By Adejoh Idoko Momoh.
Do you know Nigeria has an internally displaced population of 3.3million? And most of these displaced people are women and children? As things are these 3.3 million people are only the officially registered internally displaced persons and many other unregistered internally displaced persons may exist. About 850,000 people in Nigeria’s North East region are internally displaced and the National Emergency Management Agency has set up only 23 camps to cater for them. What this means is that this agency expects an average of about 36,956 people to live in any one of these 23 camps which are mostly National Youth Service Corp camps or secondary schools that do not have the facilities to deal with such a population.
Sometimes, I wonder what it means to be displaced. What it means to abandon your home, to run from the certainty of all that is familiar into the uncertainty of mountains and bushes. In all my questing, I have asked a few people what that all important thing they will take is: when they hear bombs in distance and the sound of gunfire approach, what is that one thing they take as they leave, of all the people I have asked two variables kept recurring; certificates and cash. A few people said things like iPads and travel documents, but those were really few.
In justification of the choice of their certificates, most people say that when the insurgents eventually are conquered and there is relative security, only their certificates will help them rebuild their lives. Considering that since the civil war in 1960 at no point have Nigerians been forced to leave their houses such as now and when there is a constant threat of death education mostly becomes secondary, it is encouraging that people still believe in the capacity of education to get them out of hopelessness and into opportunity.
In all of these, children are perhaps the worst hit as they are most times pulled from schools and develop an unwillingness to return to education. It is not hard to imagine why. The insurgents who terrorize them serve to fight and banish Western education, the psychological effects of this is in time schools begin to remind these children of horror, of death and bombs.
Perhaps to alleviate this, in addition to clothing and food drives we carry out for displaced persons, we should provide these camps with teachers and mentors. With guides and matrons, because when you live in such atrocious circumstances there is the tendency that your world becomes small; reduced from beauty and possibilities to the sound of shelling and gunshots.
This by itself is a tragedy we must never allow happen: we must raise structures that empower Internally Displace Persons (IDPs) to change their mindsets from those of victims to survivors. As it is, we are doing dangerously little to help child victims and it is only our help that can help them win the war against the very same insurgents who made them leave their homes and schools in the first place. Doing anything less will amount to the insurgents winning and the children loosing.
Most people argue that from the United States to Kenya and Pakistan or France, Nigeria is not the only country battling insurgency either on its shores or in an ally nation. The thing with the Nigerian state is that we lack the capacities these nations have demonstrated in dealing with these insurgencies and even when we make progress in infrastructure or the economy, lives don’t improve because the basic necessity of security is not provided.
On one of the only times I met a displaced child; I asked her the kind of questions you expect a concerned older person to ask. I asked her ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ I half expected to hear doctor or pilot or hair dresser, but no. Her face turned blank and she said ‘Alive’. ‘I want to be alive when I grow up’. I did not ask any more questions. The tragedy that the Nigerian state has become hit me.
Adejoh Momoh (firstname.lastname@example.org) can be followed on twitter @adejoh