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Standing with Nigeria’s female IDPs

AS I perused the report further, the indignation I felt grew stronger…there was no comprehending the horrendous happening; it is simply vile, obnoxious, utterly inhumane and downright upsetting. After failing as a nation to ensure the safety and protection of our citizens, we are falling short of conferring any immunity on these already broken people as they strive to pick up the pieces of their lives in the most unsanitary places. This shouldn’t be happening; this shouldn’t be even conceived, alas, its reality holds severe semblance to that of the rising of the sun.

What evil? In IDP camps? I found myself cringing at the thought of it.

It is harrowing that our inactions as a nation rendered millions of people, most especially women and children, homeless but, what is more saddening is the fact that those who are supposed to help nurture these fragmented women back to a state of wholesomeness are like the depraved, taking advantage of them. It should hurt every woman; it should make our hearts bleed, we should unanimously not only demand for explanations but for justice to be served.

Yes, for the perpetrators of such dehumanising acts, swift justice must be demanded. In fact, the hour has come to, may be, invoke the death penalty for such dastardly acts against women who are supposed to be under government care. For like sly foxes, they have entered the chicken coop and committed atrocities.

The October 31, 2016, report of Human Rights Watch (HWR) “Nigeria: Officials abusing displaced women, girls” has been etched in my subconscious like a blood-sucking leech. Nothing has been able to obliterate the gory imagery that has been conjured by my exceptional imagination skill since I read that report. If a volcanologist were to use a seismograph on my heart, he would warn of an imminent gargantuan earthquake.

Isn’t it disheartening that based on a situational assessment of IDPs in the North East that was carried out in July 2016 by NOI Polls, a Nigerian research organisation, 66 per cent of 400 displaced people in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states attested to the fact that camp officials sexually abuse displaced women and girls.

According to HRW, a 17-year-old girl reported that just over a year after she fled the frequent Boko Haram attacks in Dikwa, a town 56 miles west of Maiduguri, a policeman approached her for “friendship” at the camp she was being held, and then later raped her.

Another 16-year-old girl who fled a brutal Boko Haram attack on Baga, near the shores of Lake Chad, northern Borno in January 2015, said, according to HRW, that she was drugged and raped in May 2015 by a vigilante group member in charge of distributing aid in the camp.

It was a similar tale from another 18-year-old girl from Kukawa, a Borno town, 112 miles from Maiduguri, the state capital, who said that a member of Civilian Joint Task Force – a self-defence vigilante group working with government forces in their fight against Boko Haram – initially gave her privileges, including passes that allowed her to leave the camp, but then he raped her.

These women and girls, if they had a choice, wouldn’t be living in those infection-fraught government shacks with no food to eat, no potable water, no healthcare and worst of all, no freedom of movement. However, life happened to them and brought them to the valley of dead bones. On several accounts have the media and some NGOs in the country lamented over the deplorable conditions of the IDP camps in Nigeria, and while we are still crying like forsaken Orangutans in the belly of the dark forest over that situation, we have yet to deal with sexual abuse and violation in those filthy pits!

The recent NOI report about IDP camps in Nigeria was devastating. According to NOI survey results released by NOIPolls Limited, the vast majority of IDPs in the North-East lack access to food, potable water and healthcare. Analysis shows that almost nine in 10 IDPs (85 per cent) do not have access to quality food and regular meals, about eight in 10 IDPs (78 per cent) do not have access to potable water, while almost seven in 10 IDPs (69 per cent) lack access to quality healthcare. These results represent a general overview of what is happening in both official and unofficial camps, across Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states.

One of the women in the HRW report said of one of the camps in the North East thus: “Life is terrible here in this camp. For the past three days, we have not eaten because there is no firewood to cook the food. To make it worse, they will not even allow us to go out to fend for ourselves. Most times you have to beg the camp officials to intervene with the guards before they will give you the pass to go out. Why will you refuse if any of those people ask you for marriage? You have to survive.”

So whether the marriage proposal is real or a sham, these women’s only instinct is that of survival and in other to stay alive, they pay a bigger price. They are exploited, raped and violated.

Imagine the level of hardship experienced by IDPs, so much so that the practice of “sex for food,’ or even “sex for freedom of movement” in and out of the camps became the only means of survival. A senior female lawyer and advocate in Borno State corroborated the reports made by NOI and HRW. “I have reports of women being sexually harassed in camps by security agents, civilian JTF, and managers of camps. This information has reached us, we have investigated a few. We even have an instance where a security agent raped a woman, who later gave birth to a child. Seriously this is happening in camps.”

That 16-year-old girl, molested, raped in exchange for the basic necessities of life – food, water, shelter speaks volumes of how committed this nation is to protecting the vulnerable, whom are in those precarious situations because of some national ineptitude to protect her citizenry. That 16-year-old girl could have been your daughter, your sister or even the mother of your children. While it is heartwarming that the president, Muhammadu Buhari has expressed shock over this situation, and will commence a probe going by these words on his twitter handle: “I have seen the new @hrw report, and asked the Inspector-General of Police and concerned State Governors to investigate immediately,” I have chosen to stand with the female IDPs of Nigeria and I implore every Nigerian woman to do the same. These are our sisters and from where I stand, an injury to one is an injury to all… If you feel like keeping quiet because it is the North East that is being ravaged today, I solemnly hope the tides won’t turn. I call on Nigerian women; we must use all we have got to ensure that this not only stops, but perpetrators are sufficiently dealt with, while we unequivocally stand with the female IDPs of Nigeria.