The Nigerian state intends to resettle all internally displaced persons in Borno state before the end of May 2021. The over a decade jihadist violence in its northeast region has left about 2.5 million displaced around the Lake Chad Basin. In Borno state that has borne the worst of the Boko Haram insurgency, about 1.5 million have been displaced. Nigeria’s displaced population find refuge in overburdened camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) where they face a stinging humanitarian crisis and are sometimes exposed to attacks by the insurgents. As government plans for this lofty ambition, there are many issues to consider.
The reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement plans of the Federal government is quite laudable yet so premature. The government intends to situate the housing projects in 10 out of 27 local governments in the state. The war against insurgency is still ongoing as jihadists continue to unleash terror in the region. Arguably the ‘technically defeated’ phrase has waned with renewed attacks. According to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), about 38,000 people have died as a result of the Boko Haram conflict. In June, about 174 civilians, 60 Boko haram insurgents and 29 state actors were killed in 15 incidents recorded. Data from CFR Nigeria security tracking, from January to June, indicates that 366 civilians, 1794 Boko Haram terrorists and 375 state armed forces died in 101 incidents. Unending attacks continue to trigger displacements in the terror zone. The risks of spending N20 billion on 10,000 housing project in a state with high risks of volatility is grave.
Rather, Nigeria should increase the tempo of the counterterrorism battles against the jihadists. More provisions should be made in overstretched displacement camps to make it more conducive if the government is concerned about the condition of the camps. Ideally, it is imperative to resettle the displaced population but government should first focus on two things, improving the conditions of displacement camps, and employing all measures to win the war on the terror to make the region safe for people to return and resettle.
Furthermore, it is important to also know if the displaced population are keen on resettling in these designated areas. Moreover, what is the willingness of people already living around the area to accept new community members whom they have to share shrinking natural resources and existing basic amenities with? The Nigerian state should follow a more tactical approach that would involve working with stakeholders among the displaced population and the designated local governments. This will eliminate the chances of indigene-settler conflicts. The government’s plan for the displaced people can only be sustainable if they can secure the buy-in of people in the communities earmarked for the new housing projects as well as that of the displaced population.
Also, before settlement, government should partner with donor agencies and other private sector players to empower internally displacement persons with vocational and entrepreneurial skills that will aid them in their new settlements. This should also include monetary or material empowerment at the point of resettlement. The reasons are a no-brainer, first, the economic and developmental indices in the region have been greatly depleted largely due to the conflict. Second, the displaced population have lost their ancestral homes, valuables and means of livelihoods which puts them in a vulnerable position. The youthful ones amongst them may become susceptible to criminality, ultimately joining jihadist groups for survival.
Government’s intentions as analysed presents some pros and cons. Depending on how it is examined, it presents a two-pronged fork; resettling the displaced may address the inherent issues in the displacement camps and trigger rebuilding of lives and livelihoods in the area. Also, it may pose new challenges, for example, the resettled population may be exposed to jihadist attacks considering that the war is ongoing. With the Nigerian troops already stretched to their limits, there may not be enough personnel to be deployed across the 10 local governments where the houses will be located. Meaning that such funds could be spent building the houses with no one willing to settle in them. Although government intends to invest in critical infrastructure in the designated areas, the chances of humanitarian crisis are still high if adequate measures are not in place. Government should work with relevant bodies in the region and conflict experts to ensure that the right things are not done at the wrong time.