The question of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Nigeria: a reflection on present realities.

Author:Akume, Albert T.
Position:OTHER PAPERS - Essay


One of the cardinal objectives of the Nigerian-state as defined by its constitution is to build a just and egalitarian society where every member has the right to participate in its governance process. This declaration presupposes that every citizen has the right to live and conduct his/her legitimate business freely in any part the country without the fear of intimidation, discrimination, exclusion or forced ejection. Egalitarianism ensures that the process and pattern of citizens' penetration and participation in the governance process is not defined by one's status, creed or indigeneity. Egalitarianism is firmly tied to the principle of equality and fair treatment of all in the society. These are essential elements for integration and harmony in a polity. Such a polity reflects an open, yet secured society, where the exercise of one's rights does not impinge on the rights of others. Contrarily, a polity is not egalitarian if her citizens are deprived of participation in policy issues that affect them, where there is arbitrary exercise of laws, absence of accountability, a corrupt justice system, clientelism and discrimination.

A polity that is characterized by these elements encourages unequal relations among her citizens. The problem associated with inequality is that some individuals or groups are deprived of fully enjoying their socio-political rights as enshrined in the constitution. The consequence of such deprivation is that some groups are barred from fully engaging in the social, political and economic activities of their community. This untoward pattern of relationship only engenders exclusion and alienation of some groups from the mainstream society and it is a major source of frustration responsible for igniting conflict and criminality. Artificially imposed human limitation remains a serious problem when the issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs) is brought into context.

The conditions that facilitate the infraction of IDPs rights are the same factors responsible for their forced migration from their homeland. Although, in most cases, internal displacement is caused by local internal conditions, its consequences have impact on the larger international community. The issue of IDPs transcends local nation-state, it is an international problem. Whether local or national, IDPs issues and challenges have severe consequences for global pattern of relations. This is evidenced by the fact that most national governments are grossly unable to mitigate or properly manage the challenges associated with internal displacement neither are they able to stop its spill-over to other neighboring countries.

Internal displacement is the forced migration of persons from their homeland due to some unpleasant conditions that the affected or their government could not resolve immediately. Internal displacement is associated with personal or group losses, abuses, deprivation and dependency. The affected persons are desirous of immediate protection and assistance away from their original homes. The factors that generate IDPs vary from country to country. It is however, clear from the extant literatures that the one recurring factor responsible for displacement in most Third World societies is conflict. Other factors responsible for displacement are natural disasters, violation of human rights, and even government. (1) While some governments are responsible for generating displacement for genuine reasons (development purposes) other government-induced displacement result from bad governance and oppressive regimes. (2) From Africa to Asia and from Europe to America, IDP issues are ever present. It is estimated that there are about 25 to 27 million IDPs all over the world who have not crossed international borders. Out of this figure, over 95% of IDPs reside in developing societies with Africa accounting for about 11 million of the total figure. Albeit,

internal displacement can by no means be labeled an African problem. In Latin America 3.7 million people are internally displaced. In Asia and the Pacific the number reaches 3.3 million. Europe has an IDP population of 3 million and in the Middle East over 2 million displaced can be counted at present. Thus, it is safe to say that the crisis of internal displacement is global in dimension. (3) The global dimension of IDP had evoked international efforts aimed at evolving the right solution to manage the problem though with minimal success. In Africa, Nigeria accounts for a large proportion of IDPs; hence, she is challenged by the problem for which she is involved in seeking for the right solution to manage IDP issues. It is against this backdrop that this article examines the causes of displacement, the steps taken by the government to manage the IDP issues and challenges in Nigeria.


This article predicates on the definition offered by the UN Guiding Principle of 1998 because it seems to recur in most scholarly articles on IDP. Although, this is not a one-size-fit all definition but the choice is to help avoid the replication of conflicting yet relevant definitions of IDP identified in the extant literatures. Deriving a one-size-fit all definition of IDP is essential both for the development of accurate statistics and information, and for comprehensive and coherent action. (4) The absence of a one-size-fit all definition does not undermine local and international action aimed at mitigating the harsh conditions associated with internal displacement.

The UN Guiding Principle conceptualizes IDPs as persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or leave their homes or place of habitual residence to avoid the effect of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violation of human rights, or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an international border. (5) Although this definition may seem holistic, it is however fraught with some identified concerns. These concerns are not unconnected with the problem of properly determining when IDP begins, the question of protracted displacement and the failure to capture those that are forced to move because of economic reasons.

Even though international assistance to IDP is growing, IDPs do not have the same legal status and entitlement to aid from the international humanitarian community as refugees. The need to bridge this gap is premised on the need to guarantee equal humanitarian assistance and protection for IDPs as is the case with refugees. This need is strengthened by the ever increasing number of IDPs, strict international migration regimes in most countries, and the desire by the international community to enforce the right to remain policy. Other reasons that have occasioned the drive are the changing nature of international political order and the equally discemable inability of some states to adequately care for the displaced. These issues recline behind the IDP debate. The debate equally triggered the need to establish and strengthen the legal and institutional framework for providing assistance, protection and management of IDP issues aptly. This need was pressing because until 1989, IDPs had no standing international legal and institutional framework specifically designated to provide assistance, development aid and protection for IDPs as was the case of the 1951 Refugee Convention which protected the rights and allowed assistance to refugees. (6) The factors that occasion IDPs may differ from country to country but the general recurring issue common to IDPs is that they have challenges beyond their control requiring external hands to properly remediate. It is evident that some developing society's government have failed to assist IDPs because they are in part responsible for such displacement and so have irresponsibly ignored their plight. Some other governments have made efforts to responsibly solve IDP related issues but lack the resources needed to adequately manage or resolve IDP issues alone, hence have to depend on the international community for assistance. It is for this reason that the framework was essential in serving as a guide for providing international humanitarian action, human rights and development aid to IDPs.

The international nature of IDPs is by no mean debatable. While the USA, China, Japan, Germany, Australia and other developed nations are able to internally resolve their IDP problem without resorting to external assistance, other nations depend largely on such external assistance to resolve their IDP problem. The inability of some of those nations to effectively manage their IDPs problem has resulted in mass migration of IDPs in search of refuge in other countries for which former recipient nations are now reluctant to accept. Their reluctance is not unconnected with the problem of terrorism and that of compounding the host country's existing unemployment problem. Other associated development challenges are the disguised problems of deprivation, discrimination, conflicting culture and religion, problems of integration and criminality due to lack of appropriate skills to be gainfully employed.

A reflection on the world-wide figures of IDPs demonstrates that Africa has the highest figure of IDPs. This is due to bad governance, unfair distribution of resources and the vicious pattern of power struggle among local politicians. These factors combine to generate the challenging humanitarian, human rights and political issues facing the international community. (7,8) This governance challenge occasioned the altering and prioritization of humanitarian regimes so as to enable IDPs to enjoy the same protection and humanitarian assistance as refugees. The process of ensuring that IDPs enjoy the same assistance as refugees was however impeded by bureaucratic bottleneck that recline behind the principle of sovereignty which Holbrooke suggests should be removed. (9) Removing this...

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