IDPs, false figures and fraudsters
Pictures of severely malnourished children in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in Bama, Borno State which was circulated by the international NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, caused shock and consternation in Nigeria and around the world as well. MSF said in the statement that 24,000 IDPs were in poor health condition in the camps with at least 30 people, mostly children, dying every day. Nigerians were initially shocked to hear that this level of severe malnutrition will occur in a camp run by government, despite donations made by philanthropists and foreign charity organisations.
It soon turned out that MSF omitted a very important piece of information. Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima, on whose entourage MSF officials went to the Bama camp, said those severely malnourished children were among those recently liberated from areas under Boko Haram control. Shettima also ordered the relocation of 61 severely malnourished children to the intensive care unit of the Umaru Shehu Ultramodern Hospital in Maiduguri, where they are currently being attended to. This was a serious omission on MSF’s part and it unfairly created the impression that IDPs were that in parlous state after many months in government camps.
With that riddle solved, Nigerians were soon in for another shock. In dispelling notions harboured by many people that Borno State Government had received billions of naira in cash donations to assist IDPs, Governor Shettima said Borno State government has received a total of N345 million in cash from all sources, including the Federal Government. BOSG itself, Shettima said, spends N600 million every month to cater for IDPs, apart from contributions it makes to security agencies.
He said, “Contrary to wild assumptions that the Borno State government has received billions in cash donations in local and foreign currencies for the management of Internally Displaced Persons, a total of N345 million is the overall amount received as cash donation by our administration from May 2011 to date.”
He gave the breakdown as: Federal Government under Goodluck Jonathan, N200m in four years; Lagos State, N50m in October 2015; Edo State, N25m in 2013; Kano State, N20m in 2013; Adamawa State, N20m in 2013; Ekiti State, N10m in 2013; Osun State, N10m in 2013; Kaduna State N5m and Unity Bank, N5m. He added, “There is one woman who prefers her name not to be mentioned. She donated N100,000 in cash, bringing the total cash received to N345,100,000.”
According to the governor, all the donations from foreign agencies were not in cash but in kind, in form of food items and medical supplies which they distributed to the IDPs directly. We commend the governor for his openness and we commend the Borno State government for its Herculean efforts on behalf of its displaced citizens. The IDPs challenge is unprecedented in scale since the Nigerian Civil War ended in 1970 and no one expects it to progress without hitches.
However, MSF’s pictures probably helped because the federal government has now declared a nutritional emergency in the Borno IDP camps. Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the Vice President Laolu Akande said the government has mobilised a rapid response team to coordinate efforts to ameliorate the IDPs’ plight. Special Adviser to the President on Social Investments Mrs. Maryam Uwais also led a government delegation to the Bama IDPs camp for an on the spot assessment. All hands must be on deck to feed the IDPs, take care of their health needs and render every other assistance while they await the chance to return to their homes and resume their normal lives.
The other very disturbing thing Shettima said was that some local NGOs use pictures of starving IDPs to defraud foreign philanthropists by mobilising funds, which they then divert to their own use. This is wicked. We urge the authorities to carefully fish out the culprits and visit them with exemplary punishment in order to deter other aspiring fraudsters.