The most muted fact about Nigeria today is that it is the site of one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. There are as many human beings starving to death daily in Nigeria as in war-torn South Sudan. Thousands of Nigerians have already died from hunger and hundreds of thousands more are close to that same grotesque fate.
According to the latest United Nations report on the humanitarian dimension of the conflict in the North East, Nigeria is in danger of losing more citizens to starvation than the death cult called Boko Haram has killed in terrorist attacks. Nearly half a million children under the age of five are suffering from severe acute malnourishment. If there is no urgent intervention to nurse them back to wellness, 120,000 of them will die next year.
Doctors Without Borders ”counted more than 1,200 graves” dug near Bama camp alone in the past year and, almost half of them were for children. Forever trapped in those graves, of course, is the incalculable wealth of potential those anonymous innocents never had a chance to express.
That’s a disaster! Still, the most heartbreaking part of the situation is that it has yet to register as a tragedy in the consciousness of the Nigerian government. Though this has been a fairly old and worsening development with rising human cost, there is no earnest attempt by the Nigerian government to tackle the profound suffering. The Nigerian state has, so far, conducted itself as if the humanity of the starving IDPs is invalid. It has treated –and sadly continues to treat –evidence-based reports of vulnerable Nigerians starving to death with halfhearted concern and near inaction.
Many journalists who have visited the IDP camps speak of their firsthand experience in terms that inspire the mind to conceive of a capacious laboratory of famine, packed with emaciated human guinea pigs. The newsmen recall the literal equivalent of an experiment in sadism, one that seems organized to kill human beings with a regimen of interminable, compulsory fasting. They describe a collection of humanity dying a staggered, anguished death.
They note especially the woes of tenderest of the vulnerable. The fragile, skeletal babies. In the hands of their desperate mothers, the kids are semi-animate things; tiny, impoverished caricatures of the human species. They are so bony a vein is hardly visible anywhere beneath their skin. They are so frail, so semi-animate they can’t muster energy to let a necessary cry escape. All their strength is invested in the struggle to prolong the end of the fading rhythm of their heartbeat.
For a country that is not in a state of civil war, one with a presumably functional government and a stable bureaucracy, the dystopian hunger game taking place in Nigerian IDP camps is beyond a scandal. And it is more than a byproduct of the default ineptitude for which President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration is notorious for. It represents a mark of his moral apathy. It is a measure of his detachment and distance from humaneness. It is a reflection of his capacity to affect the optics of engagement with the business of governing Nigeria while actively ignoring the large swath of the neediest of Nigeria’s needy.
There are 4.5 million IDPs in Nigeria today. They outnumber all the refugees involved in the European refugee crisis. These Nigerians fled from their homes and their livelihoods because of Boko Haram’s scorched earth campaign. These Nigerians are helpless and destitute due to circumstances not of their own making. They were made dependents of Nigeria against their will. They rely on the country they call their own to take care of them and help them rebuild their lives.
To be sure, they don’t need a bed of roses. What they need is a token of respect for their dignity. A decent sanctuary. Their daily bread. Some clothes.
But Nigeria has failed these human beings. Nigeria has continued to deny them the irreducible minimum entitlement a refugee needs to survive. Nigeria would not give them food or water. Nigeria has practically disowned and sentenced them to misery.
The IDPs live in dirty, subhuman spaces. They have no toilets. Adults and children, men and women bathe, urinate and defecate in the open. They wallow in an optimally unhygienic space, in an atmosphere for epidemic.
In addition to the pathetic sanitary condition of the IDP camps, the supposed refuges are unsafe. In the past few weeks, there has been an escalation in reported incidents of rape in the camps. Women and young girls are being violated and threatened with unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
There has been many attempted suicide bombings in the IDP camps. Each time an arrest was made and the designed killing foiled, it was always accompanied with assurances that there was ‘tight security’ within and around the camps. But the plague of sexual assaults has continued unabated. Traumatized women and their prepubescent daughters are still being crushed with the additional burden of intimate shame.
President Buhari and his aides like to tout ‘’the technical defeat’’ of Boko Haram as his indisputable achievement. They make a song of ‘the feat’ of restoring Nigeria’s territorial integrity. The terrorists no longer bear rule over a sham caliphate the size of Belgium.
However, the fetishization of the degradation of Boko Haram is running concurrently with the apparent failure to manage the logistics of tending to the millions of Nigerians whose lives were ruined by the insurgents. There is shocking unwillingness on the part of the Buhari administration to reckon with the more important duty of catering for the refugees. This absence of sensitivity to the refugee demographic has occasioned the horrible nightmare in which the rescued are leading lives comparably worse than instant death at the hands of the terrorists.
While Boko Haram would perpetrate carnage with an explosive device in a split second, or slit people’s throats in one minute, the Nigeria state seems to have preference for the formula of non-tactile, drawn-out cruelty. Ignore the refugees to death long enough. Pretend that they do not exist. Force their inevitable disappearance through the instrumentality of neglect.
What is happening in the IDP camps is a perverse version of mercy killing. Denying human beings the fundamental supplies they need to stay alive with the intention of imposing death on them. No nation should be so callous as to be deliberately facilitating and catalyzing the death of her own people like Nigeria is doing.
In many countries around the world, there are laws guaranteeing animal rights. These laws discourage speciesism and criminalize the subjection of animals to torture. The laws affirm that man’s relationship with lower animal life must be governed by respect. And people may earn conviction not only for being aggressive to animals but also for being remiss in tending their own pets.
In Nigeria, human beings fare worse than chicken being rared in saner climes. Here, we collect human beings in one place and make a spectacle of starving them. We let them die of hunger and thirst.
There appears to be an official devaluation of the Nigerian life. Some policy that reduced the worth of the human person and obligated the Nigeria state to look on the Nigerian with utmost contempt.
The Oxford Dictionaries word of the year 2016 is ‘’post-truth.’’ The word is used to illustrate an attitude of stubborn disregard for facts and truth. A post-truth era is one that treats truth as trivial and irrelevant.
In this light, one might correctly define present day Nigeria as a post-human country. A country where human beings are considered inconsequential, insignificant and dispensable. A country that regrets its human strength. A country torturing and executing its citizens with starvation. A country depopulating itself!
There is probably no other country that has not been ravaged by civil war or natural disaster that herded hundreds of thousands of her people into ‘’camps’’ and abandoned them to die by starvation.
A couple of months ago, the refugees protested to call the attention of the Nigerian government to the plague of hunger in the camps. Some camp officials were diverting food supplies meant for the hungry to the markets and fattening themselves on the leanness of the famished. There has not been a serious response in the direction of identifying and punishing the thieves. Neither has there been a discernible improvement in access to food in the camps.
This cannot continue. The federal government of Nigeria must take ownership of the IDP crisis. The state governments of the North East are incapable of satisfactorily addressing the problem. There has to be a quick, well-resourced, drama-free operation to save the lives of those starving babies and deliver them from a doomed future of mental retardation. Nigeria has to collaborate with aid agencies already working to make a dent in the tragedy.
President Buhari must take personal interest in the spiraling humanitarian crisis in the North East. He must monitor the state of the IDP camps and the welfare of the people there with compassion. He must develop and implement a potent plan to answer the situation and institutionalize a framework for the prevention of a repeat of such national disgrace. That’s what presidents do!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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