© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Relief Items “Thieves” Must Be Exposed To Save IDPs
By Samuel Malik
Last week President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the police to arrest culprits involved in the diversion of relief materials meant for internally displaced persons, IDPs, and make “public example” of them. This followed a report by AP showing malnourished children in camps in Maiduguri, Borno State.
“The president has asked the Inspector General of the police to catch some of these alleged thieves, to look out for them and make public examples of them,” presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, said.
Allegations of diversion of relief materials have been with us long before now. Unfortunately, despite increased donations towards the humanitarian crisis in the Northeast, the plight of the IDPs has not abated. Instead it seems to be on the rise.
Beyond the usual rhetoric of issuing orders for the arrest of suspects, nothing else is done. A look at some of the reported cases of diversion of relief items would suffice.
In November 2014, some suspects, including officials of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, were arrested for diverting relief materials meant for displaced persons in Taraba State. After the report, nothing else was heard again.
In 2015, investigations by the icirnigeria.org revealed that relief items meant for IDPs in Borno and Adamawa states were not delivered.
In a store operated by the Borno State Emergency Management Agency, BOSEMA, in one of the camps in Maiduguri, the website also reported officials offloading food items, including cartons of tomato paste and fish inside the store. There were bags of rice, sugar, cartons of vegetable oil, several jerry cans of palm oil, and cartons of noodles.
In Adamawa state, similar things were happening at the camps. Bags of assorted items donated by companies like Dangote, Honeywell, Faro, BUA, Indomie, Vitafoam were offloaded into the stores ostensibly for distribution to IDPs. But despite the loads of relief materials donated to the camps, reports of starvation at IDP camps continued.
Recently, a senior NEMA staff confirmed to the icirnigeria.org that less than 60 out of more than 100 trucks of relief items were delivered to the agency. This led to the arrest of a contractor accused of diverting 60 trucks loaded with relief materials.
Also, a few weeks ago, a truck carrying 600 bags of maize from Gombe state meant for displaced persons in Taraba state did not arrive. President Buhari had directed that 12,000 bags of maize be taken to Taraba and 20 trucks were loaded with the items. However, the permanent secretary of Taraba state Emergency Management Agency, Nuvalga Dan-Habu, said the state only received 11,400 bags.
Some members of the youth vigilante group, Civilian JTF, in Borno state recently arrested an ambulance leaving one of the IDPs camps with relief materials disguised as patients.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s order for the arrest of suspects was not the first time government was making such declaration. However, the outcomes have remained the same; officials continue to have a field day as investigations are never thorough and culprits go scot free.
In September 2014, at the commencement of distribution of relief materials to IDPs, former president, Goodluck Jonathan, warned that officials caught diverting relief items would face the full wrath of the law. No one was caught, and no one received the weight of the law.
In September 2015 while swearing in new commissioners and local government caretaker chairmen, Governor Kashim Shettima warned that he would not hesitate to sack any official guilty of diverting relief materials meant for IDPs.
This was after a secret investigation by the state government which confirmed that officials were actually diverting relief materials. But the government did not make a scape goat of anyone.
Rather, government officials and agencies blame one another instead of owning up or expose those behind the crime.
NEMA finds it convenient to use the MoU it signed with the Borno state government as excuse that its duty is only to deliver food items to the custody of the state while it is the state that delivers the food to IDPs.
When a video surfaced few months ago showing relief materials being re-bagged, ostensibly to be resold, the agency was quick to exonerate its staff again, claiming none of its staff has ever been involved in diversion of relief materials.
The state government on its part blames nongovernmental organisations operating in the state for exploiting displaced persons. Governor Shettima has openly accused NGOs in the state of making money from the misery of his people.
Refugees International, a US-based advocacy group, in April published a report indicting both government and humanitarian agencies working in the northeast of abdicating their responsibilities while thousands of IDPs starved.
The report, Nigeria’s Displaced Women & Girls: Humanitarian Community at Odds, Boko Haram’s Survivors Forsaken, accused NGOs of fighting for turf while government officials preferred to work with UN agencies because of the belief that they bring in more money.
If the Borno state government and indeed, the federal government, are desirous of addressing the grave humanitarian crisis in the Northeast, it must take the crime of diversion of relief materials serious. Those involved in the crime are not ghosts, and it is inexcusable that up till now, neither NEMA nor the Borno state government has exposed those behind this serious crime that has led to the death of hundreds of IDPs, including children.
If government is not just paying lip service to rehabilitation of the Northeast, it must get tough with “thieves” stealing food items meant for IDPs.
This report was published as part of the IWPR-sponsored Fellowship