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We can’t force IDPs to return home – Sani Sidi, NEMA boss

By Mike Ebonugwo

Recently, officials of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, led by the Director General,  Alhaji Muhammad Sani Sidi, were in Lagos for the agency’s annual meeting to review its operations and activities.

The meeting provided an opportunity for the officials to take stock of the challenges and achievements recorded during the period.

According to Alhaji Sani Sidi:  “You cannot  run an agency like NEMA without having this kind of review of its activities; we needed to review our operations, …especially with the zonal coordinators who are in the field, to find out some of the challenges confronting them and to see how we can further strengthen them to be able to carry out their services.”

Alhaji Muhammad Sani Sidi

The NEMA boss also informed thus: “We talked about increasing incidents of disasters: the statistics of  increasing buildings collapse, fire incidences, other natural disasters…You recall earlier this year NIMET had released their prediction which indicated that many of the states would be flooded. Of course the rain did come with the intensity and magnitude greater than what we had in 2012.

Sensitisation, preparedness

I think because of the sensitisation and preparedness that took place both at the state and federal level the impact was very, very limited. I can tell you that the rains we had were even greater than the one we had in 2012 that caused massive flooding. But because states were better prepared, communities better sensitised and more alert to the risk they face …that really minimised some of the flooding that we had expected.

“Then of course the insurgency in the North East which was a big challenge to all of us; we have been facing this since 2009, with the climax  being in 2014/2015. And now that normalcy has returned to many of the communities, most of the local governments have been liberated  …we’re moving from emergency phase to rehabilitation, reconstruction and recovery phase.

Recently the President inaugurated a committee to rehabilitate and resettle the internally displaced persons and affected communities…I think we’re getting over the challenges arising from the insurgency now; there is reason to believe that a lot of success, a lot of achievement has been recorded.”

But even as Alhaji Sani Sini was waxing exultant on NEMA’s successes and achievements with regards to its management of internally displaced persons, he was taken to task over recent developments at the IDPs camps bordering on allegations of hunger and malnutrition as well as the more recent report of prostitution and sexual harassment at some of the camps. It will be recalled that there was a mass protest by hundreds of IDPs in Maiduguri over complaints of starvation and malnutrition in IDPs camps.

In his response, the NEMA boss explained that the agency has been struggling to cope with a total number of 2.1 million internally displaced persons, with about 1.8 million of them being victims of the insurgency in the North East; Borno State is said to account for about 70 per cent of that population which explains why most of the IDPs camps are based there.

“Now coming to the issue of hunger and malnutrition, you see what really happened was  that we have 16 IDPs camps  in Maiduguri. Prior to the successes recorded by the military in the fight against insurgency, there were local governments that were not accessible before now; these local governments were under the captivity of the Boko Haram.

But following the successes of the military, all these local governments have been liberated; recall that about 20 local governments were at a time under Boko Haram captivity. So  the more military liberated communities the more we identified people with challenges.

“So, the issue of malnutrition was discovered in those areas that were under Boko Haram captivity before the military liberation. When the military went to Dikwa, Mongono and so on, a lot of people were liberated. That also led us to the establishment of another new set of camps in the newly liberated areas.  Even Boko Haram themselves were running out of food to eat. So, there was malnutrition, not only among children but also  the adults there. But then action has been taken to address the situation, and we must commend the government of  of Borno State and our partners for their roles  in this regard.   In managing this number of displaced persons, we’re talking about millions of Naira being spent. So, it’s practically impossible to say you will satisfy everybody…  We are responding based on the resources that are available to us. So, those are the issues,” Alhaji Sani Sidi said.

On the reported alarm raised by the Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps, NSCDC, that prostitution now thrives at some of the IDPs camps, he had this to say: “You see there’s a great misconception about everything to do with NEMA’s management of the camps. Let me tell you something. Humanitarian coordination works on  sector by sector basis; we have what is called sector responses. Today, if there are health issues, do you expect NEMA to be the one to respond? No! It’s the responsibility of the state ministry of health to do so…. We’re not doctors in NEMA, we’re only a small unit in the entire set-up.

So,there’s the issue of which sector should respond to a particular situation. Not many people understand this. Just like that malnutrition issue, we’re not doctors. So, everybody has a responsibility. If there are issues to do with  water and sanitation, the Ministry of Water Resources should take the lead. Every agency in government should rise to their responsibility. If we have that kind of synergy,  it would reduce some of the complaints. The Civil Defense as a security agency can play its part by arresting those behind prostitution at the camps.”

Liberated communities

  The NEMA boss also spoke on the issue of the IDPs going back to their liberated communities and the controversy that has generated in some quarters. “Well, you cannot force people out of camp; returns to the communities must be voluntary. And by the time you secure the communities and they are safe, the people will naturally be encouraged to go back home.

So, the rule is that you cannot force people to leave the camps or to return to their communities, especially when they feel it’s not safe to do so. …….You can’t just wake up and say today I have closed the camp. No, you have to ensure there’s safety…you have to ensure that the return to the community is voluntary.

I understand the state government is doing a lot; they are the first responders. They are moving them back in batches as they are securing the places and military are confirming that they are safe to return…. Like recently people from Konduga local government have returned. People from Bama have returned; people from Dikwa are returning. So, it’s a success story because a lot of successes have been recorded,” he said.

Alhaji Sani Sidi also assured that a lot is already being done to ensure that the returning IDPs are properly resettled through the planned rehabilitation and reconstruction of the various communities affected by the Boko Haram insurgency, citing the committee constituted in this regard by President Muhammadu Buhari and headed by General TY Danjuma.

Stakeholding committee

According to him, this apex coordinating body is expected to harmonise  all the rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts of the stakeholding committee made up of the states, civil societies, the private sector organisations, etc.

He said that as the year  winds down, expectations are that there would be fewer challenges in the management of emergency situations, especially at the IDPs camp level. “Human management is always a challenge. It’s a major challenge trying to meet the needs of 1.8 million people. With the successes recorded pressure is gradually reducing; we’re hoping that by the time they leave the camps, we will be able to achieve reintegration, rehabilitation and recovery.That will be a challenge because these are people who lost almost everything they had. If you go to Bama, there’s not a building that is standing on its own…..Bama is a big city but now no single building is standing on its own there,” he said.

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