Nigerian Social Workers in Internally Displaced Camps

Displacement of individuals remains a global humanitarian challenge which affects many countries including Nigeria. Country statistics indicated that there are about 3.3 million IDPs in 2014 scattered all over Nigeria in various camps and host communities. On a global scale, Nigeria is the third country with the highest number of IDPs after Syria with 6.5 million IDPs and Columbia with 5.7 million (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2014). Out of the 24 countries with the highest rates of displacement, 9 are from Africa and Nigeria has the highest internally displaced persons among these 9 African countries (Eweka & Olusegun, 2016). This means that about 2% of the Nigerian population has lost their homes, family life, means of livelihood and businesses (Oladeji, 2015). The plight of internally displaced persons has in recent years become a formidable problem of global significance and implications. It is pertinent to note that, the total number of internally displaced around the world is currently estimated at around fifty million, with the majority of these people located in Africa and Asia.

The issue is that there are no official displaced camps of long-lasting nature in the country like Nigeria. Temporary shelter is normally provided in army or police barracks, schools or hospitals, but they serve as IDPs camps only for a limited period. The vast majority of displaced people in Nigeria reportedly seek refuge with family, friends, or host communities in areas where their ethnic or religious group is in the majority. Many appear to return to their homes or resettle near their home areas soon after the violence which forced them to leave have subsided, but an unknown number also resettle in other areas of the country. The internally displaced persons (IDPs) are people who have fled their homes because of conflict and persecution based on religion, race, nationality, membership of a social group or political opinion but remain within their home countries’ borders. They are citizens of a country who are displaced within the territory of that country as a result of natural disasters such as erosion, desertification, flooding etc. People can also be displaced as a result of human-caused disasters such as civil wars, internal armed conflicts, terrorism etc. In this situation, people are left with no option but to flee their homes for safety.

Studies have consistently documented the impact of internal displacement of persons and individuals on mental health and physical wellbeing of individuals in IDP camps in Nigeria  (Getanda, Papadopoulos, & Evans, 2015) and they have also experienced a lot of social misfortunes leading to poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment. Most people that are more vulnerable are women, children and older persons who are disproportionately represented in the IDP camp, with women and children alone accounting for over 70% of this population and are exposed to sexual and physical violence (Human Rights Watch, 2016).

Before the advent of insurgency in northern Nigeria, internal displacement in the country has been triggered by incessant torrential rainstorms, flash floods, ethno-religious violence, militancy, and state-sanctioned demolitions of “illegal” structures, cutting across Nigeria’s six geo-political zones. During these times, displacement occurred at a minimal level in terms of figures and groups hurt. However, following the thick of insurgency that began over a decade ago, displacement has happened on a humongous scale and have taken a devastating toll on vulnerable groups. In other words, the wave of insurgency in the country have continued to account for the upsurge in the numbers of IDPs in Nigeria, sparking a humanitarian crisis. Today, in response to such calls, many independent humanitarian organizations within and outside the shores of the country, have been active on the ground level in providing support services to IDPs. As an advantage in conducting various tasks, these organizations utilizes the services of helping professionals such as healthcare workers, psychiatrists, social workers, among others.

Social workers in the IDP camps are conveners of social justice and human rights with the sole aim of enhancing the social functioning of individuals, groups, and families while addressing the impact of environmental factors on the wellbeing of victims in the IDP camps. In keeping with this mandate, social workers have maintained a staunch commitment to displaced people, often bringing their experience and expertise to bear in addressing IDPs’ needs (Ramon & Maglajlic, 2015). Despite this, the literature on the nature of social work services to this population is very limited. An understanding of social work services is critical not only in enabling practitioners to provide effective services to IDPs but also, in improving the image of the profession especially in a context where social workers still contend with issues of non-professionalization.

According to the International Federation of Social Workers (2012), the roles of social workers in displaced population is regarded as that of an investigator of political and socio-cultural issues causing internal displacement of citizens, participating in the design and formulation of preventive, remedial and developmental policy programmes for improvement of wellbeing of victims of IDP camps, social workers are social managers of administrative functions in managing in project and programme which are within the framework which motivate participation in special groups, social workers analyse the social process which is related to power structures, conflict, co-existence, families and community dynamics. Social workers in IDP camps are specialist in addressing human and family problems which are caused by displacement by enhancing victims’ capacity to achieve their full potentials. Social workers also convey information about the rights of persons in displacement and harnessing services available to them while in displacement. These functions are significantly important in addressing the plight of internally displaced persons which showed the need for increased engagement of social workers in providing succour for the persons in IDPs without delay.

Alhaji Abubakar Alhassan Bichi

National President, Association of Medical Social Workers of Nigeria (AMSWON)