Since the civil war in Nigeria, not many incidents have shaken the nation as the Boko Haram insurgency cum rural banditry in Northern Nigeria. Between July, 20-26, the International Organization for Refugee, IOM reports that the attack in Katsina and Kaduna states alone affected 1,374 individuals with 18 injuries and 17 fatalities. From the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugee, UNHCR 2020 midyear report; there are 5.4 million persons in need of protection, of which 2.5 are targeted for the protection sector response and only 31% has been reached so far in the BAY (Borno, Adamawa and Yobe) states. The insurgency has likewise increased the number of People Living with Disabilities (PLWD) in the Northern part of the country due to mutilation. A lot of whom now live in the Internally Displaced Person, IDP camps/communities.
Amongst the groups of People Living with Disability, the mobility challenged group is affected differently and more indigent. Interventions within the IDP camps do not take into cognizance the special needs of this group.
From the basics of having a database for People Living with Disabilities to running intervention programs that address their specific needs, the mobility- challenged are excluded from variant activities and programs within the camps. The system in the IDPs camps intentionally or unintentionally wields against the mobility challenged in quite a number of ways.
Seventy-six percent of Internally Displaced Persons cited food as their unmet need, and 54% listed blanket/mat (found in dignity kit) as the most needed non-food item in both the IDP camps and communities. Fitly, it is no surprise that when those items are infrequently made available, it comes with a brawl among the IDPs to obtain them. However, for PLWD the struggle is compounded by other hindrances.
“Disability has made life difficult for us. We can’t stand long in the queue to collect food. We need food, we need dignity kits: nets, mats, and blankets.”
Mobility to places of distribution for relief materials and physical capacity to struggle with others are predominantly part of the hindrances. This is abetted by two factors; some of them do not have wheelchairs or the needed mobility aid and some have lost their caregivers to the insurgency.
When they are not able to get to points of distribution, they are only seldomly lucky enough to have a close relative or a caregiver around who gets for them. Often times too, they experience discrimination at the point of distribution.
Since food is not always available in the camps and particularly the IDP communities. Internally displaced persons are required every now and then to fend for themselves.
The activities of campers fending for themselves comes with its own difficulties, especially for the mobility challenged persons. Some of those activities such as transportation to the market, getting firewood from bushes, apparently positions a big threat and challenge to the PLWD because of their physical determent; hence they need to live on the help of others which isn’t always guaranteed.
According to reliefweb “more than 600,000 people are staying in highly congested displacement camps across North East. Consequences include lack of access to basic services, aid dependency, cyclical cholera outbreaks, rampant fires and deep protection concerns”. The congested state of the IDP camps has raised concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 virus. More so is the apprehension over access to preventive, diagnostic and curative facilities and services.
“The PLWD are most challenged due to their disabilities, where there are faced with serious hunger, exposed more to COVID 19, very limited medical help could get to them due to lack of mobility and restrictions of movement” – Humanitarian worker, Bauchi State.
Restriction of movement and other constraints associated with the Covid-19 pandemic have established a different regimen the challenges of PLWD; they are disproportionately affected. For example, additional movement is now required to access relief materials which before then were brought to the camps/community; to access covid-19 testing, general health facilities and even employment opportunities, without a corresponding improved system to enhance mobility and transportation generally.
Another inconspicuous discrimination against PLWDs is the diminutive or total lack of representation within the IDP camps and communities. It’s observed that PLWD are hardly included in camp leadership. A humanitarian worker and leader of the ASHH Foundation validated this observation in her statement – “In my five years of working in the IDP community, I have not met with any PLWD in a leadership position”
In Bauchi state, it was confirmed that there are organizations and social associations for PLWD outside the communities, but there has been no integration between the PLWD at the IDP communities and those organizations. The lack of integration further blurs the visibility of the mobility challenge as such integration improves socialization and could abet to amplify their struggles.
Resolving the Challenges of PLWD
There are not so many reports particularly at local levels, that include an assessment of and give enough devotion to People Living with Disabilities (PLWD). Most assessment plan limits indices to sex (male and female), age (children and aged) and geographical location. As a result, databases for PLWD are scarcely obtainable.
As suggested by the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children in its 2008 resource kits for field workers, it is important to have a database for People Living with Disability in all IDP camps and communities. This is useful to developing camp processes, systems, and interventions that are participatory and inclusive, especially for the said groups. Data collection could be facilitated through a partnership between resourceful non-government organizations and government organizations. Further segregation of this data using age, gender is equally necessary.
An intervention plan that involves all key government and non-government actors, and proceeds from both individual and community needs assessment for PLWD must be conducted with due diligence and in the most participatory methods. A right-based approach as stipulated in the United Nations Convention on the Right of Persons with Disability should equally be adopted during the assessment process.
The intervention plan that ensues must take into cognizance the access to relief materials, facilities such as latrines, water etc, health and transportation to fulfil other needs.Relative to nutrition, special tools to assist with cooking and feeding; availing of food with specific nutritional requirement is essential.
The discrimination against PLWD, and their exclusion from camps’ leadership has silently promoted their invisibility especially during eminent decision-making, which affects them.
To effectively resolve the challenges of PLWD in IDP camps and communities, the system must be modified to include them in all decision-making processes within the camps/communities and even at higher levels. A quota leadership system may as well be adopted; this is imperative to have an informed and empathetic understanding of the needs and desirable interventions of this group.
Moreso, specific demands of PLWD such as provision of special aids and skill acquisition trainings should be made available.
“We want you people to provide us with life skill activities so that we can have something doing during the day”
We are handicap we cannot go out to work and to provide food for us is a big challenge, no food, we are just stranded; we will like you people to help us with life skill activities and provision for food”
Agric camp, Borno State
A skill acquisition scheme that is customized to fill the needs and desires of people living with disability should be organized. This empowerment will increase their employment opportunity and financial bouyancy. This stance also aligns with the International Labor Organization standard to promote equal opportunity in training and employment.
We want organizations to help us with wheelchairs so that we can be able to go everywhere and do anything by our self” says one of the girls at Tsangaya Camp.
Mobility aids inter alia wheelchairs, prosthesis should be provided by the government, NGOs and even benevolent individuals in the society. Furthermore, there should be an empathetic restructuring of the camp. Structures such as railings, sidewalks, paving road, etc. must be put in place. This would go a long way in easing movement to access camps programs, dignity kit, other relief materials, services, and facilities. Correspondingly, it would reduce the burden involved in movement on the caregivers.
One of the hallmarks of a civilized society is giving all its members an equal opportunity to succeed. On this premise, the Nigerian government must run a system that in every way improve the lives of PLWD and avail them the opportunity to function as every other member of the society. Having a system that acknowledges the voice of PLWD as well as implementing the suggestions referenced above may be a good way to start.
Photo Credit and Interview Support by Jirehdoo Foundation, Borno State
This Outbreak story was produced in partnership with the Pulitzer Center and Code for Africa‘s WanaData women data science initiative.