Mixed Metaphors: Closing IDP camps

As we enter a New Year, Borno State, with the collusion of the federal government, will this week shut down camps of hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Maiduguri.  There are 16 of them, with another 16 statewide.

In October, Governor Babagana Zulum announced the measure, citing “improved” security in s state that is the heartland of the Boko Haram insurgency.  He told eporters in Abuja of  arrangements “to ensure the closure of all internally-displaced persons’ camps that are inside Maiduguri on or before December 31” to enable them “return to their ancestral homes.”

The governor, who also disclosed arrangements allegedly for the “safe return” of Nigerians displaced into Niger and Cameroun, is making a mistake of monumental proportions.

Not many Nigerians, particularly government officials, go to the BAY (Borno-Adamawa-Yobe) States these days.  Those who do need a convoy, and it is widely known that even those are routinely attacked.

Only this week, Boko Haram fired rockets into Maiduguri as President Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s globe-trotting president visited, and people laughed at his statement about an insurgency in its “final” phase.  Helpless and hapless Nigerians are, in effect, being emptied into the wilds for the pleasure and exploitation of militants, kidnappers and bandits.

On Friday, following yet another meeting of the National Security Council, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Usman Alkali Baba, expressed surprise at the ability of the terrorists to fire rockets.  “They are launching it in major towns, they are launching it in Maiduguri…There are efforts to continuously checkmate it.”

Anyone who doubts that Zulum and Buhari are about to write a new chapter in the BAY tragedy should read Alexandra Bilak’s “Northeast Nigeria, A Massive Displacement Crisis.” Bilak is the Director of the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

Published exactly two years ago, it is even more important today as the situation has been exacerbated by COVID-19 and other diseases.  The current report of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and its partners shows how cholera and diarrhea worsened the equation this year.

Into this cauldron, absent-minded Nigerian officials are about to empty Nigerians who had fled to neighboring countries, while they expel those who are currently in the camps.

Meanwhile, for a government which often offers no reason to be praised, I am happy to welcome the efforts of the federal government to improve the quality of the Nigeria Police.  Nearly two weeks ago, the government announced a few reform measures, including a 20 percent increase in average wages.

I praise this effort, which follows the popular #ENDSARS protests of 2020, particularly in the light of the embarrassing claim by Attorney-General Abubakar Malami in November 2020 that the force had already been reformed.

A lot of police reforming is called for, as #ENDSARS made clear, towards humanizing Nigeria police personnel and refocusing them.  Among others, in 2017, Mike Okiro, the former Chairman of the Police Service Commission, disclosed that about half of the force’s 150,000 members serve not the public, but  VIPs and “unauthorised persons.”

For too long, police officers have made their duty not law and order, but the protection of the powerful and privileged.  Everything—from barracks accommodation fit for humans to the content of their training—must be part of the reform.

But the most indispensable element in it must be accountability.  Every squad leader must account in writing at the end of his beat, and there must be full police station and state reports monthly, towards monthly and annual reports of the Inspector General.  It is the absence of this structure that makes it possible for police officers and squads to dispense summary justice everywhere and everyday, violating the human rights of whoever they wish and getting away with it.

Predictably, Mr. Buhari has withheld assent to the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021.  And he did it in the most ignominious way: ignoring it for the full 30 days after he received it while he traveled the world to irrelevant—some say, irresponsible—events, plus that additional day allowed by law, before bothering to communicate his veto.

This performance is typical of Buhari’s lackadaisical, almost contemptuous attitude to his job, and it is condemnable given the mammoth importance of the amendment.

I have no reason to believe that he read the bill, despite his veto, or that he understands the implications of the moment.   Only this week, remember, directors of the National Intelligence Agency diplomatically advised Buhari to stop making decisions he does not understand.

While I agree with him that political party primaries should be the responsibility of individual parties, not the state, it is curious if he truly understands the question of electronic voting, or where his loyalty lies.

Hopefully, the National Assembly, which under the Senate Presidency of Ahmed Lawan and House leadership of Femi Gbajabiamila has emerged as Nigeria’s weakest and most compromised since 1979, will attempt to redeem its image by swiftly reworking the bill and returning it to Buhari’s desk in a few weeks.

In Turkey on December 18, President spoke of his desire to return to his farm when he leaves office.  He was enjoying a surprise 79th birthday event organized by his entourage.

Mercifully, I am in no position to wish Buhari happy birthday.  I would also have told him that there is no longer such a thing as a sure farm any longer, including in Katsina State.  Last week, for instance, 58 persons were killed by Boko Haram and bandits in Kaduna and Borno States.   In Plateau, Prince Rwang Pam Jr., the spokesperson for the Southern Middle Belt Alliance, lamented that Fulani herdsmen have seized and renamed 102 Plateau communities in the past 20 years.

Back to the police, Babaji Sunday, the Commissioner of Police of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), has ordered full enforcement of the prohibition of vehicular speed racing in the area.

A statement by DSP Josephine Adeh, the FCT Police Public Relations Officer in the FCT, cited Section 228 of the National Road Traffic Regulations (2012), warning that anyone organising or participating in such events would be arrested and prosecuted.

Perhaps the police are waking up.  Hopefully, they will find also find the practice of cattle herding on the city streets of the FCT to be illegal.

And given that Commissioner Sunday is citing a 2012 law, I would like to remind him of one crash in Gwarimpa, Abuja, exactly four years ago.

In the race crash was Yusuf Buhari, the now-married, recently turbaned son of “Mr. Integrity.”  Where is the record of Yusuf ever being prosecuted by the FCT police?

Yusuf trained in a British university because his father believes local universities to be inferior.  He is too important to do any work.  Now turbaned, work on his father’s farm is also beneath him.

Surely, this is an unequal exchange that superstar Yusuf would be unwise to accept.  If the Nigeria police are afraid to charge you to any court and you love the thrill of the ride and you don’t need anybody’s office or farm, your kingdom stretches from Aso Rock to Buckingham Palace.   You are riding so high you are the ride!

  • [This column welcomes rebuttals from interested government officials]

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