The suffering etched on the face of Mrs Lahila makes it difficult to decipher her age. She and her husband fled Gombe State in the North East after she got information that he would be killed for marrying her, a mere Christian. She narrated: “I’ve been in Lagos State for nine years. My husband and I ran away from Gombe State after he married me. My husband is a Muslim, but after he married me, he became a Christian. They planned to kill him so we ran away. We ran to Lagos and we’ve been here for nine years now. Due to my husband’s accident, the burden to provide for our children is now on me. We always don’t have enough food and desperately need help from the government. We live in the Ilaje community in Lagos, and there are over 200 of us in that community. Some people there are from Borno States and others from other states.”
Lahila is among hundreds of people, if not thousands, that fled northern states, in search of a better and safer life and then landed in Lagos State. By running from her state to Lagos State, she became one of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Lagos, badly in need of shelter, job and protection. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 2.1 million are internally displaced in Nigeria, creating a massive humanitarian crisis. The Founding President and Project Coordinator Journalists For Christ, Nigeria, Mr. Lekan Otufodurin, who is also the Secretary of World Association for Christian Communication (WACC), speaking recently at a recently held one-day consultative media parley on advancing IDP issues, explained that the parley was to deliberate on how best to use the media in advancing issues relating to IDPs.
He said: “We can give a voice to these sets of people scattered all over Nigeria. We can use our information and reports to query those whose job it is to take care of the IDPs. The IDPs are voiceless and helpless. We should give them a voice. They have a right to education, welfare and life. Yet they are facing exploitation, even after the government had given money for their care.
They are going through trauma with many of them having witnessed their loved ones being killed and raped.” Another touching story is that of Regina, who ran to Lagos State from Kaduna State. According to her, she came to Lagos State after her father died. She has many female siblings from the same father. She had already written the Junior West African Examinations Council (WAEC) before the demise of her father She said: “I came to Lagos to look for work and to help my siblings. I worked a year for a certain woman, but she refused to pay me. When I asked for my money, she told me that the person that brought me to her used to collect my salary.” Sick and tired of the slavery, Regina ran away.
When her madam discovered she had bolted, she told all and sundry that the girl stole her money. “When I heard that she was accusing me of stealing, I went to meet her, to tell her to stop lying against me,” said Regina. She would later get another employment as a cleaner and placed on N25, 000 monthly salaries. Every month, she sends N20, 000 to her siblings and makes do with N5000.
“I started having an affair with a man, who impregnated me. I got pregnant because I needed to survive,” she said resignedly, like someone who had seen enough of the bitter sides of life and had accepted the realities. Although some human rights activists described Regina as an IDP, the description, however, generated a heated debate, with some insisting that she came in search of a greener pasture, which is vastly different from those fleeing from banditry, insurgency and obnoxious customs. According to the Guiding Principles on IDPs, 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 border.” The Executive Director of Humanity Foundation for Peace and Development (HUFFPED), Mrs. Adeyemi Adeyeye, said that she had visited a couple of IDPs camps at Borno State just to know how her organisation could meet their needs.
What she discovered was heart wrenching for her. She said: “There was a lack of basic education, shelter and food. There are children and adolescents and there are worries on how they could fit back into society if they are not educated. They may not have to go to formal schools, but something could be arranged for them. We also need to teach them how to survive by arming them with skills and strengthening them in order to show them how to generate income.” Adeyeye revealed that the Borno State government has asked everyone in IDPs camps to return to their villages, but she expressed fear, asking rhetorically if the insurgency had truly ended. She added: “Right now, those who have returned to their villages are complaining of lack of water. So many of them had passed through trauma and we wonder how safe these people are by returning to their villages. The bottom-line with IDPs is security.”
A visual storyteller and humanitarian and social worker, Mr. John Ndukwe, who has travelled and lived in many IDPs camps in order to better understand their plight, explained that Nigerians needed to understand that there’s a difference between IDPs and refugees. He said: “IDPs are people displaced in your country and are in the country, while refugees are displaced, but seeking solace outside the country. There are some things I can never forget.
In the north, I met a 12 years old girl that could dismantle an AK47 rifle within minutes. Another incident is the sight of a little girl carrying her brother and both of them were sleeping on the ground. We need to tell these stories in the right way.
The moment you’re displaced, you become a second class citizen. How do you change the mentality of a child who witnessed the murder of his father and the rape of his mom?” Ndukwe noted that to get these victims to tell their stories was usually difficult because they had built emotional walls around themselves, “So you first need to gain their trust before they can talk to you.
To start talking about formal education with them is a whole lot to understand. Remember that most of them had interacted with Boko Haram insurgents, who had brainwashed them that education was a waste of time. You need to first work on their mindsets before you can achieve anything.” Ms. Chinogorom Okoro is the Communication Officer for Sessor Empowerment Foundation, working with survivors of conflicts and other emergencies in Nigeria.
Okoro further explained that her organisation deals with IDP women and children in Lagos State. She noted that her organisation used to assist such women with soft loans for a fresh start. She stated: “These women live in shanties, in clusters in small rooms. We try to take care of their medicals, funding, but most of this money comes from private individuals. Not the government. Government is so focused on the north, that it does not know that there are IDPs in Lagos. Many of these women need help.
Most of the places they seek shelter as homes end up being demolished and relief materials given to them are often stolen. Media do not represent them well. Many factors caused their displacement. Many people in Lagos do not know we have IDPs in the state.
These women fled from their homes in the north. Many of them have nowhere to go. They need work, house and help.” She said that most of the women end up selling sachet water, fairly used clothes and becoming cleaners due to the deficit of trust in Lagos. She added: “If government can open its heart to IDPs in Lagos, it should be able to assist them.
Some even want to return to their states, but have no transportation money. People need to change their mindsets concerning IDPs. They need help and they are not sick.” The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), in its unrelenting fight for the protection of civilians in armed conflict, said a legal framework was the best way to ensure protection of civilians. According to Programme Manager, Defence and Security, CISLAC, Mr. Salaudeen Hashim, some of the Nigerian realities are: “Civilian lives lost to various armed conflicts in the past decade are over 500,000 and cannot be ignored by the media. Over three million people are displaced due to armed conflicts, while over 10 million people depend entirely on humanitarian aid to survive. At least two million people live in areas controlled by armed opposition groups (AoGs).”