I was privilege to attend the 2016 Children’s Day party that was organized by the Paulash Community Development Initiative, PCDI, at the Kutchingworo Internally Displaced Persons, IDP Camp in Abuja. Despite the enthusiasm with which the over 1500 kids in the camp received us, nothing detracted from the palpable suffering that was etched on their faces and the fact that they were witness to horrors in their relatively young lives. Much as our team pretended that all was well, nothing concealed the fact that these kids, like many others elsewhere in this country, remained the neglected aliens in their own home. This visit gave me a vivid firsthand picture of the sort of poverty, squalor and degradation that was the reality of life in an average Nigeria IDP camp.
With horrid images of this visit still fresh in my memory, I woke up on Tuesday the 17th of January like countless Nigerians to the disheartening news of a military plane that had mistakenly dropped a bomb inside the well-defined Rann IDP camp in Kala-balge LGA in Borno state. Scores, including foreign aid workers, were killed and many more injured. Even though I support the call for a probe of this tragedy, I believe if anything, this disaster should throw up a robust debate on the conditions in the various IDP camps in Nigeria and what needs to be done to ameliorate the sufferings of displaced persons.
According to NEMA and iDMC there are over 2.1 million kids below the ages of 14 living in the various IDP camps scattered across northern Nigeria. This is not considering the fact that Nigeria still ranks as the highest in Africa of ‘out of school’ kids, ‘child witches’ -those unfortunate souls who are still being maimed and killed in Akwa Ibom State as we speak-, child labourers, street hawkers, child brides -a common occurrence in northern Nigeria- and so on.
The questions I think every thinking Nigerian should be asking is what are these kids still doing in these IDP camps? Assuming there are justifiable reasons why, under which condition are they living? We are told Sambisa has fallen, so, the air force man who dropped the bomb, doesn’t he have the coordinates of his supposed target? And what exactly is the House of Representatives Committee on IDP doing about the colossal fraud, diversion of funds and outright stealing and selling of materials meant for displaced persons, currently on-going these camps? What is President Buhari’s doing to ensure that this IDP issue is put behind us ones and for all and ensure the speedy return home of these kids? Because, whether we like it or not, it is one thing to be winning the war against terror, it is another thing to look after the victims of the war.
The fact that these kids are alive in the first place is a miracle that calls for reflection on our part because, many of their peers were wiped out alongside their families. For example, in Kutchingworo I met one Mary, a girl of 12, who was said to have hid herself in the bush in Bauchi State for two days, before trekking from Bauchi to Jos! Her entire family was said to have been wiped out by Boko Haram.
In fact, any child you find today in any of the IDP camps must have tales of horror etched into the very fabrics of his soul, must have lost a loved one or even entire family and must have survived untold suffering and fear. And to know that these kids continue to face neglect from society and now ‘misfired’ bombing is unbearable. Truth is, none of these kids should be living in any of these IPD camps in the first instance, yes. This is because none of them asked to be born. In fact, many of them were not even conceived by the time this evil we call Boko Haram befell us.
I put the blame of their suffering squarely at the doorstep of our politicians? They are the ones who, not only set Boko Haram loose on us, but also set these kids on this pathetic path that has led to these IDP camps. Therefore, they are the ones who must have a re-think and do everything within their power to bring these kids back to the normal life they were used to before their displacement, resettle and properly care for them and see to it that those who caused them this pain are brought to justice.
The official manipulation of religion by various governments in this country which has continued unabated over the years, aside being the root cause of these unwarranted deaths and the bane of our existence as a people, must stop. To think that we are yet to come out of the shock of southern Kaduna killings and then this tragedy is really depressing and totally unacceptable.
Whereas it is stipulated in our Constitution that the State shall not adopt any official religion, we have seen governments at all levels subtly adopting either the Islamic or Christian religions in their various domains. General Babangida for example, surreptitiously registered Nigeria as a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, built a mosque in the Presidential villa and appointed an Imam to man it. Similarly, when Chief Obasanjo came to power he erected a chapel in the villa and appointed a chaplain to manage it.
Sharia Law was introduced in Zamfara state in 2000 and since then not less than 15 northern states have followed suit. Even though this constituted a clear violation of our constitution, the then administration of Chief Obasanjo decided not to approach the court to test it constitutional validity.
What did that result to, believing that Nigeria had become an Islamic state, many misguided persons set up private militias to promote the policy of these state governments. This resulted in violent religious clashes that have become part of our national reality up until recently as we saw in southern Kaduna. Over the years thousands have been massacred and many more left homeless in these ethno-religious clashes. Who can deny today that this sort of religious manipulation were not part of the root cause of the canker warm called terrorism in this country, a thing which is the remote cause of the Rann IDP camp disaster?
In 2011, President Jonathan set up a Panel of Inquiry to investigate the insurgency in the north east. In a painstaking investigation the Panel traced the genesis of Boko Haram and other private militias to politicians. But up till this very moment, I am yet to see any top ranking politician that has been held accountable for this evil even though we know names have been mentioned linking certain people to it, and then we see today subtle refusal of access to the returned Chibok girls and inability of investigators to thoroughly scrutinize their testimonies.
Our politicians are remotely responsible for the rise of Boko Haram, the displacement of these kids and thus should be blamed for the Rann IDP camp disaster. This Disaster must be investigated with a view to preventing a reoccurrence and it is high time someone is held accountable for the root cause of terrorism and the corruption that has led to the continued suffering of displaced persons.
Even if the government finally wins the battle against insurgency, I doubt if violence in our country will go away easily because none of us can predict what path neglected persons will tow if we do not make conscious efforts to look after them. A child exposed to persistent fear due to frequent attacks, orphaned in the prison-like confines of these IDP camps with little or no care and support from society and government, and then wakes up to find that a ‘misfired’ bomb has claimed his peers, will only give in to anger and depression. Such a child may develop little or no empathy and terrorist groups take advantage of such vulnerability in recruiting new and loyal members.
Andrei Lankov once said; “To not have your suffering recognized is an almost unbearable form of violence.” It is time for us to take notice of these kids, recognize that they are our children and children everywhere remain the hope of any nation. We owe it to them to punish those who set them on this path in the first place, no matter how highly placed. Because, a country’s greatness is not measured by how she treats its elites but by how she cares for the most vulnerable.