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Inside Nigeria’s IDP Camps: Why anger and frustration runs deep

Anguish and frustration run deep in the camps of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in Nigeria as pressure mounts on the government to address the plights of the IDPs in the Northeast and other parts of the country, writes IDU JUDE

Every day in the camps of internally displaced persons in Nigeria is a nightmare. From dawn to dusk, and from Nigeria’s Northcentral region where marauding pastoralists regularly attack farmers to the far-flung Northeast where heavily armed terrorists dominate and hold sway, every day produces hundreds of more IDPs.

The green lush vegetation of the Benue basin which for many years served as the food basket of the most populous black nation on earth has sadly, in the last 12 years become a killing field. Checks reveal that Nigeria has experienced the highest number of farmer-herder fatalities in West or Central Africa over the past decade.

But despite government acclaimed interventions worth billions of naira to alleviate lives of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), across the country, hunger, rape, insecurity, and death, have assumed a frightening dimension in North-eastern Nigeria with questionable intervention measures by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to ameliorate their sufferings.

SEMA

The condition of tens of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), who are now homeless and possibly have lost their ancestral homes due to armed bandits’ attacks and killings, living in designated camps across the country and specifically Northern part and middle belt regions is indeed pitiable. The displaced persons are agonising over inadequate food, poor shelter, diseases, and deprivation.

According to inmates, the food items distributed by aid workers often finish within weeks, and it takes months before they receive a new supply. ThisNigeria discovery in Benue State, Northcentral Nigeria, shows that life in the IDP camps is harrowing and frustrating. Those in the camps are wallowing in penury and lacking freedom and other fundamental needs of life including food, good health while life daily remains insecure.

Similarly, in Borno State, one of the IDPs in the slum community, findings show that many of the inhabitants have been forgotten. Despite the supply of mattresses and other facilities by the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), the IDPs were seen sleeping on bare floors in primary schools and churches, especially the freshers to the camp, who were attacked recently.

Mr. Philip Saatse, told ThisNigeria through the telephone that children always go about naked in the chilling weather. He also expressed worry over the lack of basic social amenities, especially electricity, potable water, and toilets. This, he said, has given room to the practice of open defecation and the possible spread of diseases like diarrhea.

He said even in the camp, their lives are at risk as they received information from militia herdsmen of impending attacks. According to Philip, who has four kids, life at the camp has been so difficult because of the lack of food and other basic amenities to take care of his family.

His word: “I have been in this Abagena Camp for four years; I was displaced from Guma Local Government Area in 2018. “The major challenge of the IDPs here is food. We used to produce food by ourselves but now that we have abandoned our farms due to the attacks and killings, we are now depending on the government and other NGOs for survival. It is a pity that the Federal government of Nigeria waits for foreign donors to help its own displaced people.

The fact remains that there are limits to which foreign donors can give to Nigeria. And I think this is what is about to happen. We in the IDP camps across Nigeria are in God’s hands to see that we go back to our ancestral homes. The entire thing that Mr. President promised, before he was voted, he has also failed to achieve. It is unfair for one to be out of his ancestral home for 10 years and here we live like monkeys hopping from one tree to another. This is because the insurgents never allow us to settle in one camp for long before they come to kill and drive people away.”

Widespread malnutrition in camps
A record has shown that four out of five IDP’s have inadequate food consumption compared to the 29 per cent of the general population, according to a 2021 survey by the World Food Programme (WFP) National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD).

The survey conducted in IDP camps in Zamfara, Sokoto, and the Katsina States also revealed that children between the ages of six to 39 months were ranked 2.5 per cent on the Global Acute Malnutrition scale when compared to the critical emergency threshold set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) at 15 per cent.

The Zamfara State Coordinator of Advocacy Nigeria, a civil rights group, Rabiu Sambo, said malnutrition in IDP camps in Zamfara is likely inevitable because donor organisations mainly carried out food distribution in these camps with little government support. “When a country places the welfare of its displaced citizens in the hands of donor organisations, problems are inevitable because donor organisations are supposed to complement the efforts by the government.

A visit to these IDP camps by ThisNigeria shows that residents live in poor conditions, and the Federal Government does not prioritise the welfare of the IDPs while hoping on the donor agencies to come for rescue.”

ThisNigeria’s inquest at the NEDC, hit the rock as authorities declined an interview. Meanwhile, the North East Development Commission, NEDC, received zero allocation for capital expenditure in the 2021 Budget proposal presented to the National Assembly, by President Muhammad Buhari possibly because the commission has shown poor implementation of the 2020 budget.

Taking a look at the MDAs’ 2021 detailed 2021 Federal Government of Nigeria capital expenditure ceilings, the commission’s percentage share (Based on weights and Economic Sustainability Plan, ESP) stands at zero per cent just as its 2021 Pre-Bilateral Proposal maintains the same Indications from the budget office, shows that agencies handling emergencies in the country, has failed to justify financial releases or budget implementations hence the federal government budgeted sum of N3,09.866.967 to the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development for the 2021 fiscal year.

The ministry’s percentage share (Based on Economic Sustainability Plan) was put at seven per cent. On the other hand, the National Social Investment Officer in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development was allocated the sum of N50,000,000,000 in the year.

The agency’s percentage share stands at 85 percent. According to the budget 2021 proposal seen by ThisNigeria, the National Commission for Refugees is to receive the sum of N2,357,335,827, with four share percentages in the allocation to the ministry.

Also, the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, is to receive the sum of N2,796,175,317 with four percent as its percentage share in the proposed budget. The subtotal of the amount budgeted for the ministry in the 2021 fiscal year stands at N58,338,982.235.

The 2020 Global Hunger Index, GHI, ranked Nigeria at 98 among 107 countries, ahead of countries like Afghanistan, Lesotho, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Nigeria’s low ranking was described as “severe” and blamed on malnutrition. Over 12 percent of its population is undernourished due to inadequate food lacking in quantity and quality. According to the GHI report, over 6 percent of children below the age of five in Nigeria risk death or low weight for their age due to acute malnutrition, and 36 per cent are stunted.

Oyejide Adesanjo, a nutritionist, told our correspondent through a phone conversation that institutionalizing a homegrown feeding programme for children in these camps would solve the underlying problems of malnutrition. “The government needs to set a national policy to address the concerns of malnutrition in children in the country, especially in schools. This should be done by scaling up its intervention schemes at children in the rural areas through home gardening and an adequate supply of nutritional meals to their schools.

“It should move past political grand-standing where a politician in front of the camera eats with students, but the main issue should be the quantity and the quality of the food the students are served,” he said.

In 2015, Nigeria adopted a five-year plan, called the National Strategic Plan of Action on Nutrition (NSPAN) to combat malnutrition. The entire project was expected to cost N328 billion to implement. For the duration of the programme, Nigeria’s investment in nutrition was a far cry from meeting its target.

The Federal Government-approved budgetary releases for Ready To Use Therapeutic Food (RTUF) for malnourished children are as follows, N366 million in 2016, N1.2 billion in 2017, N400 million in 2018, and N61 million in 2019. RUTF meals are made for severely malnourished children to eat without assistance. They contain peanut paste, milk, vegetable oil, sugar, milk, vitamins, and minerals.

In 2020, N800 million earlier slated for RUTF was withdrawn from the budget; records show that Nigeria has spent a total of N2.2 billion on RUTF, which is 0.5 per cent of the total funding needed to implement the project.

Ironically, between 2011 and 2018, malnutrition among children under age five increased as child mortality grew from 24 to 31 per cent in 2018, while stunting rose from 34 to 43 per cent, based on data from the 2018 Multiple Indicator Clusters Survey (MICS).

The cost of treating one child suffering from malnutrition under the Community Management for Acute Malnutrition (CMAM), a pr gramme initiated by the United Nations International Emergency Fund, UNICEF, costs $160, which is N65,894 at the official rate of N411 to $1. “At 14 months old, Aisha does not look much well-fed; neither does she look too sickly like some other infants at the camp. She still takes breast milk” though her mother Faizah Abdul who is currently at Kuje FCT IDP camp, says breastfeeding her daughter is tasking because she doesn’t eat a proper diet.

Health officials taught us in the camp that we could breastfeed our children after one year, that’s what I’ve been doing, but it’s not been easy for me. The sachet food (RUTF) that was initially given to my daughter has stopped coming. If it were here, I would have stopped breastfeeding,” she said.

Nigeria has the second-highest number of stunted children globally, with two million children battling Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM), according to 2019 data obtained from UNICEF.

In January, Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbanjo, pitched a five-year nutrition action plan from 2021 to 2025 to guide intervention programmes against hunger and malnutrition in the country.

The plan is to reduce the number of people who suffer malnutrition by 50 per cent, increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding by 65 per cent and ensure the stunting rate among under-five-year-olds declines by 18 per cent by scaling up nutrition-specific interventions. It is yet to be seen if the projected plan will yield the desired goal.

Many families cannot get the much-needed protein in their diet because the population in these IDP camps outweighs supplies of RUTF from donor organisations, and buying them from the market is more expensive.

Records from the NEMA office in Abuja indicate that a humanitarian organisation in Zamfara State, ‘Victims of Violence’, had developed a healthy RUTF substitute named Savameal last year to combat malnutrition in children under five years of age residing in IDP camps.

The ready-to-eat diet specifically for children under five years of age who suffer from acute malnutrition is made from soybeans, red sorghum, and groundnut.

Al-Mustapha Sani, the state coordinator of the Zamfara State chapter, recently told the media that the supply of RUTF, an edible nutrition product by donor organisations to malnourished children in IDP camps was inadequate, which prompted the group to develop an alternative solution. “We found out during visits to some unofficial IDP camps in Anka, Maru, Gusau, and Doumborou that RUTF meant for malnourished children were eaten by older children and adults because they were hungry and food was in short supply.

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“Because of the chronic lack of balanced diet for malnourished children, we had to come up with a substitute food supplement that was cheap and accessible from locally grown crops in the region that everyone can eat,” he said.

The 2018 Demographic Health Survey reveals that 56 per cent of children less than five years are more likely to be stunted, risk death, or underweight. However, Sani says the malnutrition and hunger in the state would continue if banditry continues to displace people from their homes.

“The solution to these staggering figures of child malnutrition in Zamfara State will take place when people residing in IDP camps are relocated to their original homes where there is a regular supply of a balanced diet for children under strict supervision,” he said.

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