The continued violence in Nigeria’s North-East region is leading to one of the largest cases of internal displacement in the world. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) are people displaced from their homes and communities inside their own countries by armed conflict, human rights violations, or generalized violence. They differ from refugees who are those forced to flee their countries. IDPs make up the majority of displaced people globally, as most displaced people are unable to get across borders legally or illegally.
Insurgency in Nigeria’s North-East is the leading cause of internal displacement in the country, and as of February 2023, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Internationa Organization for Migration estimates that the country has as many as 3,120,200 IDPs. The majority of the displacements in the country have happened in the troubled North-East region.
Borno State, the location of the infamous Sambisa Forest which is rumored to be the operations base of the insurgency group, Boko Haram, leads the way with the highest number of displaced persons by a significant amount. The state has seen over 1.6 million of its residents displaced since the insurgency started. While other North-Eastern states like Adamawa and Yobe also report high numbers of displaced persons, it is clear that the violence is spreading beyond that region.
The second-leading state with a high number of IDPs is not in the North, but in central Benue State, Benue, which is famed for its highly fertile soils, being one of the leading sources of food in the country, has often seen clashes between indigenous farmers, and cattle herders moving south seeking grazing pasture for their livestock. According to the UNCHR, 6% of all displacements are a result of communal clashes such as these. However, there are also reports of the insurgency spreading out of the North-East.
States like Katsina, Zamfara, and Sokoto are beginning to see increased insurgency attacks in recent years, Sokoto is as west as one can get from the far-east Borno, yet insurgency attacks there are rising rapidly. Central states like Plateau and Kaduna have long been a hotbed of tribal- and religion-based communal clashes, and are steadily seeing an increased displacement of vulnerable persons.
Benue State also saw large displacement happen as a result of heavy rainfall and flooding when the River Benue overflowed. The river, which is a major factor behind the state’s agricultural output, overflowed its banks following a release of water from the Lagdo Dam in neighbouring Cameroon and unusually heavy rainfall. Excess water flowing down the River Benue and its tributaries led to flooding which saw as many as 1.4 million people displaced, 82, 000 houses destroyed, and 330,000 hectares of land affected. A little over 600 people were killed.
Internal displacement in Nigeria is a major problem as most states do not have the resources to accommodate thousands of people, forcing most IDPs to live in camps. Existing camps often find themselves strained by sudden influxes of new inhabitants. The camps are often lacking in sufficient materials such as blankets, kitchen materials, mosquito nets, and sanitary materials. Malnutrition is commonplace, children go missing, and disease outbreaks are frequent, as the conditions lend themselves to rapid spread. They are often forced to depend on humanitarian aid for food, water, and medicine, with bureaucratic bottlenecks and internal corruption hindering government help.
There have been problems in relocating IDPs. Decisions made by some state governments such as Borno to close camps have been met with derision, as IDPs have complained that destroyed houses have not been appropriately rebuilt and insecurity remains high. The United Nations estimates that climate change-induced adverse weather patterns will continue to cause movement, with heavier rains and arid dry seasons forcing people in agricultural communities to relocate. It remains to be seen what solutions will be found, but the last thing the government should do would be to prematurely close camps and expose residents to risk further.