Photograph — The Sheet

The plight of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria continues to worsen as food and other materials donated by charitable organisations are diverted into the open markets for sale. Against this backdrop Saudi Arabia has recently expressed its displeasure over the sale of date fruits given to Nigerians for distribution to the poor.

This is not the first time that food items or materials have been diverted and sold in open markets at the expense of IDPs who need it for their sustenance. Camp officials have been accused of sneaking uncooked food materials to sell in the market. In a report by Premium Times, Fatima Uba, a female IDP from Bama, said, “We know government do bring enough food into the camp and are being kept in the stores here; but they won’t bring out enough food for us to cook and eat.”

“The women in the kitchen won’t give us the raw food items to cook by ourselves. Instead, they would rather cook in the kitchen and then dish out portions that won’t be enough for us to feed,” she added. “At night they usually connive with the store officials who would sneak out the food at night and the women would go to sell them for N800 ($2) a measure in the market. “The officials too won’t listen to our complaints each time we tried to report the matter, because they make so much money from the sales.”

Meanwhile the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA believes that IDPs should be held responsible if food items are sold in the market.

However after a senate investigation into the theft of materials meant for IDPs, President Buhari ordered the Inspector General of police to apprehend some of the alleged thieves and make public examples of them.That order appears to have led to the arrest of two people with 4000 sachets of therapeutic food by the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). Similarly, four policemen were also arrested by the Adamawa state police command for diversion of relief materials.

Despite these arrests and various investigations into how relief materials are handled, this recent case involving the sale of Saudi Arabia date fruit shows that the issue is far from being addressed. Clearly there is a network of agents, whether IDPs, NEMA or other camp officials who profit from these acts.

The rhetoric from the government remains the same. The government has said that it would investigate the situation. However many remain skeptical about how this new investigation will put a stop to theft of relief materials in the overall interest of IDPs

So far, IDPs, NEMA and other camp officials have continued to trade blame over who is responsible for selling food items in the market, and it is clear that if this situation is not contained, more donor agencies might be reluctant to donate relief materials.

If the government is serious about dealing with the theft and diversion of relief materials, it should start by setting up an effective monitoring system. This system should be able to track relief materials from the point they are donated until it gets to the final consumers, while any sellers of these materials should be promptly arrested and prosecuted. It is also necessary that NEMA and other agencies directly engage IDPs to get firsthand information about the activities of camp officials.

Currently, about 1.9 million people have been displaced in Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe. 2 million people people in these six states also face acute malnutrition.

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