-up operations against remnants of the Boko Haram in the North-eastern part of the country, the safety of the over two million displaced persons, and their nutrition remains uppermost in the minds of all concerned Nigerians, the government inclusive.

The displaced persons, uprooted by the Boko Haram, are found in refugee camps that dot the three most affected states of the Northeast region, and other parts of the country, including Abuja, the nation’s capital. The camps aside, there is also the issue of security for those who have returned to liberated areas of the states of Adamawa, Yobe and Borno who occasionally suffer from sporadic attacks of remnants of the Boko Haram, and Fulani herdsmen, who loot and pillage rural and isolated communities.

To give effect and prepare the ground for return and rehabilitation of the displaced Nigerians, the Ministry of Interior announced that personnel from the para-military organisations like the Nigerian Civil Defence, the Immigration, the Police and similar organisations would be deployed to maintain security in the liberated areas and in communities that were once prone to attacks by insurgents to deter the latter. This deployment would also embolden the returnees to carry on with the restoration of normal life in their communities by engaging in productive ventures like farming and fishing for which the Northeast region is known.

The matter of security, safety and comfort of the IDPs, has for a long time engaged the attention of critical stakeholders in the region, like the Adamawa Peace Initiative (API). The group founded by the management of the American University of Nigeria (AUN) and which now works in collaboration with the Initiative to provide succour, education, empowerment and security for several thousand displaced persons in camps in Adamawa and parts of Borno State, has been helping the IDPs since 2012 when the insurgency was at its peak. This was also the time that more people became refugees in Adamawa State as a result of the incursion of the terrorists into the state.

The Nigerian Army and the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) made up of military contingents from Nigeria’s neighbours namely, Cameroun, Chad, Niger and Benin Republic played a very important role in routing the insurgents from Adamawa State and other Northeast states, making it possible for Non-Governmental Organisations like the AUN-API, and other groups to provide the humanitarian assistance and empowerment programmes that are currently ongoing in the region to deal with the problem of food and security of the displaced persons.

Also in furtherance of its humanitarian effort in the area of providing security for the refugees, in June 2014, the AUN-API held a maiden International Peace and Development Conference at the campus of the University in Yola, which attracted scholars in the area of security and strategy, serving military personnel, Police and Immigration officials based in the region and government officials from the three most affected states. International NGOs and interested members of the public as well as representatives of the IDPs were in attendance. The conference made far-reaching recommendations on how to improve the security of the IDPs, rout the Boko Haram as well as the need to check corruption which was identified by most speakers as militating against the best endeavours of the government and those fighting the terrorists in the field.

The Buhari administration has called for more vigilance and citizen participation in information and intelligence gathering to improve security of the IDPs as well as those of liberated areas. While indeed the country’s security forces are doing their utmost in the security challenged areas of the Northeast, much still needs to be done. The situation where recently, bombers suspected to be Boko Haram infiltrated an IDP camp in Borno State, leading to the death of several people leaves much to be desired. It only calls for greater vigilance rather than condemnation because it is really not a child’s play to provide 100 per cent security in a human environment as long as humans retain their freedom of movement.

Yet another aspect of the security needs of the displaced persons across the country is that of food and nutrition. Food security for IDPs is of urgent importance. While many groups and organisations including the National Emergency Management Agency, and their state counterparts are working round the clock to provide food and restore the dignity of the refugees, glaring cases of malnutrition and poor sanitation remain a problem of the various IDP camps in many parts of the country. In one report recently, more than 450 children in IDP camps died as a result of malnutrition.

The problem of malnutrition cited above means that the food situation in the camps needs improvement and agencies and voluntary groups presently helping the displaced persons should do more. Aside making available adequate food provisions which may be difficult given that there are many camps scattered in various parts of the country, ensuring that the right kind of food that is healthy for children and even adults, is yet another problem which needs close scrutiny.

Several non-governmental organisations, including foreign organisations, embassies of foreign countries have been working hard for the past four years to ensure that IDPs get regular food supplies but also, that in places where it is possible, the displaced persons are provided with the tools, equipment and land to supplement their food supply, and engage in profitable economic activities.

However, as IDPs move around in and out of the camps in search of food and other needs, new security challenges emerge due to the likelihood of infiltration by criminal elements. President Buhari in briefs to security and intelligence officials has called attention to this issue. It then follows that reliable means of identification need to be put in place to ensure that dangerous persons masquerading as IDPs do not enter the camps to cause mayhem as witnessed recently in some of the camps.

• Okoroma, a public affairs analyst writes from Abuja

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AUNBoko HaramMNJTF


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