Sun. Jul 21st, 2024

By Emmanuel Onwubiko

Governor of Benue State Samuel Ioraer Ortom seems to share a similarity of a distinctive likeness for the internally displaced persons with the Supreme Pontiff, the Holy father Pope Francis. 

Both usually show genuine facial expressions of anger each time they are visiting camps of the internally displaced citizens showing their determination to see to it that the social malaise of displacement of persons from their homes becomes manageable. 

I watched both the Pope and the Benue State’s helmsman visit internally displaced persons camps somewhere in Benue, north central Nigeria and Greece/Cyprus. 

Despite his frail body, his increasingly failing health as an 85 year old man, the Pope did not betray any physical tiredness as he walked a distance of at least 1,800 metres around a vast area of holiday Inn converted into a refugees camp in Greece. 

The Pope was seen hugging little kids and old dishevelled women and men who struggled desperately to touch the Pope and discuss their ordeals hoping to get relief to their intolerable existential situation. 

The Benue State governor Samuel Ortom virtually sheded tears on seeing a sea of heads of desperate citizens of Benue driven away from their homes by armed Fulani terrorists. More worrisome is the stark reality that the relevant federal government agency responsible for providing assistance to these citizens does not seem to remember the over 

The governor then made a very deeply spiritual comment to the effect that the problems of the IDPS are giving him goose pimples. 

In 2019, Pope Francis reminded Christians that migrants and refugees should be welcomed around the world. 

Pope Francis again denounced “the globalization of indifference” and said “a painful truth” is that “our world is daily more and more elitist, more cruel towards the excluded,” as he celebrated Mass in St Peter’s Square on the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees on Sept. 29.

He reminded the 40,000 faithful present in the square and believers worldwide that “as Christians, we cannot be indifferent to the tragedy of old and new forms of poverty, to the bleak isolation, contempt and discrimination experienced by those who do not belong to ‘our group’” and added, “we cannot remain insensitive, our hearts deadened, before the misery of so many innocent people. We must not fail to weep. We must not fail to respond.”

At the end of mass, the holy father underlined the moral imperative to welcome and give hospitality to migrants and discarded people by inaugurating a 20-foot tall bronze, three and a half-ton sculpture, on the left-hand side of St. Peter’s Square. 

The sculpture depicts 140 migrants and refugees from different cultures and historical periods, including indigenous migrants, Jews fleeing from Nazi Germany, Poles escaping from communism and Syrians and Africans fleeing from war, poverty and famine. The 140 figures correspond to the 140 sculptures in the colonnades of the square designed by Bernini.

“As Christians, we cannot be indifferent to the tragedy of old and new forms of poverty.” 

It is the first time in 400 years, since the time of Bernini, that a new sculpture has been installed in this square. Conceived and designed by the Canadian artist, Timothy Schmalz, at the request of the Vatican office for Migrants and Refugees, led by the cardinal-designate Michael Czerny and the Scalabrini missionary, Fr. Fabio Baggio, who respond directly to the pope. 

The sculpture was unveiled after Mass by four migrants in the presence of Pope Francis who examined it in detail and shook hands with Mr. Schmalz, the migrants and those who had contributed to its realization. 

At the Angelus, Francis recalled that the sculpture gives expression to the words from the Letter to the Hebrews: “Do not neglect hospitality, for some unknowingly welcomed angels.”

Thousands of colorfully dressed migrants and refugees from many countries who have found refuge and a new home in Italy, thanks also to the Italian church, were present at the Mass. 

Prayers were said in Arabic, Swahili, Chinese, French and Italian, while families from Nigeria, Syria, the Philippines and Slovakia brought the offertory gifts to the pope. 

A choir from South India sang hymns, and others too from Mexico, Peru and the Congo sang. Many wore T-shirts colored blue, green, yellow, red and white representing the different continents. The incense used at mass was made in an Ethiopian refugee camp.

Wearing green vestments, Francis in his homily reminded everyone that “if we want to be men and women of God” then, as Saint Paul urges Timothy, we must “keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

He recalled that “the commandment is to love God and love our neighbor” and emphasized that “the two cannot be separated!”

Pope Francis said, “Loving our neighbor as ourselves means being firmly committed to building a more just world, in which everyone has access to the goods of the earth, in which all can develop as individuals and as families, and in which fundamental rights and dignity are guaranteed to all.” 

Furthermore, he explained, “loving our neighbor means feeling compassion for the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, drawing close to them, touching their sores and sharing their stories, and thus manifesting concretely God’s tender love for them. 

This means being a neighbor to all those who are mistreated and abandoned on the streets of our world, soothing their wounds and bringing them to the nearest shelter, where their needs can be met.”

“Today’s world is increasingly becoming more elitist and cruel towards the excluded.”

He recalled that in his message for this 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the refrain “It is not Just about Migrants,” is repeated because “it is not only about foreigners; it is about all those in existential peripheries who, together with migrants and refugees, are victims of the throwaway culture.” 

Francis insisted, “the Lord calls us to practice charity towards them. He calls us to restore their humanity, as well as our own, and to leave no one behind.”

In addition to the exercise of charity, Francis said “the Lord also invites us to think about the injustices that cause exclusion—and in particular the privileges of the few, who, in order to preserve their status, act to the detriment of the many.”

Pope Francis, quoting from that message, said: “Today’s world is increasingly becoming more elitist and cruel towards the excluded.” He added this morning, “this is a painful truth; our word is daily more and more elitist, more cruel towards the excluded.” 

Then, as the Vatican media observed that  returning to the text of his message, he said, “Developing countries continue to be drained of their best natural and human resources for the benefit of a few privileged markets. 

Wars only affect some regions of the world, yet weapons of war are produced and sold in other regions which are then unwilling to take in the refugees generated by these conflicts. 

Those who pay the price are always the little ones, the poor, the most vulnerable, who are prevented from sitting at the table and are left with the ‘crumbs’ of the banquet.”

The media recalled that ever since becoming pope on March 13, 2013, Francis, the son of migrants, has sought to awaken the consciences of people worldwide to the plight of migrants and refugees, which is the result of the biggest humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War and now involves, according to the United Nations, some 70.8 million people who are forced to leave their own country, including 30 million refugees.

With this dramatic reality in mind, Pope Francis on that day repeated the words he had first uttered when he visited the island of Lampedusa on July 8, 2013 to mourn the thousands who had drowned in the Mediterranean Sea on their way to seek refuge in Europe: “Today, the culture of comfort… makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people… which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference.”

This morning, in his homily, the Supreme Pontiff went further and declared: “In the end, we too risk becoming like that rich man in the Gospel who is unconcerned for the poor man Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. 

Too intent on buying elegant clothes and organizing lavish banquets, the rich man in the parable is blind to Lazarus’s suffering. Overly concerned with preserving our own well-being, we too risk being blind to our brothers and sisters in difficulty.”

He concluded his homily by entrusting to “the maternal love of Mary, Our Lady of the Way, all migrants and refugees, together with those who live on the peripheries of our world and those who have chosen to share their journey.” 

The Vatican newspaper’s comprehensive report on the expressions of emotions by the Holy Father on the issues around the need to resolve the problems associated or leading to human beings becoming refugees or internally displaced persons is about the same kind of expressions of sentiments made not too long ago by the Governor of Benue State when he launched a blueprints for tackling the menace that generates from the emergence of internally displaced. persons.  You need to also bear in mind that the internally displaced citizens of Benue became displaced when armed Fulani terrorists invaded their farms, killing, destroying and maiming whilst the Federal government that controls the armed forces of Nigeria wilfully failed to prevent this calamitous phenomenon and has also neglected these IDPS. 

Determined to change the misfortune of IDPs, the Benue State governor has followed up his frequent visits to the over 1.5 million internally displaced persons of Benue State origin with the launching of a well articulated policy paper on the treatment and care for the IDPS.  

The federal government did same through the ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and disaster management but the Federal Government has totally not lived up to its statutory obligations and duty of care to these mammoth crowds of IDPS in Benue and much of Southern Kaduna.  

There are allegations that the poor appreciation of the peculiar needs of these internally displaced citizens of Christian affiliation and minority tribes in the North can be linked to what some analysts call the larger agenda of Hausa/Fulani to continue to dominate the rest of the Northern population and to deploy underpopulation and marginalisation as key tools of oppression. 

This is said to be the reason why the ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and disaster management has failed to deliver relief materials of significance to these forgotten and neglected IDPS. 

The Federal Executive Council (FEC) nevertheless had few days back approved a new National Policy for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria.

The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq, disclosed this while briefing journalists at the end of meeting of the Council at the State House, Abuja,

The meeting was presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The minister, who was excited at the approval, described it as a milestone in the determination of the government to bring succour to displaced persons.

“Today at Council the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, presented a memo for the approval of a draft national policy on internally displaced persons in Nigeria,” Mrs Farouq said.

“I must say that today is a great day for the ministry and the government because this administration has reached another milestone for the purpose of internally displaced persons.

“The National Policy on Internal Displacements provides a platform for all relevant actors in the humanitarian and development space to key in and contribute towards a common goal.”

According to the minister, the overall goal of the policy is to strengthen the institutional mechanism and frameworks for the realisation of the rights, dignity and wellbeing of vulnerable populations through the mitigation of impact and achievement of durable solutions to internal displacements in Nigeria.

“With the approval of the policy, a multi-sectorial structure will fully emerge, which will ensure a coordinated, operational and strategic response to all the humanitarian challenges our great nation is facing,” she said.

In 2003, the federal government constituted a committee to draft a National Policy on IDPs with a view to assisting in registration and issuance of identity cards, prevention or reduction in instances of internal displacement and allocation of responsibilities to agencies and organs of government and non-government actors.

The assignment of the committee led to a National Policy on IDPs which was presented to the government in 2011. The crisis of deliberate poor implementation of policies and programmes to benefit the impoverished IDPs is a virus that has afflicted the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and disaster management. There is also the problem of opaqueness and secrecy surrounding the management of billions of Naira budgeted often for disaster management.  The ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and disaster management signposts deep seated corruption, lack of accountability and zero transparency.  The decision by the Benue State government under the care of Samuel Ortom to also kickoff similar programmatic agenda for the care of IDPs is a welcomed development. 

As aforementioned Governor Samuel Ortom, almost immediately unveiled the Benue State Humanitarian Response Plan, BSHRP 2022 to rescue the over 1.5 million Internally Displaced Persons stuck in camps over insecurity.

Performing the ceremony on at the New Banquet Hall of the Benue Peoples House Makurdi, the State capital, the governor lamented the continued stay of the IDPs in camps.

According to Ortom, his administration was working assiduously to ensure that the IDPs in various camps across the State were resettled back to their homes, stressing that the security situation had compelled the displaced people to remain in the camps.

According to him, “it is the security situation that has kept the IDPs in the camps till now. Those who attempted going back were attacked and killed.”

“I don’t desire that anyone should be in the camp. I have interacted with them and nobody wants to be there. It is worrisome for a state like Benue which is agrarian and supported by the civil service to have over 1.5 million Internally Displaced Persons. Farming activities have been brought to a halt,” the Governor lamented.

Governor Ortom appreciated the various stakeholders in the humanitarian response for standing by the State and supporting the people all this while.

Earlier in a remark, Chairman, document drafting committee, Professor Magdalene Dura disclosed that on June 17, 2021, Governor Ortom set up a Multisectoral Technical Committee to work on a Humanitarian Response Plan for Benue State.

“Today we are happy that the assignment given to us has been successfully concluded as evidenced in the readiness of the Benue State Humanitarian Response Plan (BSHRP) for public presentation.

“The plan is a practical demonstration of the commitment of the State Government and its partners to a full-fledged response to the humanitarian crisis in the state. From 2011 to the end of 2021, 21 out of the 23 Local Government Areas in the state have come under attack by herdsmen, leading to the displacement of over 1.5 million people.

“The dire humanitarian situation in the state is further compounded by the influx of Cameroonian refugees into kwande Local Government escaping the conflict in their country. The IDPs have had their livelihoods destroyed and are in need of protection, food, shelter and medical assistance,” he stated.

Professor Dura explained that the Benue State Humanitarian Response Plan is designed to align humanitarian response to the realities of operating and achieving impact in the context of Benue State.

He added that, “The plan adopts the provisions in the National Human Plan (HRP). In designing this plan, the Benue State Technical Committee on Humanitarian Response also drew useful insights from the recommendations of the Humanitarian Country Team, HCT.”

Professor Dura called on National and international humanitarian actors to bring more capacity to rescue and reverse the humanitarian situation in Benue State of Nigeria.

But like both the Holy father and Governor Samuel Ortom reminded us to donate our time and resources to be with the internally displaced citizens, it is of imperative need that the Federal Government funded ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and disaster management is not administered in such a way as to perennially skew the distribution of relief materials to always favour Moslem Northerners. Benue and parts of Southern Kaduna that have large build-up of IDPs should get their fair shares of the nationally procured essential commodities and relief materials. Indeed, this is a clarion call for the setting up of the NORTH CENTRAL HUMANITARIAN RESPONSE TRUST FUND by the Federal government of Nigeria so it will be known that that which is good for North East to be developed and rebuilt, applies to the 1.5 million IDPs forced to their new position by armed Fulani terrorists.  The federal government must end this episode of discrimination against Benue State IDPs. 

This discrimination is a disaster which must not just be managed by the federal government but must be done away with for equal rights and justice to reign supreme. 

It is the way a nation treats her most marginalised population that tells the quality of governance in such a Country. 

EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was National Commissioner of the NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA. 

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