Abuse in IDPs’ camps
There are certain things, which, under any circumstance, must not happen in any civilised community. One of these is the sexual exploitation and abuse of vulnerable, powerless and traumatised persons, especially children and women. For this reason, the harassment, sexual exploitation and violence against women and teenage girls in the camps of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), allegedly perpetrated by security operatives and other officials of the state, should be condemned in the strongest terms. It is barbaric, inhuman, shocking and morally evil.
Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, who brought this to public knowledge, revealed that those implicated in, and arrested for, the sex scandal included “two policemen, three army officers, one prison official; one Air Force officer, an employee of the Borno State Ministry of Agriculture and two members of the Civilian JTF.” If further investigations indict these suspects, they should be made to face the severest punishment such atrocious acts carry.
Although there have been reports of lawlessness and criminal activities going on in the IDPs’ camps, the revelation of what caused the action of the police came after a Human Rights Watch report unearthed 43 cases of abuses and misconduct in IDPs’ camps in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states. In its report, the non-governmental organisation accused camp officials, vigilante groups, policemen and soldiers of engaging in rape, harassment and sexual abuse of women and teenagers. Some victims, who allegedly spoke to Human Rights Watch, said they were drugged and raped, while 37 of them were said to have been coerced into sex through false marriage promises, and materials and financial aid.
This is not the first time news of a shocking proportion would be heard about IDPs’ camps. In the last seven years since victims of the Boko Haram onslaught on communities in the North-East became homeless and were settled in camps, there has been one problem or another affecting the management of those camps. The most prominent of these being the allegation of embezzlement of funds and diversion of materials by camp officials. So alarming were the allegations of embezzlement that the House of Representatives Committee on IDPs and the North-East Initiatives, two months ago, had to summon the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, to explain how his office spent the N12 billion allocated for the rehabilitation of IDPs, and how the Presidential Initiative on North-East (PINE) purportedly expended N270 million “to clear grass” at the IDPs’ camps.
Besides, a few months ago, food crisis, malnutrition and prostitution, provoked by food shortage and poor management of resources, rocked camps in Borno State, causing hundreds of women in the camps to stage a peaceful protest barricading the Maiduguri-Kano-Jos Road. They had complained of short supply of food or diversion by officials, and had called for the removal of the Central Feeding Committee. Poor sanitary conditions, health hazards which are the aftermath of food crisis and sub-human treatment of the IDPs have also been reported in almost every camp in the country.
Coupled with this, are reported incidents of rape, sexual harassment and other forms of abuse meted on women and teenage girls. In some cases, teenage girls and women had been so deprived that they resorted to prostitution to survive, deterred by the affliction of HIV/AIDS.
Some have explained these atrocious activities on the scientific claims that, in extreme deprivation, scarcity and precarious situations, depravity and bestial instincts of people are brought to life. On the basis of this argument, there are submissions that what we find in Nigerian IDPs’ camps have been witnessed in war-torn Liberia, Sierra Leone and in devastated towns in Central Africa. They are also being witnessed in Aleppo, Syria and refugee camps scattered all over the world.
This line of thinking, however scientific, is morally faulted on the altar of profound rational scrutiny. Animalistic behaviours and base instincts cannot be allowed to override the finer qualities of compassion and the human capacity for altruism, sacrifice and sympathy. This is especially true in the case of IDPs – people who are denied the basic minimum for human existence, and many of whom have lost their companions. That they lack basic necessities such as food, shelter, clothing and security is bad enough. But to violently strip them of their ontological dignity and intrinsic self -worth, despite their extreme deprivation, is abominable. Such an action is a pollutant on the community; one that would demand, in the interpretation of certain quarters, collective spiritual expiation of guilt. It is an action that pollutes a people’s psychic relation with their community and culture.
It is owing to the pestilential nature of the atrocities perpetrated against IDPs by those who should alleviate their suffering and ameliorate their situation, that the shock expressed by President Muhammadu Buhari is understandable. That he ordered the IG and state governments of the affected IDPs’ camps to carry out a thorough investigation into the alleged cases of abuse is very apt. It is the least action expected of the president.