The Country Director of Social Welfare Initiative Network, Mr. Emmanuel Osemeka, says the handling of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the various camps, particularly in Borno State is not only pathetic and most unfortunate, but also calls a lot to question. In this interview with Alijo Sylvester, he stresses the need for a concerted effort in tackling the challenges facing the IDPs. Excerpts:
As the Country Director of Social Welfare Initiative, you have been in Borno for quite some time. Give us an overview of your interactions with the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), vis-à-vis the problems and challenges they are facing over time. In trying to highlight the state of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps, it has been our cardinal objective to make government and other stakeholders to wake up to their responsibilities to come up with a workable plan with a view to ameliorate the sufferings of the IDPs. The situation of the IDPs has not improved from what it was ten months ago. Between ten months ago and now we have had issues of serious food shortage, they are not being fed at all. It is usually once in two days they get food, not talking about the host communities. You will recall that the IDPs constitute about 2.3 million in number and out of this number, eight per cent of that number is in the camp hosted by the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), whereas the 92 percent are scattered across the host communities and other places due to space. So, the government has concentrated on the 8 percent population of the IDPs. There is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the Federal Government and the Borno State Government in terms of how the IDPs will be fed. The MOU stipulates that the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), will supply rice, beans, millet and the rest of them, that is cereals, while the State Emergency Management Agency will provide the condiments such as firewood and items needed to place proper food to the IDPs in the camps. We discovered that the last time the NEMA honoured this agreement was in February 2016. Between February and about two weeks ago nothing happened. The agreement says they will supply 1000 bags of 25kg rice every month, but between February and two weeks ago, they have not supplied any. But two weeks ago they supplied 12000 bags to SEMA. That lacuna has created tremendous food shortage and you will recall that there has been serious influx of IDPs to add to what we already have. Of course, there has been a lot of criminal activity in the SEMA camps. We don’t want to talk about the issues at the level of the executive, at the level of the state where they fail to give proper account of the funds given to them. We had an interview with Channels television where I took on the spokesman for the governor on funds donated by the billionaire businessman, and he actually denied being given a kobo by the state, rather the state has given him 750million through the Presidential Committee, that’s the Victims Support Fund chaired by retired General TY Danjuma, but a further check by our organization revealed that that fund has not been released. We are yet to verify if that is an additional fund. There was donation of 500 million from Jaiz bank, 500 million from Zenith Bank, and there are discrepancies and denials. So, the state government is not helping us in terms of knowing exactly how much was given, instead we are getting blanket statements. There is a lot of shenanigans going on at the Federal and state levels. The little that comes in at the level of the state, the officials, who are responsible for distribution, cart them away. So, that makes the IDPs very hungry. And of course you will recall the issue of the IDPs’ rampaging protests, asking to be returned to their places of origin because they are not properly catered for. In Shagari Low Cost 1 and 2, the IDPs have not had a singular visit from the state or federal authorities, they have not been given anything from inception to today that we are speaking. There is another location called Daagba, they have not gotten anything from whether state, federal or humanitarian actors. There are several of these situations all around the place. That is why it is difficult to come up with a scientific approach to identifying the IDPs and channeling the appropriate media resource to the entire gamut of the IDPs camps scattered around Maiduguri and the 15 liberated local Government Areas (LGAs). So, if it were not for the support of international organizations and of course the local organizations, we believe that they would have taken to vices such as robbery and other ugly things. Because the international NGOs have done a good job, even though we know that out of the total funds more than 65 percent have has been deployed. So, in effect, we need the government to cover up for the lacuna created. So, the overview is still dire, that we have 4.5 million IDPs who are in dire need of food, out of this, 1.2 million are severely malnourished, and need proper attention, blanket supplementary feeding, due to the level of hunger and starvation. That is the state of malnutrition they have found themselves. How will you react to the state government’s claim that it spends as much as 650million naira monthly on the IDPs? To say that much has been expended is spurious, because I cannot understand how that happens. On the average, we have about 15 camps that are now reduced to about eight, with an average population of about 50,000 per camp. So, when you do the mathematics involved in the logistics of taking care of them, you will arrive at 3429 households in each camp, So, what quantity of food were they cooking to be able to spend such amount in a month? I do not believe that kind of money was ever spent on feeding. If there is any other thing the government spent the money on, they should come out with it, because I believe the government has been economical with the truth. I don’t believe that. Can you tell us some of the donations from other organizations in comparison with what the Borno State government claims? The spokesman of the Borno State governor did not deny, rather he pointed to a different direction. So, that is what we are trying to verify from other sources those that gave N1 billion to the state government and N750 million to the victim support fund. We are more interested in the funds that came directly to the state government. If he says no such money came to the state government and that even the ones that came from the banks did not come, then we are really surprise and at a loss. He mentioned the names of the banks on national television, so he should be able to tell us how much really came in because we want to follow the money, and to know how exactly the amounts were expended given the number of people that have died as a result of hunger and starvation in the camps. That’s why we are interested in following the money. In your own view, do you think the state government ha played its expected role in the handling of the IDPs? Because of the tremendous attacks from all quarters, the governor had to upgrade his visiting of the camps some weeks ago. He has always been interested in Bakassi and Dalori camps alone. Hitherto, he has all along restricted his visits to only two camps. But the worst hit places like Bama and Gwoza which have been before now were left unattended to. He has started visiting. So, if I want to use that as an assessment, I would say the Borno governor has recently risen up to his responsibilities, but the intervention work goes beyond visiting. We must show action, make efforts to resuscitate the economy of the state, because the insurgency dealt a terrible blow to the economy of the state. It remains to be seen what the actions are, but for now, I can say he wants to take up his gauntlet. What is your take on the serious situation of sex-for-food in some of the camps, and the tendency for the people likely going to the streets to beg for food? That is not news anymore. It is clear and we have discussed this issue of sex for food as one of the major problems we are facing. What we try to do is to ensure protection and fairness in the food distribution programmes. We ensure gender distribution because what usually happens is that when committees are set up to distribute food, they are made up of men, and they cash in on that to take advantage of the women. Sometimes the women offer themselves for food because they are hungry. So, we try as much as within the power that lies within us to change the modalities and approach to curtail such. We bring in more women into the distribution cluster to make them access the food more easily, since they are more vulnerable. Why do you think the governor was more interested in Dalori camp than the others? Well, Dalori camp has been the darling of the governor, both at the state and federal level. When the Vice President visited, it was Dalori, when the wife of the president visited, it was Dalori. I feel that it is because those camps are predominantly Kanuri populated, but I don’t know, I am not from the state, I am not involved in the politics of the state but that is the general feeling in Borno and that is the general postulation. But I believe that every camp is equal, regardless of tribe, ethnicity and religion and ought to be treated fairly. The bombs don’t discriminate along religion and tribe when they are blasted. The point is clear and the government must ensure everyone is treated equally and fairly, because what is good for the goose must also be good for the gander. What are the other issues affecting the IDPs camps? Again something cropped up which I would like to talk about and bring to the notice of the public. In the allocations, we discovered that some N270 million naira was allocated for the clearing of grass in the IDPs camps. So, I was wondering what the dimensions of this camp is that it would need N270 million to clear grasses in it. It is amusing and at the same time amazing to people like us, who are looking for little funds to keep families together and pay some bills. It is unbecoming of a government which is supposedly fighting corruption to be having corruption reeking all around it. We have reported this and the government of the day is doing absolutely nothing about it. The IDPs have become a tool for business among politicians. They just use the funds for bazaar. If the people who are looting money are arrested, then those spending money anyhow should be made to answer for how these funds are spent.