Starving for relief from Boko Haram
into the state capital, Maiduguri, have become huge internment centres.
Food supplies from the meagre harvests in areas less affected by the conflict, and relief materials donated by international and local aid organisations, fall woefully short of the needs of the displaced population.
As though the problems posed by the shortages are not bad enough, the distribution of relief material is fraught with allegations of corruption, mismanagement, fraud, and outright theft by government officials.
And rather than conducting transparent investigations and addressing the problems, the federal and state authorities in charge of the camps have issued blanket and vague denials.
In July, a state official in Maiduguri told me that she could not discuss the food supply for displaced people because the government had declared the issue a “state secret”.
That response echoes the National Emergency Management Agency’s denial of a Médecins Sans Frontières report highlighting the health crisis in June among the displaced in the town of Bama, where it said up to 30 people were dying daily from hunger and disease.
The head of the emergency agency, the federal body responsible for responding to internal crises, accused Médecins Sans Frontières of using the report as a ploy to attract donor funding.
It was therefore gratifying to see the federal government respond quickly and positively to a Human Rights Watch report that detailed the sexual exploitation and abuse of displaced women and girls by government officials. Police and intelligence officers were swiftly deployed to investigate.
This response should set the tone for improved conduct by all officials tasked with protecting and supporting displaced people. It presents a great opportunity to institutionalise reforms in the vetting and training of staff.
Aid programming must include gender and human rights awareness, and allow for the thorough monitoring and investigation of abuse and misconduct, including in food distribution.
There is still a long way to go. The latest news from Maiduguri is that the state authorities – apparently unhappy about the negative publicity that followed the sexual abuse report – have tightened restrictions around the camps.
Rather than encouraging the protection of the rights of the displaced, the authorities have presented local and international aid providers with new requirements for their continued operations in Borno.
Nigeria is Africa’s richest country, but it needs all the help it can muster to surmount the scale of this humanitarian tragedy. An international aid appeal for $488 million is only 37 percent funded.
The people whose lives depend on this aid have a right to demand a more honest and robust response when concerns are raised over the mismanagement of relief. Transparency and accountability must be non-negotiable.