The Forgotten Two Million of the North-east

Nation-states like Nigeria tend to understand their obligations as guardians of national security through the lens of 'military security'. Simply put, this requires keeping their citizens safe from physical danger or violence. In line with this, Nigeria committed to the annihilation of Boko Haram as early as 2009. Now, the country proudly declares from the rooftops that the war is over.

But even with the fear of violence and imminent threat eradicated, are we, as a nation, truly safer?

If being secure means being free from the fear of physical attack on people and property, the people of Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States should feel safer. But those most affected by the insurgency are only slightly better off now than when they lived on the frontlines. Their fear has been replaced with a level of destitution so inhumane that it calls on every Nigerian to openly fight it.

As captured by the writings of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, ‘human security’ is about securing the basic means of survival and the flourishing of daily life as dignified human beings. This understanding is built on the idea of freedom from 'basic wants'.

But these basic wants are almost incomprehensible to the Nigerian elite. While we shift our attention between Twitter, Big Brother Naija, and the other Big Brother, the forgotten two million clamour for life's necessities. Food, sanitation, health, and shelter. Whereas we used to be moved by reports of death and bombings, we now sit by as nearly two million Nigerians struggle with the worst humanitarian crisis the nation has experienced, probably, since the Civil War. 

We view the deaths as a tragedy, the survivors, as a statistic. 


Dropping Dead in the North East

A recent United Nations (UN) report suggests the conflict has displaced a total of 1.64 million people – roughly the population of Surulere in Lagos State. Many of these people reside in temporary camps or have nestled into host communities, mainly in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states. Crippled by a fear of renewed violence that prevents them from returning to their homes, these domestic migrants continue to place a strain on their host communities beyond the core states affected.

Food is the greatest unmet need; 2.1 million are in dire need of nutritional assistance, unsure of where and when their next meal will come. Nearly half a million children aged below five will suffer from acute malnutrition in 2017 alone. And in the absence of other urgent needs – water, sanitation, hygiene, and security – hardship is guaranteed and death looms for the most vulnerable, particularly nursing mothers and children.

Late last year, Human Rights Watch reported instances of rape and sexual abuse in IDP camps, sparking a federal investigation into the matter. Shortly after, Medicins Sans Frontieres, an international medical humanitarian group, showed that a quarter of the population of under-five children in two Maiduguri camps was missing, presumed dead. 

This level of human suffering is unacceptable, even in Nigeria. I dare say that even in a country where recent estimates show two-thirds of the population living in abject poverty (less than $1.90 per day), there should be some degree of decent, if not adequate, allocation of both financial and human resources to this crisis in our neighbourhood.

Do Nigerians know? Do Nigerians care? Or have our personal and collective sufferings numbed us to the cries of our neighbours?


Who do we hold accountable?

One culprit here is Nigeria’s nefarious and elusive friend, corruption. The 'IDP fund scandal' made its rounds in 2016 when the Senate formed an ad hoc Committee on the mounting crisis. In an emotive plenary session, the Committee reported a gross mismanagement of the funds allocated to the region. Without the Senate exercising such oversight functions, more resources would have continued to fall into private pockets under the 'watch' of the Secretary General of Federation’s Office and the Presidential Initiative on the North-East. 

That was our moment to act. But the government's response has since been lacking.

With more millions pouring in, we hope that lives will be saved this time. The region looks set to receive vital funds for security and rehabilitation. In his speech to the Senate on the 2017 Budget, President Buhari highlighted a ₦45 billion ($150 million) budgetary allocation 'provisioned for the rehabilitation of the NorthEast'. 

Regional and international bodies have followed suit. The African Development Bank pledged a $250 million loan for rebuilding, recovery, and stabilisation while USAID announced $92 million in additional assistance. But according to the UN, all this may still not be enough to support the total number of Nigerian refugees, both internal and external, displaced by the conflict. Illustrating the task at hand, the group has called the situation 'Africa's largest displacement crisis'.


Domestic problems abound

Even with their interest, international agencies face palpable domestic challenges and hostility. For example, State Governors have uttered, and later retracted, criticism of their involvement in rehabilitation efforts. These are the daily hurdles we must face in the absence of good top-down leadership. 

Throwing money at the IDP crisis will not solve the problem if political drive is lacking. This is a problem beyond money; it is a problem that calls for a deeper understanding of the nation-state's role in securing more than just survival, but, also, the dignity of life.

President Buhari has taken the right step with the special allocation in the 2017 budget. International agencies are also paying more attention. Nigerians should not rest on the colloquial saying that “where there is life, there is hope” because we need to see this problem for what it is – a humanitarian crisis.

In the North-east, far removed from the hustle and bustle of modern Nigeria, for over two million people affected by this humanitarian crisis, the idea of a better tomorrow is a distant dream, crippled by today's despair.


Follow this Writer on Twitter @co_sutherland. Subscribe to read more articles here.