IDPs: Between immunity and impunity

Posted by News Express | 20 August 2016 | 3,440 times

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“In near future, the world will suffer above all from distrust.”- Le Comte Du Nouy

It was from Mr. Yomi Odunuga’s social media page that I got the first impression of the return of adverse malnutrition of children of the North-East states of Yobe, Borno, Adamawa, and Taraba, whose ancestral homes have been destroyed by the four-year-old rebellion by the dreaded armed Islamists known as Boko Haram.

The last time this human catastrophe happened in Nigeria's recorded history was during the Nigeria-Biafra War of 1967-1970, when the then Federal Government imposed an inhumane food (economic) blockade against the then Biafran Republic made up of the old Eastern Region. This diabolical policy led to a dangerous form of malnutrition of children known as kwashiorkor, in which over 3 million children were left to die.

Mr. Odunuga, a senior editor in one of Nigeria’s national newspapers, was simply drawing attention to the plight of these unfortunate children in the North-East. I think he also posted photos of the humanitarian work of some Nigerian celebrities. These Nigerians have out of their own choosing mobilised resources and relief materials to render the life-saving interventions in favour of these hundreds of thousands of Nigerian children in the insurgent geopolitical zone, threatened by death from severe malnutrition, similar to the kwashiorkor phenomenon aforementioned.

The issues around the grave cases of severe malnutrition of the children of North-East of Nigeria have indeed attracted the attention of the international community.

Global watchdogs, such as the United Nations Agency for Children Fund (UNICEF), Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), and some reputable United Kingdom-based print media have already published extensive research materials on the increasing cases of malnutrition of these internally displaced children. Particularly, the British tabloid, The Telegraph, even wrote a series of well-articulated articles highlighting alleged diversion of relief materials donated by their home government, which were for the use of the internally displaced persons in the affected and devastated communities of the North-east stolen by government officials. Unfortunately, the Presidency viewed, and interpreted the allegation from a different perspective.

Even while the Presidency has disagreed openly with the foreign publication, a senator representing the people of much of Borno South, Mr Ali Ndume, openly accused the government contractor of diverting over 50 per cent of grains from Nigeria’s strategic grains reserves. President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered the grains to be directly distributed to the internally displaced and severely malnourished persons of the North-east, but government officials connived with contractors to steal them.

Senator Ndume hinted that the said contractor has already been arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and that he has started singing like a bird from the EFCC’s cell. The theft of relief materials belonging to internally displaced persons is massive, so it's not just a contractor that has diverted them.

There is surely a sophisticated syndicate deeply entrenched in those regional governments. The EFCC, or whichever relevant law enforcement agency, should go deeper than the current shadow-chasing and government magic.

We will scientifically peruse the detailed presentation of the specific global bodies, namely - UNICEF and FAO - which understandably raised alarm of greater hunger in the region, should government and other stakeholders not implement concrete measures to ameliorate this unfortunate phenomenon.

On July 19,2016, the United Nations Children Fund issued a warning about the imminent demise from malnutrition of over a quarter of a million children in Borno State alone, if no concrete steps are adopted by the Nigerian State to mitigate this coming tragedy of epic proportion. “An estimated quarter of a million children in Borno State, North-East Nigeria, face severe malnourishment and risk death,” UNICEF warned today, as the scale of humanitarian crisis caused by the Boko Haram insurgency continues to unfold. 

It stated that as more areas in the North-east become accessible to humanitarian assistance, the extent of the nutrition crisis affecting children is becoming even more apparent. The UN children’s agency urges all partners to join the humanitarian response and donors to urgently provide resources.

Out of the 244,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition in Borno this year, an estimated 49,000 children – almost 1 in 5 – will die if they are not reached with treatment.

“Some 134 children on average will die every day from causes linked to acute malnutrition, if the response is not scaled up quickly," said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF Regional Director for Western and Central Africa, who just returned from a visit to Borno State, noted: “We need all partners and donors to step forward to prevent any more children from dying. No one can take on a crisis of this scale alone.”

While visiting newly accessible areas previously under Boko Haram control, Fontaine witnessed devastated towns accommodating displaced people, families with little access to adequate sanitation, water or food, and thousands of frail children in desperate need of help. “There are 2 million people we are still not able to reach in Borno State, which means that the true scope of this crisis has yet to be revealed to the world,” Fontaine said. “There are organisations on the ground doing great work, but none of us are able to work at the scale and quality that we need. We must all scale up.”

UNICEF is working with partners to screen and treat children for malnutrition and improve access to water and sanitation. UNICEF’s humanitarian response also includes providing medical care, immunisation, education and psychological support to children affected by the violence. In early 2016, UNICEF appealed for $55.5 million to respond to the humanitarian crisis in North-eastern Nigeria, but has so far only received $23 million – 41 per cent. As the children’s agency gains access to new areas with vast humanitarian needs in the coming weeks, it expects the appeal to increase significantly.

On its part, the Rome-based Food and Agricultural Organisation had as far back as year 2013 also raised alarms over the larger crisis of imminent food insecurity in northern Nigeria generally.

 In the online release signed by Peter Lowery of the information department of the FAO stated: “Poor families have used up their food stocks and are facing high food prices, awaiting the next harvest. Of particular concern is the food security situation in northern Nigeria, where price for coarse grains such as sorghum, millet and maize continue to increase. The nutritional status of children under five also remains worrisome with a continuing high prevalence of acute malnutrition.”

Admissions of nutritional rehabilitation centres are close to 2012 levels, particularly in Nigeria. Over 1.4 million children are at the imminent risk of severe malnutrition in much of North-east with the terror attacks undertaken by the armed Islamists who do not only attack strategic government institutions but has over time sacked farming communities and destroyed crops and other farming resources. Farm produce have often been looted too.

But the impunity of seeing government officials or government-appointed contractors embark on widespread theft of relief materials for resale to buyers in their shops is a serious crime against humanity.

The Nigerian state must order for investigation so that the culprits are arrested, prosecuted professionally and sanctioned by competent courts of law. The state officials must not claim any immunity to steal or divert relief materials meant for these indigent Nigerians. This is not only criminal but satanic.

What other way do we need to notice this unpardonable impunity than watching the senator as he sincerely laments the theft by the contractor of such huge amounts of the much-needed grains. He said that the contractor who diverted 60 trucks of grains allocated by President Buhari for the Internally Displaced Persons in Borno State has been arrested. This was revealed by Senator Ali Ndume, who also said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is investigating the matter. The grains were sent to the IDPs by the President to fight the increasing rate of malnutrition in most of the camps. Ndume, who expressed shock at the incident, said he was asked by Buhari to monitor the distribution of the grains by officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

The lawmaker also revealed that the IDPs from Borno who are living in various camps will soon be assisted to return home. “I have told them (IDPs), in clear terms, that time is ripe for them to go back home; there is no point remaining in the camp after three years,” Ndume noted, adding:

“Gwoza Local Government Area, where I hail from, in particular, is now safe and secured. Over 10,000 residents are now living safely in Gwoza and there is no cause for alarm. It is very regretful that less than 3,000 Gwoza IDPs now in Maiduguri have refused to go back and resettle, despite all pleas to them.”

Apart from these issues of criminality in stealing foods belonging to these babies and internally displaced persons, most Nigerians are appealing to government to transparently administer the North-east victims of terrorism. A Trust Fund was set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan, and a committee headed by Gen Theophilus Danjuma (rtd). The renewed mandate to that Presidential Committee headed by Danjuma granted by the current President has made it even more compelling for Nigerians to keep clamouring for the direct material and logistical interventions to reach victims of terrorism in the North-East.

In carrying  out the disbursements of these material and logistical reliefs to the victims of terrorism, the Nigerian government must note that the victims cuts across ethno-religious affiliations, because these victims  included  Nigerians from other ethnic groups who were until the insurgency lived and worked in the North-East, but who lost everything to terror attacks.

RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA). He can be reached via 08033327672 (sms only) or via

Source: News Express

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