The Chairman of National Refugees Commission (NRC), Prof. Abayomi Durosinmi -Etti, recently disclosed that over one million Nigerians are internally displaced, the result of conflicts, fire and flood disasters and general insecurity.
He gave the figure at the inauguration of the NRC board in Abuja, and noted that an influx of refugees was expected from neighbouring countries, compounding the situation. This is a worrisome development; urgent action needs to be taken to contain it before it degenerates further.
The mass movement of people into Nigeria from countries affected by food shortages, drought and political instability, has also to be addressed.
Those internally displaced consist mainly of women and children, who have continued to live in unfamiliar and inhospitable environment, some without shelter for several months particularly in some parts of the north.
They are exposed to inclement weather conditions, sometimes without medical facilities or resources to feed.
Their plight should concern everyone; they should be properly rehabilitated or assisted to enable them return to as close a normal life as possible, since they are not responsible for their unfortunate conditions.
It is crucial to prevent such situations from occurring by curtailing the ugly developments that lead to people being displaced. More attention should be paid to conflict prevention and resolution before they turn to full blown crises with the type of consequences that the country is struggling with.
While tackling the insecurity problem should be a priority, it is important also that a rapid response mechanism be in place to immediately take steps to evacuate or warn those facing imminent danger from environmental or natural disasters. Alternative settlements should be provided for people living around areas prone to flood or erosion.
Although, some may resist the measure, safety concerns may compel mandatory relocations of people.
Since the mandate of the National Refugee Commission has been expanded to include catering for immigrants, stateless persons, returnees and internally displaced persons, it should be appropriately empowered to perform its function effectively.
If the commission is in a good position to attend promptly to those rendered homeless by circumstances beyond their control, their suffering would be mitigated, or at least be lessened. The role of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is also vital to the wellbeing of displaced persons. It should be prepared to contain the fallout of any crisis at any time.
The usual bureaucratic processes that mar the operation of government outfits should not be allowed to hinder its performance. Training and retraining of relief agency personnel will make them much more efficient. They should bear in mind that their job is to offer humanitarian service promptly to victims of disasters in order to alleviate their immediate condition.
Providing for internally displaced persons should not be the responsibility of the federal government alone; state and local governments also have big roles to play in tackling budding crises before they reach dangerous proportion.
The authorities at these levels should also monitor their environments regularly to nip any brewing trouble in the bud. People should also be educated on the need to keep drainages clean to minimize floods during rainy seasons.
They need to be conversant with measures to take to avoid fire outbreaks during the dry harmattan season. Nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) should take the lead in complementing the efforts of governments in catering for displaced persons. Relief organizations like the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies should also be involved in such efforts. Corporate organizations can also chip in by exercising their corporate social responsibility.
All said, there is the urgent need to quickly rehabilitate or compensate the hundreds of displaced people who are currently living under harsh conditions nationwide.
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