IDP camp: A miniature Nigeria
Do you know what it means to be poor? I thought I did when Marie Corelli asked that question in the opening page of “Sorrows of Satan” and went ahead to describe the hopeless situation of her character, Geoffrey Tempest, who came home without a penny or food, watched the paraffin in his lantern peter out and usher in darkness, and had no positive answers to his landlord’s query over a rent long overdue. It was a scary situation to imagine.
But if that were the height of poverty, then most Nigerians should be certified wealthy and I wouldn’t spare a second pounding out this piece. Today, I do not kid myself that Marie understood what it really meant to be poor, though one would readily excuse her if they considered the society she wrote from – definitely not Nigeria.
There’s a new height in poverty and suffering, and one only has to picture some of our IDP camps to grasp the import of the situation where, for instance: the houseflies, as elusive as they can be, apparently become your only source of protein as hunger continues to wrench your bowel inside out; you are watching your unclad famished children count their skiny ribs instead of counting abacus in class. you watch your children die helplessly because neither the pills administered by paramedics can quench their hunger nor can the aid food cure the sickness that they contracted from poor hygiene; the security men are fighting over the bags of rice that had your name written on them by a humanitarian outfit or government agency; you have no clue when you will return home from a camp where people are heaped together in an open tent irrespective of age and sex; and some officials are ‘penning’ away the funds meant for you and other IDPs. Yet, you know you are not a lazy man but just a victim of insurgency, terrorism, militancy, environmental disaster and a poorly responsive system.
Solving the problem of our Internally Displace Persons requires looking beyond the IDP camps to the larger society in which they are situated, and sincerely answering some unpalatable questions about the later, such as: are children also dying out of malnutrition in our rural communities? Are Nigerians dying because they cannot access adequate medical care in our clinics; are there schools across the country where pupils sit on bare floor, beneath leaky roofs or under trees, to learn? do we still lack basic amenities across the land? do political leaders and officials still embezzle public funds meant for the welfare of their citizens? Do we suffer insecurity in the hands of insurgents, terrorists, armed robbers, militants, herdsmen and even some security operatives who are supposed to protect us? Are households occasionally being displaced (and even killed) by avoidable flood, erosion and building collapse?
If our answers are in the affirmative, then it becomes obvious that our IDP Camps are a miniature Nigeria, mirroring the social-economic and political plagues of its host country, such as: poverty, hunger, malnutrition; poor healthcare; insecurity; poor education and illiteracy; embezzlement of public funds; corruption; lack of basic amenities; kidnapping, armed robbery, insurgency and terrorism, militancy, disorder, herdsmen’s menace; disorder and indiscipline, environmental degradation and poor hygiene, abject neglect of the common man, etc. It is almost impracticable to implement in the IDP camps standards of living that hardly operate in the greater society, Nigeria.
Senator Ali Ndume rightly pointed out recently that Nigeria is at war with hunger, poverty, and malnutrition in the North East. Of course, that’s another miniature Nigeria. I must quickly add that we are at war with those plagues all over the country, if we are poised to swallow that bitter pill of truth. For instance, recently Senator Ita-Giwa was on TV raising the alarm over the plight of the neglected people of Bakassi who are not just Nigerian IDPs but also refugees in a neighboring foreign land, earlier ceded to Cameroon by Nigeria. She said something remarkable: that her people do not believe in hand-outs but need the basic things of life to flourish in their endeavour. Agreeably, we can say that for the majority of Nigerians across the country – they are hardworking people!
The strategy that we deploy in the fight against poverty and hunger matters, be it in the IDP camp or in the larger society. To ensure that we are not just punching the opponent’s gloves and scoring no points, we must: profile every member of our country with a common denominator, citizenship; deliver the right to life to all citizens wherever they are and protect them from both internal and external threats; collectively and proactively identify danger by the risk it poses to Nigerians, not by the damage it has done to them, and avert it as such; strive to deliver the basic things of life to all citizens, no matter the nook and cranny that they inhabit in our society; rather than resign to fate, deliver the right of our children and youth to quality education, knowing that in that bunch is the hope for a prosperous Nigeria; beam our anti-corruption infrared on those who sabotage efforts of government, charities and NGOs at improving the life of the citizenry, especially the IDPs. In so doing, we will institute a culture of excellence and efficiency, good governance and service, equity and justice, peace and unity, inclusion and belongingness, sacrifice and patriotism, rule of law and people supremacy, allover the polity. That way, our IDP camps, if they inevitably exist, will depict a haven similar to its host society, and their integration back into the later will be faster and seamless.
The ‘poorest’ of people are those who trample on the masses and deprive them of happiness and good life. Their hearts are empty, devoid of love, affection and empathy. The ‘poorest’ of nations would then be those that do not respect fundamental human rights of individuals (especially rights to life and dignity of human person). They are a huge tent of destitution and by that infradig disposition, undeserving of respect and honor at the table of nations.
In the words of Mother Theresa, “being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat”.
• Igbo is a banker in Abuja.