Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara has lamented various forms of abuse Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are subjected to across the centres, especially in the North-Eastern part of the country.
He revealed that the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) compiled a total of 5,623 incidents involving child abuse and other sexual and gender-based violence from January 2018 to July 2022 for Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States.
According to him, the study said that, “640 arrests, or 88.6 percent of the total number of SGBV incidents in four years, were recorded, apart from the 82 offenders that have been charged across various courts located in the three States”.
The report also noted that the centre secured eight convictions out of the total number of sexual offenders taken to courts.
Dogara made the assertion when he delivered a keynote address titled: ‘The IDP Question as a Stain On Nigeria’s Conscience’ at the 7th Henna Ball Awards Night Organised by TOZALI Magazine at the ICC, Abuja on Saturday, 26th November, 2022.
He further disclosed that the Human Rights Watch documented sexual abuse, including rape and exploitation of 43 women and girls living in seven IDPs camps in Maiduguri, the Borno State capital.
He said that it was also reported in their assessment that gender-based violence was a feature of displacement by disaster in the North East Nigeria, stating that, “Moreover, most studies have concluded that the culprits and perpetrators of gender-based violence (GBV) at IDPs were civilians, military, and emergency management officers detailed to protect and support internally displaced persons”.
The report said, “Government officials and other authorities in Nigeria raped and sexually abused women and girls displaced by the clashes with Boko Haram. The government neither did anything to defend the displaced women and girls nor ensured that they had access to adequate basic rights and services. Also, there was no serious punishment for the abusers, who were camp leaders, vigilante groups, policemen, and soldiers”.
He then gave accounts from Victims saying, “Just listen to the chilling accounts given by some victims: Aisha Umar, a 15-year-old IDP in Borno State, took her life after being raped by an official of an International Non-Governmental Organization, identified as Huzaifa Adam, 35years.
“The deceased, who was into menial jobs for survival, was reportedly lured to the apartment of the suspect at 303 Housing Estate, near Dalori IDP camp, Maiduguri, under the guise of cleaning the place. The girl was crying on top of her voice while being raped and was quoted as saying, ‘Why would you do this to me? Instead of bringing shame to my parents after deflowering me, I would rather die than go home.’
“Out of pain and heartbreak, Aisha entered the kitchen, took a knife and stabbed herself to death. When Huzaifa noticed this, he picked her up to rush her to the hospital and on his way to the hospital, he had an accident and killed another person on the spot. It was a case of double murder”, he added.
According to him, “In the then Gombe IDP camp, a 16-year-old Laraba told International Centre for Investigative Reporting that an official of the State Emergency Relief Agency named Ibrahim took her from the camp where she was to his home on the pretext that she would be helping the wife with household chores”.
In her words, “I was happy leaving the camp, but when we got to his house, there was no wife. He raped me continuously for three nights, locked me inside his house for days and threatened me.”
She continued, “I managed to escape and came back to the camp. I got pregnant. An old woman we call ‘Kaka’, gave me some leaves. I was bleeding for almost two weeks and smelling.”
For 15-year-old Lami, whose parents were killed by Boko Haram insurgents in her village on account of which she managed to escape to one of the camps in Maiduguri on an open truck, “some government officials came to the camp and took many young girls away and later sold them as slaves”.
Having been sold into slavery, she ended up in the house of one Alhaji Aliyu whose brother and wife abused her.
She recounted, “… that was how I got to Alhaji Aliyu’s house and it was there, every day, his brother forcefully slept with me.
“After that, he would beat me and one of Alhaji’s wives too would always beat me. One day she attacked me with a knife. That was how I got the wound in my skull.”
Thankfully she survived the brutal attack but Alhaji himself, his rapist brother and the wife that stabbed her with a knife in the head were never arrested, much less prosecuted.
He said that the above accounts are just a tip of the iceberg and not the goriest.
Yakubu Dogara said that, “Honestly, some of the stories make you want to puke. Therefore, the question where is our conscience, is not the only question, it is every question. Don’t we know that we are not only responsible for what we make happen but also for what we allow?”
According to him,”Have we forgotten that community just doesn’t happen to us, we make conscious, deliberate efforts to build community. Who are we waiting for to help us out of this mess- the government?
He stressed that, “Although I must concede the fact that we are not individually responsible for the plight of the IDPs, I cannot deny the fact that we are individually and collectively responsible to proffer a solution. We cannot remain passive in the midst of this moral crisis except our conscience is scorched. I dare say that the conditions under which IDPs live are actually the conditions of the hearts of their fellow citizens”.
He then asked, “What is the way out? In the midst of all these crises, what have we done as individuals and what has the Northern establishment done? I do not make any excuse, I am part of the establishment. We have done nothing to our collective shame!”
The former Speaker said that, “Imagine the Northern establishment had organised a submit where select IDPs from all the camps are invited to share their plight and thereafter establish a trust fund for IDPs in which every Northerner is required to pay in his/her month’s salary within a quarter while those who can, give more give as God lays it in their hearts”.
“No doubt, if that had happened, we would have set aside enough funds to cater for the needs of all IDPs regardless of what the Government chooses to do”, he stressed.
He further asked, “But what does the Northern establishment do? We love political gatherings and how we love to interface with Presidential candidates! We always talk about leadership but are always shy to provide it. When faced with the reality of our failures as leaders, we always seek to cover the same with bombastic grandiosity”.
“Just ask yourself this question, if Sardauna, Tafawa Balewa and their contemporaries were alive today, would they allow this scourge to fester without rising to the occasion to tame it? How we love to talk about them and how we hate to re-enact their examples”, he added.
He then suggested that, “Our religious leaders and Institutions can also do so much but they are also too busy. They can build hospitals, schools, provide food and clothing and set aside funds to fund the prosecution of all perpetrators of sexual violence in IDP camps” .
Dogara lamented that, “But how our religious leaders love crowds and yet hate the individual! As individuals, we can do so much too. Journalists can help amplify the plights of the IDPs and serve as their voices. Lawyers, teachers, doctors and allied medical personnel can offer pro bono services. Spirited individuals and organisations can offer scholarships and food stuff”.
“I tell you a story. When I was in office as Speaker, I led efforts to create the North-East Development Commission (NEDC) to help pull together resources for the recovery, reconstruction and development of the North East because then the North West and North Central had not become theatres of conflict”,he stressed.
According to him, “The Initiative won support of all NASS members because of the pathetic situations and with great difficulty, we were able to pull it across the finish line. Don’t ask me what has become of the NEDC. I am getting discomforting signals but I don’t have any concrete evidence so it will be most distressing for me to make a value judgement on the bases of those signals”.
He also said that, “Under our leadership also, we managed to pull all North East members into a caucus that met fortnightly. I lead select members on a visit to all the major IDPs’ camps across all the Zones with the exception of Camps in Maiduguri on account of scheduling issues with the then Governor. We took along with us tons of relief materials which we donated to the IPDs and heard their stories first hand”.
He explained that, “At the Wasa Camp here in Abuja, we sank boreholes for them and built a dispensary and donated it to FCT administration to run in order to meet the most immediate health needs of the IDPs. We raised money to help address the plight of IDPs and by the time I left office, our account had a balance of over N50m”.
“In addition, I tried in vain to push discussions about getting the international community to organise an international donor conference for Nigeria on humanitarian grounds”, he added.
According to him, “The argument was that if the international community helped to organise such fundraising events for Kosovo, Iraq and Syria, why wouldn’t they do so for Nigeria? I got the Oxford Union to agree to give us a slot to canvass: why the international community should organise such a donor conference for Nigeria”.
He also said that “the European Parliament was also prepared to receive us for the same reasons. All that was left was for me to communicate when we will be undertaking the journey. But because I didn’t have the budget to fund the outing of the delegation, I sought the assistance of a Governor who was at the epicentre of the crisis, but his lack of interest in the matter was shockingly embarrassing”.
The former Speaker also said that, “Attempts to even get him to be the lead presenter at both Oxford Union and European Parliament were not enough incentives for him. That was how the project was abandoned. No one picked up the matter, it was just like a lone voice crying in the wilderness” .
In his concluding remarks, Dogara said that, “Whatever may be the case, we cannot lose hope. The very fact that we are talking about this gives me hope. Our hope must be rooted in the telling stories of China, Rwanda, UAE, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, etc, which all prove the point that we can turn our ashes into glory and that nothing is impossible, if we don’t give in or give up”.
He stressed that, “The stories of those countries are a validation of the saying that every problem comes with its own solution but it takes only those looking for the solution to find it. No doubt, it will take leadership for us to replicate those stories and I am happy that so many of us here are stepping up to provide that leadership”.
“The kind of leadership that compels us to begin to teach kids not only to hate violence but to show immediate disapproval to signs of incipient violence. That way, they cannot grow up to become disaffected rebels”, he added.
He opined that, “This is because it has been demonstrated over time that no individual becomes what he or she hates. It will take the kind of leadership that recognizes that compassion is not tossing a coin at IDPs, it is pulling down the system that produces IDPs, leadership that believes that history does not just happen to us, we make history happen”.
“Individually and collectively, we can provide healing for many broken IDPs, especially women IDPs who are trapped in this existential crisis”, he further said.