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Nigerian Displaced Persons Crisis Fueled by Politics, Corruption and Islamism

Can the Tinubu Administration turn it around?

Part One of Three: It is time to address this vast humanitarian crisis

By Mike Arnold

Meet Hanatu Ango,  principal of a local school for internally displaced children.

Ms. Hanatu  Ango, headmaster of the New Kuchingoro Elementary school in Abuja. credit: Mike Arnold
Ms. Hanatu Ango, headmaster of the New Kuchingoro Elementary school in Abuja. credit: Mike Arnold

Hanatu had what she thought was a “Normal life.”

Her story of escape from Boko Haram and survival with her three young daughters is shockingly tragic and traumatic.

After witnessing the slaughter of loved ones, being pursued by bloodthirsty jihadists and herded around with a multitude running for their lives, they and thousands of others eventually found their way to Abuja, about 450 miles southwest of her lifelong home in Northeast Borno State. 

Hanatu said when they first drove into Abuja, in a van stuffed with other survivors and all their worldly possessions, she told her daughters, “Girls, you are going to be OK!”  Surrounded by tall buildings,  gated estates, and wealth they’d never imagined, it appeared they’d made it nearly to heaven.

But then, near the center of this booming Federal Capitol Territory, the van pulled off the highway, down a short dirt track, to the New Kuchingoro encampment, where she was told they had to stay. Seeing the squalid rows of makeshift shanties alongside a sewage ditch, her heart sank. The final sting came when she was told she had to scrounge materials and build her own hovel.

Prior to the Gwoza Massacre of Christian families in 2014 by Boko Haram insurgents,

Ten years later, Ms. Hanatu still lives in that same shanty next to the sewage ditch, not far off the highway near downtown Abuja, scratching out a harsh and meagre existence along with a thousand or so other Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Gwoza.

Today she is head teacher at a school in camp, fully supported by Africa Arise International, which provides free education to some 320 IDP children, all of whom were born in New Kuchingoro. Ms. Hanatu recently was offered a government teaching job, which would have enabled her to move, but she turned it down. “I won’t leave camp till the last child has gone home,” she says.

Other than this school, and occasional help from missionaries, churches and small aid groups, the residents of New Kunchingoro live with zero outside financial assistance, not even from the government.

Nigeria is gradually emerging from eight years of oppression under the radical and corrupt regime of President Mohammadu Buhari, who benefited from this crisis. Under him, Nigeria became the number one nation on earth for Christian genocide, and home to anywhere from two and a half to nine million IDPs (depending on who is counting, TruthNigeria has reported the number is 5 million).

In Abuja alone there are as many as 22 encampments like New Kuchingoro, housing some 30,000 displaced people. Completely uprooted from everything they’d ever had or known, fighting sickness and starvation daily, it’s nearly impossible to get a lucky break to rebuild a successful life. Very few IDPs have made it out of these camps alive. Nobody knows the statistics because they have been swept under the rug nearly a decade.

Over the years, criminal elements have taken advantage of the fact police won’t set foot in the camps. Girls disappear, and nobody investigates. Drug dealers and prostitutes have invaded fringe areas of some camps. Combined with the lack of all basic necessities of life – food, shelter, water, healthcare, sanitation – the lives of these IDPs are hellish, ravaged by continual trauma, sickness, hunger and predatory criminals.

The “powers that be” – including the Nigerian government, UN and other international agencies and NGOs – run some formal IDP camps in the North. I asked several New Kunchingoro residents why they don’t move there. All said the same thing: They have been told, and certainly believe, that to ever leave those camps, they’d be required to convert to Islam. They’d rather be stuck in subhuman conditions forever than do that.

These people are not IDPs by choice, nor due to personal mistakes or character flaws. They had real lives – jobs, homes, farms, businesses, schools, churches, families, communities – which were violently ripped away. They all want simply to go back home.

Three primary forces keep these IDPs oppressed, as more are slaughtered and displaced to this day: At work is a devious mix of radical Islam, greed, and political ambition – empowered by corruption and fueled by tribalism.

While most of the persecuted people in Nigeria are Christian, we’ve found some IDP camps populated by peaceful Muslims. To categorize Nigeria’s conflict as a Christian genocide is true but does not tell the full story. Rather, it’s a genocide encouraged and empowered by radical Islam, in which  anyone who does not subscribe to their bloodthirsty creed is expendable.

Where populations are displaced, observers say the next thing that happens is wholesale strip mining. I personally saw this in Bokkos, Plateau State, after the recent Christmas Massacre, which claimed some 300 lives. Vast fortunes of everything from tin to lithium to gold are ripped from the ground and sold around the world. While the greedy traders behind this looting of the land may or may not be orchestrating the attacks, they are known to pay off local military and law-enforcement officials to look the other way when it happens.

Jihadis are re-settled into the conquered communities, and each given multiple wives, to ensure steady population growth  — and a secure voting block for generations.

It’s a vast, ongoing humanitarian crisis, yet there are many bright points of light in this darkness. There is a multitude of amazing people such as Ms. Hanatu, who are driven by their Christian faith, who have dedicated their lives to serving IDPs, providing education and basic needs, seeking justice, and spreading faith, hope and love.

Nigeria is an amazing nation, full of vibrant people and vast natural resources, with enormous potential. They have an encouraging, new presidential administration, and things are looking up.

Yet the IDP trap is the anchor ultimately keeping them from achieving greatness. It sits at the nexus of the forces that have long held them back: Foreign meddling, greed, corruption, merciless political striving, toxic tribalism, and radical Islam.

The Nigerian government can fix this. I hope the new Administration of Bola Ahmad Tinubu has the courage to seize upon this righteous cause and see it through to completion. If they can deal with this issue head-on, they can do anything.

A great nation must be built on a foundation of justice. No other reform or public initiative they undertake will have real meaning or impact until IDPs are restored.

When they do, they will earn the trust of their people and respect of the world, see their economy boom as never before, and finally put Nigeria on track to emerge as a legitimate global powerhouse.

And more important to many, Ms. Hanatu and her daughters, and all the others, will finally be able to go home in peace.

Join us in calling on the Nigerian Government to seek justice and restoration for IDPs at www.IDPJustice.org.

Mike Arnold is the Mayor of Blanco, Texas and Founder/President of Africa Arise International.

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