The recent protest by Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, over food shortage in their camps, has brought to the fore, yet again, the deplorable welfare situation of IDPs and the pressing need to put measures in place for their safe return home.
The IDPs, comprising men, women and children residing at the Gubio Road camp, had, recently, embarked on protests and confronted aid workers. The key reason advanced by them for the protest was hunger and starvation at the camp.
The Gubio Road camp houses no fewer than 280,000 displaced persons mostly from Monguno, Kukawa and Kalabalge local government areas of Borno State. Most of the protesters were new arrivals from Kukawa and Kalabalge, the local government areas hit by insurgents early this year. They complained that they were deprived of accommodation and forced to sleep in open spaces.
In a similar manner, last month, IDPs from Baga took to the streets of Maiduguri to protest alleged hunger and poor treatment by officials managing their affairs in the camp. The protesters, who barricaded the major highway that leads to Maiduguri to register their displeasure, decried the poor pattern of feeding and manner of care they were accorded since their arrival at the camp over a month ago.
In that protest, the IDPs went wild as they destroyed public signposts, especially campaign billboards of various political parties. Soldiers and police officers who were deployed to the scene had to use moderate force, including the release of tear gas canisters against the protesters, who stood their ground. The logjam lasted almost three hours. Good enough, the protesters were persuaded to listen to the pleas of security operatives deployed to pacify them and suspend their demonstration.
But even as the dust raised by the protest settles, there are concerns of a looming cholera outbreak if urgent sanitary measures are not put in place at the camps due to overcrowding, coupled with the shortage of sanitation and hygiene facilities.
An international non-governmental organisation (NGO), Norwegian Refugee Council, raised the alarm of an impending cholera outbreak in the Northeast IDP camps just as it decried the deplorable state of the camps. This newspaper is not completely oblivious of the fact that there is a struggle to meet the urgent food, medical and accommodation needs of the displaced persons in most of the camps.
However, it appears the efforts are not sufficient as the complaints have all along been that of poor living condition and an almost non-existent medicare, in the camps.
Indeed, more than anything else, the demonstrations by the IDPs show how low we have sunk as a people to the extent that catering for those in need seems not to be a priority.
Before now, there had been complaints of sharp practices and other criminal activities including rape and sexual abuse of some IDPs. All of these betray the true essence of and the ideals of catering for persons seeking refuge.
Allegations are rife that food and other items meant for the IDPs often find their way to open markets. What this suggests is that some persons feed fat on the plight of the IDPs.
We know that the situation of the IDPs is an emergency which, like most emergencies, was not planned for. But since we have come to stay with it as the reality of the moment, it behoves on government to make contingency plans to address their needs.
It is crystal clear that both the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the Borno State Emergency Management Agency-(SEMA) are not doing enough to address the issues on ground.
Arising from this bitter fact, this newspaper is compelled to ask what roles have the politicians and other members of the political class been playing as far as prioritising the welfare of the IDPs.
The deplorable state of IDP camps and their attendant consequence of poor living condition have further underscored the need for the government to take a holistic look at the situation surrounding the lives of persons seeking refuge.
It is an established fact that internally displaced children may go for months or years without school, and women and girls are at increased risk of gender-based violence.
Sadly, IDPs also face dire needs for shelter, struggle with limited access to water and sanitation. The list, certainly, is endless.
So, the protest, which is gradually becoming a recurring decimal in the lives of the IDPs, especially those taking refuge at different camps in Maiduguri, is suggestive of the neglect they are exposed to by all the critical stakeholders.
It is a national embarrassment that persons forced to be tenants in camps because of their displacement following crisis are left in a situation that leaves them with no option than to embark on street protest.The nation must rise to the task of ending protests by IDPs and the time to do that is now.
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