As thousands of people from the North-East zone of the country today live in inhuman conditions in refugee camps due to the activities of the Boko Haram Islamist sect, a non-governmental organization pushes for the adoption of a national policy that seeks to mitigate the trauma of internally displaced persons in the country, writes MIKE UBANI
Despite the displacement of thousands of Nigerians in the North-East states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa following the atrocious activities of the dreaded Boko Haram Islamist sect, as well as the increase in environmental problems such as flood, desert encroachment and erosion, the country has neither adopted the National Policy on Internally Displaced Persons, IDP’s, nor domesticated the 2009 Kampala Convention on IDP’s.
The National Policy on IDP’s and the Kampala Convention definitely specified procedures for assisting and protecting IDP’s so as to mitigate the trauma associated with their forceful displacement from their original habitat.
No fewer than 25 million people globally have in the last decade been classified by the United Nations (UN) as IDP’s. They are particularly victims of armed conflicts and generalized violence. This number excludes those who were displaced due to natural disasters and development-induced factors.
According to the UN, more than half of the IDP’s world-wide reside in Africa, and Nigeria is said to have about three million internally displaced persons.
Interestingly, the world body has repeatedly drawn the attention of member countries to the growing danger of displacement as being capable of reversing the strides towards achieving a reasonable standard of living for all peoples and of reversing the gains of developmental efforts.
The UN General Assembly in 1998 adopted a set of guiding principles as a tool for the prevention and management of internal displacement by nations all over the world.
These principles were also aimed at serving as a guide to all governmental and non-governmental humanitarian actors working with IDP’s.
The guiding principles were endorsed by all West African countries at the first conference of West African States on Internal Displacement which took place in Abuja, Nigerian’s capital from 26th to 28th April, 2006.
It was against this backdrop that the African Union (AU) Summit on Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons which took place in Kampala, the Ugandan capital on October 2009, adopted a rule for assistance and protection of IDP’s in the continent.
Subsequently, the National Commission for Refugees (NCR) assumed the responsibility of drafting a working document on IDP’s which it later passed to a Presidential Committee that finally came up with what today has become a draft of the country’s National Policy on Internally Displaced persons.
Regrettably though, some say the draft policy has been tucked away inside the shelf of one of the relevant federal ministries in Abuja, even when the country has witnessed an upsurge in the number of displaced persons due to the on-going rebellion masterminded by the Boko Haram Islamist sect.
It was apparently against this background that the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), a non-governmental organization (NGO), organized a one-day consultation in the South-East geo-political zone, which according to Mr. Auwal Ibrahim Musa, executive director, CISLAC, was meant to mobilize public support for the adoption of the National Policy on IDP’s in the country, as well as the domestication of the Kampala Convention.
The one day consultation which took place in Enugu, the Enugu state capital, attracted 30 participants drawn from civil society organizations, government and representatives of the media.
The consultation also served as a capacity building platform for civil society organizations on what should constitute their roles during the implementation stages of the National Policy on IDP’s.
Nevertheless, after close examination of the policy, there was a groundswell of opinion that the document needed to be fine-tuned before it is passed to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for adoption, and by extension, presentation of an executive bill to the National Assembly in that regard.
In the communiqué issued at the end of the consultation, the following observations were made on the draft National Policy on Internally Displaced Persons:
“That the non-adoption of the policy on IDPs continues to be a major source of worry and concern as disaster management and humanitarian assistance are tackled on a rather ad-hoc basis without any coordinating/ legally binding government policy.
“The non-adoption of the policy on IDPs leaves Nigeria lagging behind in activating all legal instruments for effective implementation of the Kampala Convention which the country has been a signatory to since 2012.
“An implementation strategy had not so far been included in the draft policy.
“That the rate of displacement of persons across the country is on an astronomical rise with the major cause being violent conflicts.
“That the draft policy does not succinctly reflect the position of the displacement issues as the situations on ground appear more dire than they have been captured, especially grammatically as the language on one hand is not user-friendly and also ambiguous hence unable to convey in very clear terms certain issues and abuses.
“The Land Use Act which specifies that government is the legitimate owner of all lands runs contrary to the rights of those that have been displaced as a result of developmental projects across the country
“That the roles of security agencies in the camps appear overlapping and ambiguous.
“That certain right of IDP’s has not been adequately captured in the draft policy.
“That Host Communities are seemingly not adequately captured by the Draft Policy.
“That availability of comprehensive data relating to IDP’s makes for very challenging intervention for humanitarian assistance and intervention during displacement.
“That the National Commission for Refugees Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons has in recent times not lived up to its mandate”.
The communiqué goes further to make the following recommendations:
“That the federal government mandates all of the relevant agencies working on the draft policy to accelerate their inputs and present same to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for immediate adoption.
“That the federal government should activate all necessary machineries for the presentation of a bill to the National Assembly which will be in compliance to the Kampala Convention earlier signed by the federal government..
“That there is the need to develop and include a strategy for implementing the policy when adopted as this would go a long way in effective implementation and assigning responsibilities and activities in the policy.
“That all security agencies responsible for the security of lives and properties of the citizens of the country scale up institutional capacities to respond to emergencies in times of violent conflicts and environmentally- induced displacements.
“That finalization to the policy should include stronger wordings to put the issue of displacement in better perspective as it relates to country specifics and also the elimination of all grammatical inconsistencies as noticed in the draft.
“That persons who are displaced as a result of government developmental projects in any part of the country be regarded as IDPs, and should be resettled and compensated adequately irrespective of the provisions of the Land Use Act.
“That the roles and responsibilities of the security agencies in the camps be duly specified, eliminating over-lapping responsibilities of agencies of the government, international and locally based humanitarian actors.
“That rights pertaining to political participation, freedom and full integration of IDPs, especially women and other marginalized groups be immediately incorporated into the policy before adoption.
“That consideration of culture be adequately captured, taking into necessary account the need for assistance to host communities/families as majority of IDP’s frown at residing in camps which put pressure on host communities/families.
“That data relating to IDP’s figures and geographical occurrences be adequately captured by agencies vested with these responsibilities void of politically induced influences.
“ That the National Commission for Refugees Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons be adequately strengthened to take charge of IDP’s beyond emergency situations including reintegration and provision of durable solutions
Some of the participants interviewed by LEADERSHIP expressed appreciation to CISLAC for taking the lead in pushing for the adoption of such an important policy in the country which, according to them, will go a long way in coordinating the welfare of all IDP’s when adopted.
They also expressed gratitude to the Ford Foundation for providing the needed support towards ensuring that the consultation was not just a reality but also worth the while.
Identifying gaps in the draft policy and strategies for a successful implementation upon adoption, the participants urged the federal government to speedily adopt the policy as well as strengthen all the relevant institutions that have a role to play in its effective implementation.
The participants also charged the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), to play a leading role in pushing for the adoption of the policy, just as they also tasked the civil society organizations, especially those operating in the South- East geo-political zone to ensure that they put into practical use knowledge gained during the meeting.