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This thesis entitled: “An Appraisal of the Legal Framework of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Nigeria” is aimed at examining the constitutive legal instruments guiding the National Emergency Management Agency in the protection and assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Nigeria, through the study of other constitutive International instruments and standards on this subject matter. The justification for this research is the concern for the plight of the displaced persons in the last five years which has been criticized by research experts and international bodies on various grounds such as; the unwillingness of Government to take bold significant measures to address the problems of internal displacement till date, lack of long term strategic planning, implementation and evaluation framework by key Institution and, the prevalence of corruption which to a large extent disrupts humanitarian efforts, among others. However, in the course of this research, the findings of the researcher (among others) revealed that there is no specific National Legal Framework on the Protection and Assistance of displaced persons in Nigeria apart from the general provisions of fundamental human rights provided in the Nigerian Constitution which is a legal right of every citizen. On this note, the objective of this research is to principally address the gaps and inadequacies in our national laws under which the National Emergency Management Agency operates. Thus in the final analysis, the researcher concluded by recommending that apart from the general legal provisions which directly or indirectly touches on the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons,, there should be specific provisions guiding the protection and assistance of the affected population as a legal basis for which the Government and the relevant institution and stakeholders can be held directly accountable for where they do not meet the required standard. There should also be an expansion of the National Emergency Management Agency Act to equip the Agency to go beyond conducting comprehensive disaster management around the country to providing durable solutions for internally displaced persons.
1.1 Background to the Study
Generally, the problem of protecting and assisting Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) is not a new issue. In Nigeria and other parts of the world, internally displaced persons are amongst the most vulnerable populations. This is because they remain inside their own countries, and they rarely receive the assistance and protection afforded refugees under International Law.1 Moreover, as many of the displacements are as a result of civil conflict and violence, the vulnerability of the displaced persons is heightened, as it becomes difficult for the States to implement the required special protective measures needed for the displaced persons. At such times, there is usually no local authority willing to provide assistance and protection during the displacement as well as during return or resettlement and reintegration.
The General Principles on Internal Displacement by the United Nations defines internally displaced persons as: persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural, human-made disasters, or large scale development projects and who have not crossed an internationally recognized state border2.
The term; „internally displaced persons‟ is not specifically covered in the United Nation‟s Conventions. It is however, used by the International community to describe people who have fled their homes for reasons similar to refugees, but who remain within their own national territory and are subject to the laws of that state. Also, because of the special situation, specific needs and the heightened vulnerability that flow from the fact of being displaced, it is provided that internally displaced persons are entitled to special protection and assistance.3
An important difference between Refugees and internally displaced persons is that in International law, it is the responsibility of the Government concerned to provide assistance and protection for the Internally Displaced Persons‟ in their country. Refugees on the other hand, are granted legal status because they have lost the protection of their own country, and are therefore in need of international protection, which is not necessary for internally displaced persons who do not cross national borders, rather they remain citizens or habitual residents of their country and continue to be entitled to enjoy the rights available to the population as a whole.
Internal displacement, affecting some 25 million people in about 50 countries worldwide has become increasingly recognized as one of the most tragic phenomena of the contemporary world. Often the consequence of traumatic experiences with violent conflicts, gross violations of human rights and related causes in which discrimination features significantly; displacement nearly always generates conditions of severe hardship and suffering for the affected populations.4
In fact, the situation may likely be worsened, with the current incidences and frequent occurrence of disasters (man-made and natural) occurring globally. In Nigeria, 1,385,298 people are recorded to have been affected by insurgency and communal conflicts, most of whom were displaced.
In Nigeria, the legal authority for coordination and integration of disaster management is the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). The National Emergency Management Agency is responsible for overall disaster management in Nigeria, including the coordination of emergency relief operations as well as assisting in the rehabilitation of victims where necessary. In practice basically, the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons is part and parcel of disaster management as the displaced persons are products of natural and human made disasters. All facets of disaster management cycle – Prevention, Mitigation, Preparedness, Response and Recovery are applicable to displacement situations and they constitute components of internal displacement management cycle. In theory however, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Act6 does not specifically make reference to internally displaced persons, rather, it refers to persons affected by various forms of disasters as ‘victims of disaster’.
It also does not provide for „durable solutions‟ which is the most complex phase in the displacement cycle. These are some of the lacunas in the National Emergency Management Agency Act affects the Agency’s capacity and authority in managing displaced persons effectively. These are some of the issues that have caught the interest of the writer, and hence, the need to proffer solutions to address the situation.
Fundamentally, the occurrence of disasters often results in displacement of persons. Hence, the global increase in the number of magnitudes of disasters has directly led to the increase in human displacements. This has further given rise to the urgent need to develop laws and national policies on the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons, and to strategize on the implementation and the enforcement of these laws. In view of this situation therefore, the aim of this research is to examine the responsibility of Government through established Institutions, toward; relieving the suffering and distress of Internally Displaced Persons, the ultimate need to provide durable solutions, and advocacy for improvement in the sustenance of the welfare and security of the nation as provided in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
National Emergency Relief Agency (NERA) was first established in 1976.8 It metamorphosed over the years and in 1999, it was renamed National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). The National Emergency Management Agency was given a wider scope on disaster management activities. The Agency by its mandate is to coordinate and integrate the activities and efforts of other disaster management stakeholders and structures, and to compliment their resources to avoid duplication of efforts and chaotic rescue efforts at the scene of disasters.
However, based on the provisions of the National Emergency Management Agency Act, much is being expected from the Agency, hence the following questions can be raised; Have public expectations been adequately met? Does the Agency have the capacity to manage large (unforeseen) number of displaced persons and provide durable solutions over a long period of time? The general understanding (based on the activities of the Agency) is that they are concerned primarily with delivering of relief materials to the victims of disasters as well as emergency medical care when needed. They also undertake proactive measures in line with the expanded scope of the Agency to manage disasters. Nonetheless, issues of resettlement and rehabilitation of victims of disasters (Internally Displaced Persons) comes with even greater challenges.
The problems of internal displacement if not adequately handled could jeopardize the sustainability of peace and development in the country. Some of the challenges faced by the displaced persons after the disaster phase include; difficulty in recovering land or properties destroyed in the course of the disaster and generally finding permanent solutions; restoring livelihoods, utilities, rebuilding infrastructures and other things necessary to allow them to live decent lives at the end of the crises. In situations where they feel that they have suffered injustice for no fault of theirs, reconciliation becomes difficult. If durable solutions are not adequately provided for the displaced population, their potential for contributing to economic reconstruction and rehabilitation is limited. Social development and economic stability becomes stagnated particularly in the affected States.
However, all these assertions are not verifiable since there has been few, if any, or no systematic empirical studies on the activities of the Agency and their impact. Most of the criticisms and opinions tend to be mere speculations rather than concrete facts and information. For sure, there has been no empirical investigation of the legal dimensions of Agency‟s mandate especially with respect to internally displaced persons.