According to the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are “persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border”. As at the end of Year 2016, there were 40.3 million IDPs in the world due to conflicts and violence.
A few years ago, one would not have imagined that IDPs, arising from armed conflicts, would be a serious issue of discussion in Nigeria. However, the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeastern region of Nigeria, in particular, has changed the course of Nigerian history forever. There is a continuous shortage of reliable data on IDPs in Nigeria. Nevertheless, since the start of the conflict in 2009, it is reported that more than 2.1 million people have fled their homes at the height of the conflict, 1.9 million of who are currently internally displaced. The remaining over 200,000 people are still in Cameroon, Chad and Niger, after having been forced to flee. In the three most affected states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, critical needs have been identified to include food, water, sanitation, security, education, shelter and health services.
Although there are some IDPs in Nigeria arising from communal clashes and environmental factors, the predominant reason for the sudden upsurge in the number of IDPs in Nigeria is obviously the myriad of Internal Security crises in the country. It is said that over 85 per cent of IDPs in Nigeria are due to the insurgent activities in the northeastern region of the country. Despite the many successes recorded by the Nigerian military forces, especially in recent times, the Boko Haram insurgency is, not surprisingly, yet to be fully abated. Accordingly, the issue of IDPs remains a big challenge in Nigeria.
The Federal Government, in collaboration with affected state governments and other relevant stakeholders, has instituted a number of measures aimed at improving the plight of IDPs in Nigeria. Such measures include the reconstruction of social amenities destroyed by Boko Haram insurgents, establishment of IDPs camps, provision of security at IDP camps, provision of health and sanitation facilities as well as the supply of foods, beddings and clothing items. It apparently costs more to keep IDPs in camps than it would take to resettle them. In apparent realization of this, President Muhammadu Buhari set up a committee known as the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE). The committee, led by a frontline statesman, Lt. Gen Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma (rtd), is charged with the task of rehabilitating infrastructure and resettling the IDPs in the North East. The committee also includes Africa‘s richest man, Alhaji Aliko Dangote.
It is to be noted that of more importance are the measures being taken to address the root cause of the sudden rise in the number of IDPs in Nigeria, which is, ending the crisis itself. With the support of the Federal Government, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), working in unison with other sister services and other relevant stakeholders, has played a major part in decimating the ability of the insurgents to operate freely. In the course of the military campaigns, the NAF has carried out several air operations and recorded several thousands of flying hours with its different aircraft types. In particular, it undertook various types of missions towards militarily dealing with the insurgency. These include Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance missions towards gathering intelligence for use by the land forces and the NAF itself; air interdiction missions to destroy Boko Haram structures and Close Air Support missions for advancing ground troops. The NAF equally undertook missions to facilitate logistics resupply of ground troops spread over the vast Sambisa general area, in addition to airlifting troops as well as VIPs when on operational visits to the frontlines. Furthermore, the NAF conducted medical and casualty evacuation missions whenever necessary. Worthy of note is the fact that the NAF also contributed its special forces, who fight alongside the ground troops, in battles against the insurgents. Without doubts, efforts to rehabilitate and resettle the IDPs would not have been possible without the recent victories recorded by the NAF alongside other sister services.
The NAF has, however, not been simply contented with its exploits in the military campaigns. The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Baba Abubakar, in particular, has been very passionate about the plight of the IDPs arising from the insurgency. Besides, the NAF realizes that the war cannot be completely won without winning the ‘hearts and minds’ of the local communities. In support of the Federal Government’s efforts at ameliorating the condition of IDPs in Nigeria, the NAF has equally taken quite a number of steps, beyond military campaigns.
One of the steps taken by the NAF, to ameliorate the condition of IDPs, is the regular conduct of medical outreach programmes, specifically targeted at meeting their healthcare needs. For instance, the NAF, through its Medical Services Branch, organized a medical outreach programme for IDPs at the Benishek, Mainok and Jakana IDP Camps in Borno State from 1-3 June 2017. During all such programmes, NAF medical personnel provide free treatment and drugs to IDPs. At another recent medical outreach programme, the NAF used the newly established Cancer Screening Centre at its Base in Maiduguri to screen and treat over 40 women from neighbouring IDP camps with special focus on cervical, breast and other forms of cancer. Furthermore, on many occasions, the NAF has screened the eyes of IDPs for diseases such as glaucoma, cataract, etc after which free treatment, including medicated glasses as might be necessary, were administered. Besides, the NAF established Emergency Hospitals for IDPs in Dalori and Bama since September 2015 and August 2016 respectively and it has continued to maintain both hospitals till date. The NAF has also expanded many of its hospitals and built new ones, to accommodate the healthcare needs of IDPs, in addition to the needs of its personnel and their dependants. It is gratifying to note that one of such newly built NAF hospitals is the one at the NAF Base in Bauchi, where a 5-year old malnourished and abandoned child was successfully treated and nourished to full recovery.
As part of its contributions to ensuring that the day-to-day needs of the IDPs are met, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar has instituted a scheme in the NAF, which encourages all NAF personnel to make voluntary donations to the cause of IDPs on a quarterly basis. The donations are usually in cash as well as household items such as food grains, baby food, clothing items, toiletries as well as books and other educational materials. Likewise, the NAF partners with selected corporate organizations to facilitate similar donations to IDPs. It is as a result of the NAF’s relentless humanitarian interventions regarding the IDPs that many organizations are identifying with the NAF in rendering the needed support. The most recent of such is Tolaram Africa’s donation of 4,000 cartons of Indomie Noodles, worth about Ten Million Naira, to IDPs. The NAF has since airlifted the Noodles to Maiduguri and is in the process of distributing the items to different IDP camps in the North East.
Another area of need by IDPs, especially in the North East Region, is education, particularly the issue of girl-child education. Accordingly, the NAF recently built additional secondary schools in Maiduguri, Zamfara, Abuja and Shasha, on the outskirts of Lagos, towards meeting not just the educational needs of dependants of NAF personnel but also those of school age IDPs.
In the area of airlift of food items, the NAF recently deployed its C-130H transport aircraft and Mi-17 helicopter in support of the new plan announced by the Federal Government for delivering relief materials to IDPs in the Northeast Region. As the exercise commenced on 8 June 2017, the NAF C-130H aircraft airlifted hundreds of bags of food items weighing about 10,000kg to Maiduguri with plans to use the Mi-17 helicopter to ferry some of the items to selected IDP camps. The exercise is a continuous one.
The foregoing contributions of the NAF to the plight of IDPs in Nigeria, aside from its contributions to their security, are in partial fulfillment of the vision of Air Marshal Abubakar through one of the key drivers, which is to promote the core value of service delivery. The path undertaken by the NAF, beyond its military campaigns, is certainly worthy of commendation and deserves the support of all well meaning Nigerians. The NAF remains dedicated to being at the service of Nigerians and would continue to do its best, especially considering the tremendous support it is enjoying from the Federal Government. For the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal Abubakar, “there is no finishing line in the race to add value to the society’.
God bless Nigeria!
Air Commodore Olatokunbo Adesanya, is the NAF Director of Public Relations and Information