For the past decade, many residents in north and central Nigeria have lived in a perpetual state of fear. Conflicts between pastoralists and farmers, land disputes, cattle rustling, and mass violence have driven millions of people from their homes.
In total, more than 3.6 million people in Nigeria have been displaced. Many have sought refuge with relatives in neighbouring communities and in internally displaced persons camps.
Benue State in north-central Nigeria (its major local government areas include Guma and Gwer-West) has borne the brunt of this crisis. The United Nations says there are 2.1 million internally displaced people in Benue State alone; the majority live in internally displaced people camp facilities within host communities such as Abagana and Daudu.
A great deal of attention is focused on the conflict and on people’s displacement. But that isn’t the end of the story. Both state and non-state actors offer ongoing support for people who have been displaced by herder-farmer conflict. As a researcher investigating people’s experiences of victimisation, I wanted to find out what form this support took, what displaced people thought of the interventions, and whether this support was helping them to reintegrate into their original communities.
The resulting study revealed a complex relationship between reintegration decisions and experiences with displacement support and return settings. In Benue State, displaced victims have four primary support systems: individual, government, faith-based groups and NGOs.
Four forms of support
There are four main forms of support being offered to displaced people in Benue State.
1. Individual support: People from surrounding communities visit camps, actively participate in camp activities, and generously donate food, cash, clothes, and items for young and adolescent children. They offer a personal kind of support that not only sustains those living in the camps but also uplifts their spirits.
One woman I interviewed said:
…(T)here are still some persons who come here on their own without knowing anyone of us personally to distribute things to us. There are plenty like that, they will drive here with plenty items like noodles and sugar and food.
2. Support from social and cultural groups: Various sociocultural and political groups play a crucial role in providing support. These groups include political parties looking for endorsement and validation, cultural clubs and associations. The people I interviewed felt that while some of these groups were acting from genuine good will, others had hidden political motives. Still, their provision of food, clothing, cash and other goods was welcomed.
3. Faith-based support: The displaced population is mostly Christian; the remainder is Muslim. Religious groups establish a unique connection with victims, bonded by shared faith. Some provide genuine support, while others may seize the opportunity for evangelism or recruitment. Promises of jobs, education and improved lives become lifelines for those searching for hope amid turmoil. One interviewee told me:
One of the people that have really supported me is the redeemed church people from Makurdi. Since they preached to me and I accepted them, they have been good and supportive to me. They promise me to help me get a job in the town when (the) time comes.
4. Support from NGOs and the State Emergency Management Agency: The majority of support for internally displaced people comes from humanitarian non-government organisations working closely with the Benue State Emergency Management Agency. These organisations manage and coordinate activities in the camps, offering not only material aid but also a sense of normalcy through social events and distributions of emergency relief materials and survival amenities.
These support systems all play an important role in providing emotional, social and practical assistance to those displaced by the conflict in Benue State.
They can also help smooth the path for people to resettle in their own homes and communities. One interviewee, who had returned to the home he’d fled, said the support he received while displaced and since resettling had helped:
I have received different amount of support since I returned. I received rice and beans with vegetable oil, and later received plant chemicals, fertiliser and seeds to plant on my farm.
Recognising and strengthening these support networks is vital for a brighter future for Benue State’s displaced communities. For this to happen, the affected communities must be engaged and involved in long-term planning. All the groups involved in providing support should collaborate while efforts continue to end the conflict that has torn Benue State apart.