`To succeed, [the UN] must further strengthen the nexus between peace and security, sustainable development and human rights policies – a holistic approach to the mutually-reinforcing linkages between its three pillars’ UNSG Guterres, Vision Statement, April 4, 2016.
Nigeria’s middle belt has been fraught with intercommunal and herdsmen and farmers’ conflict for decades. This crisis has disrupted lives and livelihoods, rendering communities unlivable. Since late 2015, reports of herdsmen and farmers conflict has increased in frequency, and expanded into the south with increasing reports of attacks in the Niger Delta and Eastern parts of Nigeria.
Prior to early 2013, addressing intercommunal and herdsmen and farmers’ conflict was the priority for NGOs, with a couple of civil society groups engaged in peace building and conflict prevention in the affected states. Since the late 2015 to now, almost all interventions moved to the northeast crisis as the insurgency in the region gained global and media attention.
While serving as the Head of the UN Humanitarian Advisory Team from 2012 to 2015, it was important to me that response to the herdsmen and farmers’ crisis in the middle belt remained a priority even as I advocated and engaged with national authorities for more robust response to the emerging Northeast crisis.
In 2013, I led a mission to Nigeria’s Nassarawa state after an inter-communal conflict had left over 40,000 people displaced with hundreds injured and property including over 1,000 houses worth millions of naira burnt; seven communities were affected. The crisis which lasted from Friday the 13th of September 2013 to Sunday the 15th of September 2013, left the affected communities in charred ruins and deserted.
I spent the first hour making a case to the regional authorities on why I may not need a military escort as it could skew the perception of the community regarding the humanitarian role. The national authorities insisted, explaining that it was impossible to visit the affected communities without security military escort. In fact I was told it was the only way I and the team could undertake the assessment. They were right.
I conducted on the spot assessment within 12 hours after the incident, we drove through the empty villages with most of the houses burnt down to ashes. Over 70 people died in the clashes, and many of the perpetrators had retracted into the bushes nearby, probably observing us, we were told, as the assessment team drove through the villages. After visiting the affected villages, we drove about 30 kilometres to meet with the IDPs who had fled to the palace of the king of the next town.
Walking amidst the hundreds of people sitting and milling around in the palace compound, I assumed that their pressing need would be food and shelter. While addressing the group, I assured them that we would be mobilizing partners and the distribution of food, essential non-food item and eventually temporary shelter would shortly commence.
The spokesperson for the IDPs expressed strong appreciation for my prompt arrival to assess the humanitarian need from the conflict, but spoke passionately that what the IDPs and the affected communities needed was security. In his words ‘I am a very successful farmer and I can take care of my family and even my neigbours in time of need. I have two houses in my town right now and I cannot live in any of them. I need security. I am not begging for food or shelter. Please tell our government to provide us with the security we need to live and build our communities.’ As he spoke I jotted down his words quickly and looked up to see the other IDPs nodding fervently in agreement. Three other speakers endorsed what he said. In the words of the third speaker, ‘Giving me food and shelter without providing security and an end to the violence in Nassarawa is turning me and my family into beggars.’
Following my meetings with the IDPs, I met with senior government representatives including the Deputy Governor and the Senior Special Adviser on security and briefed on my assessment and advocated for security in the affected areas as well as the urgent need for immediate relief items like food and temporary shelter. The Deputy Governor assured the assessment team that the government had adopted a community based conflict resolution approach to resolve the crisis, and requested the assistance of the UN in the capacity building of state functionaries in the areas of peace education and conflict management. He lamented the high rate of proliferation of small and sophisticated weapons in the area and asked for assistance for a disarmament, demobilization and rehabilitation programme for the restive youths.
The IDPs and the Deputy Governor did not request for the typical humanitarian support. The state was committed to getting the affected communities back to their homes and livelihoods in the next few days and told us that they were careful not to foster a culture of IDP camps as a way of managing the states recurring inter-communal conflict situation.
Nigeria’s middle belt is currently faced with major security challenges that is disrupting communities and people’s ability to pursue livelihoods. While many people are displaced from these recurring intercommunal conflicts requiring temporary shelter, many states in the middle belt remain determined to discourage the practice of creating and leaving communities in IDP camps. In the words of one of the top officials, `Nigerians are strong self-determined people, keeping them in deplorable camps that leaves them dependent on food aid because they cannot pursue livelihoods due to insecurity is not the answer. We must not turn Nigerians into numbers or statistics for global humanitarian caseloads.’
Recent attacks in IDP camps in the context of Nigeria’s northeast crisis and the rise of attacks on civilians sheltering in displacement sites also raise questions on how to implement humanitarian assistance in the context of insurgency, what protection means in such contexts, and the role of camps in this response.
The issue for Nigeria’s middle-belt states, and Nigeria’s northeast is security. Keeping displaced people in IDP camps without equally investing in adequate national and global resources to provide or restore security is a challenge.
Providing humanitarian assistance without prioritizing the provision of robust security to facilitate IDPs’ return to place of origin or resettlement to other appropriate communities fosters long term dependency on humanitarian aid, and as has been proven in the northeast, puts IDPs lives and security at risk. There have been at least 3 attacks on/in IDP camps in the last three years with fatalities. The risk to aid workers is equally as alarming.
As the displaced in Nassarawa informed me, they needed `a strong military presence in their communities more than food or temporary shelter’. I heard them clearly, they were happy to see me, but I cannot provide the security they needed.
Today Borno state, the epicientre, of the north-east crisis which has been the bread basket of Lake chad for decades is dependent on food aid. According to IOM, majority of the new IDP arrivals in December 2017 mentioned that the reason for fleeing their communities was due to fear of insecurity following the withdrawal of government military presence from the community. Communities felt safer having the military around.
Security is the country’s responsibility, and the Government implements this through its military. When an emergency or natural disaster occur with significant humanitarian needs arising, many countries around the world deploy their militaries or paramilitary agencies to respond. But often as international humanitarian actors in Africa, the `approach’ is to become suspicious of a military presence in the context of humanitarian needs, sometimes, and often, military response is treated as potential perpetration of rights violations.
Africa needs a well-supported military presence to restore the much needed security in the continent. Yes, we equally need good governance structures, a culture that recognizes human rights of its citizens, the implementation of robust peace building programmes in contexts of recurring inter-communal conflicts. Yes, we need all these too, but sometimes, for the conditions of all the other critical element to be implemented, we need security. And by this we mean simply the state of being free from danger or threat, and above all staying alive.
The foundation for development is the existence of peace and security. The best way a country affirms and values its citizens is by providing a secured environment for its people to pursue livelihood and leisure. The provision of security is a humanitarian assistance that allows people to live in dignity, free from fear and in pursuit of livelihoods.
The United Nations understands this role and facilitates dialogue and interaction between civilian and military actors, essential to protect and promote humanitarian principles, avoid competition, minimize inconsistency and, when appropriate, pursue common goals. The United Nations Civil Military Coordination programme is a framework that enhances a broad understanding of humanitarian action and guides political and military actors on how best to support that action.