November 05, (THEWILL) – Both refugees and internally displaced persons including women and children across the border communities have continued to suffer hunger, malnutrition and rejection in the society while the Nigerian government looks aside.
In recent times, several Humanitarian bodies have alarmed the high rate of mortality among women and children while surviving refugees are facing an uncertain future as they have remained unproductive in many camps after fleeing from their communities.
Stakeholders in the health emergency sector confirmed an extraordinarily high number of children under-five years with malnutrition in various internally displaced camps across five states across this northwest region in Nigeria where these children were moved to as a safer haven.
“Honestly, northwest are states next to this nutrition emergency with a large-scale health and malnutrition crises after Maiduguri,” says Tijjani Andrew, a Sokoto based humanitarian worker.
CONFLICT OF HUNGER
In September 2022, the international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), was alarmed by the malnutrition crisis in northwest Nigeria that was rising at catastrophic levels.
The organisation, in a statement in September last year indicates that from January to September 2022, they treated about 100,000 children suffering from acute malnutrition in its outpatient facilities across five northwest states of Kano, Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto and Kebbi
“We have treated close to 100,000 children suffering from acute malnutrition in 34 outpatient facilities and admitted about 17,000 children requiring hospital care in 10 inpatient centers,” Dr. Simba Tirima, MSF Country Representative in Nigeria had stated.
But as at the end of the year (2022), MSF had treated 147,860 children with severe acute malnutrition across northwest Nigeria.
The humanitarian body has since called for response to the emergency needs of people in the region and wanted media to focus coverage on the northwest communities where infancy-children were dying of acute malnutrition.
It also believes that through media efforts, northwest Nigeria could be included in the United Nations humanitarian response plan, this would enable a broader and more sustained response.
Musa Gandi, a member of Red Cross, an international humanitarian organisation, says most of the Internal Displaced Persons in the state had complained about the lack of basic amenities like water sanitation and medical care.
“Despite that, they are not ready to even vacate most of these camps unless the government can guarantee their security and rebuild their houses.” Musa points out.
THE FAILED PROMISES
In 2021, the erstwhile governor in Sokoto’ state, Aminu Tambuwal visited some displaced persons camps in Dan Daji Makau, Tudun Sunni and Garin Kaka all in Guidan Roujun of Niger Republic.
The governor, now elected as a parliament member at Nigeria’s upper legislative assembly, had promised a process that could ensure that the displaced persons are relocated and resettled back to their various communities.
But, most of the refugees told TheWill how the promise went unfulfilled before leaving office in May, 2023. “We were happy when the government visited our camps and promised to rebuild our homes and resettle us by the end of 2022. But nothing was heard again.” Saida’atu Junaid, a refugee returnee, had said.
A member, representing Sabon Birnin South constituency at the Sokoto State House of Assembly, Aminu Almustapha told TheWill how the immediate past government could not showed enough concern for the plight of his people,
Ukashatu Muhammad, who is the Director General of Sokoto State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), “Accessing thousands of Nigerian refugees in Niger Republic communities has been a nightmare for Nigerian authorities.”
“I can remember when we moved to most of these camps to assist Nigerian refugees in Niger Republic. They are almost turned down by Nigerien authorities. It took the intervention of some traditional leaders of both countries to make it possible for us.”
He also promised that the current government is putting a lot of mechanisms together to ensure that the Refugees are returned to their communities.
The State Emergency Agency’s spokesman, Ghani Abdullahi says the state and other stakeholders have been collaborating to ensure both the refugees and Internally Displaced persons are given the necessary succour.
“Sokoto SEMA, NEMA and International Organization Of Migration [IOM] have jointly assessed the sympathetic situation of some IDPs. Our latest visit was in Tangaza-Gidan Madi and other communities in Binji LGAs of Sokoto State.”Ghani explained.
He said the team while at the camps, the assessment team learnt that hundreds of people including women and children were displaced as a result of banditry activities in the state.
“The team also found that the displaced persons living in those buildings are currently faced with the problem of shortage of potable drinking water, shelter and food among others. Other challenges faced by those IDPs in the camp including women and children include malaria, typhoid and diarrhea.”
“What the present governor is doing is to put in place viable security by providing logistics vehicles to the security agencies in the state. “We have also earmarked palliatives for the Internal Displaced Persons across the state and the Refugees living across the border communities.” Ukashatu explained further.
Despite the widespread humanitarian situation within the border communities, officials at the Sokoto’ zonal office of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), have denied any knowledge about the plights of the displaced persons.
Upon TheWill’s enquiries, the head of Operations at the agency office in Sokoto, Aliyu Kafindangi declined any official comment. However, an official who pleaded in anonymity said the agency has not received a formal request from the Sokoto state government for any humanitarian assistance.
“Honestly, the NEMA office in Sokoto is unaware of any humanitarian crisis faced by the Nigerian refugees along the Nigerien communities.
“Besides that, we will need a formal communication from the state government before we can activate any humanitarian assistance, and that would be from the headquarters, Abuja,” the official explained.
The unnamed official recalls how NEMA had intervened in similar refugee crises in both Cameroon and Benin Republic while the Niger Republic by providing relief materials to them, saying, “could be possible, if activated by the state government.”
Like NEMA, similar efforts made to get official response from the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons, (NCFRMI) were unsuccessful.
In response to the refugees’ claims, a Freedom of Information enquiry dated 25th September, 2023 was sent by TheWill to the correspondence email address; firstname.lastname@example.org provided by the commission on its website.
TheWill enquiry was addressed to the Federal Commissioner in charge of the commission, asking details about the commission’s humanitarian activities within the northwest states and steps it had taken to ensure Nigerian Refugees living within communities in Niger Republic were safely returned and resettled back to their homes.
The FOI had guaranteed the right of unhindered access to public information, including information held by all federal government agencies, despite this provision, there was no official communication with TheWill as at the time this report was filed by the two agencies.
Yemi Oladimeji, a public affairs commentator said it is alarming to see displaced persons catering for themselves without government assistance. He pleaded that all hands should be on deck to help the families of bandit attacks be rehabilitated.
“What the Government at all levels should try to do now is to return these people and empower them with skills.” Oladimeji urged.
Paul Nyulaku-Bemshima, Country Director, International Alert, and Peace, Security and Justice professional with extensive experience in policy communication, research and Peace building, said that the decision to perpetrate violence or defect from it begins in the mind.
“This largely depends on what narratives a person is exposed to, and how vulnerable or receptive they are to it. However, the key question is: Where is the real battlefield, are we focused on winning the battle or winning the war?
“Why do youths choose to join? How best can those who have been associated be brought back to civilian life and how communities be made to work together in promoting peace.
“Therefore, while military forces deal with the physical threats; efforts must be made to reinforce narratives that promote defection, rehabilitation and social cohesion,” he said.
The country director said that the event was aimed at increasing public awareness on the role of the media in promoting positive messaging and reducing harmful cultural norms.
“This workshop will provide the opportunity for key actors to generate alternative narratives, key messages, identify targets, and appropriate channels for achieving behavioural change outcomes.
“The efforts entail promoting policies and actions that aim to prevent populations from committing or supporting violence that is justified using Ideology,” he added.
Nyulaku-Bemshima said the workshop would also address the root causes, prevent recruitment and radicalisation and narratives that fuel violence and instability.
***This reporting was completed with the support of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development and the Open Society Foundations.*