By Theophilus Abbah, PhD
An African proverb says ‘pregnancy can never be hidden with bare hands.’ Springing from the imagery and significance of this proverb, and in the context of internal displacements in Nigeria, one could say it corresponds with the society’s attitude to this segment of the society, though their predicament sticks out like an open sore for all to see. For my constituency, the media, story ideas about the plight of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are so commonplace that we no longer see them. We are blind to them, until the Cable News Network (CNN), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Aljazirah or the Voice of America (VOA) send in special correspondents to research/investigate and produce impactful documentaries about the plight of IDPs in this country. But these are fundamental stories whose justification we could trace to communication theories, like development and social responsibility journalism. Because we abdicate that responsibility, foreigners come in and take the sail of the ship. Even this research under review is supported by foreigners – the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) and the Waldensia Church’s Otto Per Mille (OPM). This concern is derived from the value the West attach to human life and why IDPs should never be abandoned to the elements and misfortune.
Like every baseline research, this work has thrown up a lot of issues, most of which we live with, but have failed to pay attention to, in our rat race to cover our beats and report the activities of government officials. To say this work exposes the shortcomings of modern reporting of IDPs by the media in Nigeria is not just apt but also it is a portrayal of how the milk of human kindness has dried up from our journalism.
In carrying out this research, the team pored over available literature on local and international conventions about IDPs and how they should be catered for. Worthy of specific reference is the fact that International Humanitarian Law recognizes the precarious conditions of displaced persons, and affirms the need to uphold their fundamental rights. It prohibits “violations– such as direct attacks on and all forms of ill-treatment of civilians, destruction of property not required by imperative military necessity, rape or other forms of sexual violence, and unlawful restrictions on access to health care and other essential services.” (p.13). But here terrorists bomb IDPs camp, and soldiers torture those they should protect.
This research discovered that these rights, enshrined in local and international statute books, are violated with impunity in many IDPs camps in Nigeria where victims of violent crimes are subjected to further victimization by being denied of basic amenities, food, health care facilities, and sexual violence. Though some of these crimes have been reported in the media, the emphasis has not been placed on them in such a manner that help would be rendered to victims. In most cases, journalists hang on to civil society organizations’ public outcry about these issues before they write their stories. For some journalists who have the wrong notion of the concept of development journalism, carrying out reports that expose corruption and wrongdoing is perceived as a way of ruining the reputation of Nigeria before the international community. They argue, therefore, that such stories must not be published, in order not to embarrass government and agencies vested with the responsibilities of taking care of IDPs. Ironically, it is this culture of silence that has helped to deepen the crimes against IDPs; silence has never helped them. If you do not expose crime and criminals, crime and its consequences would fester on in society. In the same manner, if we do not take up or take on the maltreatment of IDPs in the country, the government may never honour their words in taking care of these disadvantaged Nigerians.
In order to properly appreciate how IDPs should be treated, we need to understand how refugees are taken care of in the West. They live in apartments; allowed access to scholarship, education and health care; and some are entitled to some level of employment; to an extent, they are integrated into their host societies; and could even stand for election. Conversely, the living condition of many in our IDPs camps [in their own country] is a direct opposite, many of them treated as an outcast.
This research has brought out the fact that the inadequate or poor reporting of the plight of IDPs is directly related to the lack of clear legislative framework which should have provided the road map for relevant institutions, civil society organisations and citizens on how to treat IDPs. Laws and policy documents, though not an end in themselves, are needed to chart a path that everyone must follow in dealing with every phenomenon in the society. We argue that Nigeria is a society with too many legal frameworks which are not adhered to, it is shocking that after decades of experiences with refugees and IDPs, the country is short of a regulatory framework that spells out the rights, privileges and treatment of IDPs.
As it were, the lack of a legal framework for IDPs has thrown issues that affect this segment of the society to guesswork and rule of thumb. This research reveals that the following consequences:
- Lack of database of IDPs
- No provision on how journalists could cover or report IDPs
- Scarcity of basic facilities: potable water, sanitation, shelter, medicine, etc
- No provision for health care facilities
- No institution in charge of their affairs (NEMA is by nature meant to respond to emergencies, so its provisions are ad-hoc in nature). The ministry of humanitarian affairs is expected to take on more roles.
- Without provision for justice, IDPs camps are like jungles, where abuses are either unreported or ignored even when reported
- Advocacy for IDPs is always short-termed or shortlived.
Central to the objective of this research is the need for the media to engage in the kind advocacy that could influence government policies and lead to an improved living condition for IDPs. This kind of advocacy has the egg and chicken dimension in which advocacy could facilitate the development of a legislative framework and legislative framework could facilitate better journalism. As revealed in this research, there are no protocols for reporting IDPs, so journalists who attempt to do so are restrained or allowed depending on the mood of security operatives who are lords at IDPs camps. The camps are restricted for security reasons but the people who live in them are not secure in the real sense of it, considering the psychological and physical abuses they endure on a daily basis.
The research work contains important data which would be of use to journalists. One of such fascinating information is about the location of IDPs camps across the country. Those of us who have attempted to report IDPs are familiar with the segmentation of IDPs into official and non-official camps, even in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. The implications of this are numerous. Those in unofficial IDPs camps practically live the kind of life that the French would say ‘it’s between you and your God.’ With no government support, they depend on handouts from good-spirited Nigerians, especially the Christian community, who visit them at festivals as a way of demonstrating the love of Christ towards them. The Catholic community has done a lot in this regard and must be commended. But these are Nigerian citizens, so the government must be made to respond to their needs. Of course, the government may do nothing for them unless, and as Apostle Paul puts it in Romans 10:14, “And how can they hear unless someone preached
[the plight of IDPs) to them.”
In its conclusion and recommendations, the
research advocates active and deliberate media engagement on issues related to
IDPs. Among such measures are:
>n Capacity building for journalists: they must be exposed to international best practices, issues and dynamics of IDPs treatment.
- Collaboration between journalists and stakeholders
- Advocacy for the database on IDPs in Nigeria
- The government should guarantee journalists’ freedom to report IDPs; its a constitutional right which must not be abridged in the name of providing security for displaced persons.
- Journalists should pitch ideas on the situation in IDPs camps to their news organisations: hygiene, health, security, sanitation, the fate of persons living with a disability.
- Multimedia reporting has become vital in this dispensation that technology can facilitate it.
Without exaggerating, this research work effectively initiates us into an under-reported ‘beat’ or theme in the country. For a decade on, the country has been destabilized by terrorists, and with banditry and communal clashes, more and more Nigerians are removed from the comfort of their homes to temporary camps and abandoned. In several North-Central States – Niger, Kogi, Benue, Plateau and Nasarawa – not to talk of North-West states, millions of bonafide citizens of Nigeria are displaced. If journalists fail to tell the stories of these unfortunate Nigerians, politicians would forget them in their ‘busy-doing-nothing’ rigmarole in the name of State and political affairs. The least we can do is to share the outcome of this research among media organisations. If it is possible, Journalists for Christ could provide links to Foundations who could provide small grants to facilitate the work of journalists who have passion for reporting IDPs. If we fail to do this job, foreigners would not do it for us.
I say ‘congratulations’ to JFC and the research team for a job well done.