Nigerian National Emergency Management System and Challenges of Helping Citizens Displaced by Boko Haram

Authors: Solomon I. Ifejika

Nigerian National Emergency Management System and Challenges of Helping Citizens Displaced by Boko Haram


Since 2009 up till date, Nigeria has been battling with challenge posed to its peace and security by the dreaded religious insurgent group, ‘Boko Haram’ in the North-Eastern region of the country. Owing to increasing terror attacks by the religious extremist militants on innocent citizens, villages and communities, a large number of Nigerians in the affected zone have fled their homes to different parts of the country for refuge. In view of the unwholesome situation, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), a body saddled with responsibility for managing disaster related issues in Nigeria has been laden with the task of responding to the plight of persons displaced by the insurgency. This paper examines the challenges confronting the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in helping Nigerians affected by the Boko Haram insurgency, and recommends strategic measures for surmounting the challenges in order to improve the conditions of the IDPs.

Keywords: Boko Haram, Humanitarian Crisis, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Nigeria.



The Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria erupted in 2009. Since then the terrorist activities of the radicalized Islamic extremist group, mainly domiciled in the North-Eastern part of Nigeria, have raised serious concern both locally and internationally. The insurgency has put Nigeria on the global map in the ongoing war against terrorism and militancy. The Boko Haram unrest currently constitutes the greatest threat to security and stability of the Nigerian state. Indeed, sophisticated attacks against the state authorities and innocent civilians in the affected region by the insurgents pose serious challenge to the legitimacy of the Nigerian state. Consequently, Nigeria has been pre-occupied with the daunting task of finding a lasting solution to this conflict since the violence began.

Meanwhile, the Islamic fundamentalist terror group has continued to carry-out its campaign of terror in the north east, thereby making the humanitarian situations in the region more precarious. Efforts by Nigerian military to quell the insurgency have not produced expected result. Notwithstanding, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the body responsible for managing disasters and emergency related issues in Nigeria, has found itself laden with the heavy burden of caring for Nigerians affected by the Boko Haram insurgency. The African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have shown appreciable concern to Nigeria, but the Boko Haram violence has remained unabated. If Nigeria does not address the unrest, the threat may produce more debilitating humanitarian crises not only for the north east region but for Nigeria as a whole.

Persons Displaced by Boko Haram Insurgency

With the increasing attacks on civilian populations in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states in northeast Nigeria, Boko Haram militancy has caused the deaths of more than 20,000 people since 2009, and about 2.1 million people have fled their homes. Of this number, 1.8 million are currently internally displaced, while 0.2 million are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger (UN OCHA, n. d.). Given the persistence of the violence, Nigeria now ranks as the country with the highest number of people displaced by conflict in Africa, estimated at 3.3 million, and third in the world after Syria with 6.5 million and Colombia with 5.7 million (This Day Live, 2016, February 03).

In Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, the most affected states, nearly 7 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, of which children constitute more than 50 per cent (UN OCHA n. d.). Available figures reveal that as of April 2015, Nigeria had IDPs in 24 of its 36 states (This Day Live, 2016, February 03). The Nigerian military has intensified operations, but the activities of the terrorists still pose serious security threats (Barungi, Ogunleye and Zamba, 2015). The Boko Haram rebels have also continued to carry out mass abductions, especially of women. Till date, the over 200 girls abducted from Government Girls College in Chibok, Borno State, on 15 April 2014, are still yet to be found (Barungi, Ogunleye and Zamba, 2015). Extreme human rights abuses by the Islamist insurgents have garnered international attention.

NEMA and its Assistance for IDPs from Boko Haram

In accordance with its statutory function, NEMA has largely taken responsibility for management of the plight of citizens affected by Boko Haram unrest in northeast Nigeria.

Boko Haram terror attacks have resulted in sudden explosion in the population of displaced persons in the region, and the existing IDP camps could not adequately provide shelter for the homeless multitude. The steady increase in the number of displaced persons is causing overcrowding in already inadequate living conditions and further straining facilities, resources and basic services in the IDP camps (UN OCHA, n. d.). However, NEMA has taken steps and established more IDP camps in the most affected states in northeast; the agency established 10 new IDP camps in Borno State, 14 in Adamawa State and 1 in Gombe State to temporarily accommodate IDPs (Stephen, 2015). At present, Nigeria has a total of 31 IDP camps spread across the country (The Nation, 2014, December 19).

The agency has deployed its officers to manage the camps alongside officials of the Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States Emergency Management Agencies in Maiduguri, Yola and Damaturu where many IDPs are taking temporary shelter (Nairaland Forum, 2016). The agency provides medical support to the IDPs including the steady supply of drugs for treatment of the sick and the most vulnerable segments of the population such as the aged, children, and pregnant women (Nairaland Forum, 2016). NEMA ensures proper and timely fumigation of the IDP relief camps, at least on a quarterly basis, and enough mosquito nets are provided to the IDPs to ensure that they are not infected by Malaria. Also, since the intervention of NEMA, there have not been any cases where an IDP went to bed without food (Stephen, 2015).

As part of efforts at caring for the IDPs, NEMA takes the safety and security of IDP camps seriously as it ensures that all the camps across the country are being manned by Nigerian security agencies (Stephen, 2015). However, on February 9, 2016, Boko Haram suicide bombers snuck into an IDP camp accommodating over 50,000 people displaced by the insurgency in Dikwa, Borno State. They killed 58 IDPs with 78 others injured, when the displaced persons queued-up to collect their morning food rations (Premium Times, 2016, February 10). But prior to this incident, there had not been a single Boko Haram attack on any of the IDP camps.

NEMA, therefore, has played an important role in caring for Boko Haram displaced persons for the last five years. However, humanitarian activities and responsibility cannot be effectively executed by a single agency. Whenever the need arises, various concerned actors such as the Red Cross and Agencies of the United Nations in the field of humanitarian assistance, usually work in concert. The success story of NEMA is thus not without the assistance and support from these international organizations coupled with some local actors like Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, and governments of the most affected states of Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, and Gombe.

Challenges Facing NEMA in Caring for Displaced Persons

One key challenge before NEMA is the daily influx of persons displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency into NEMA relief camps. This influx is being caused by Boko Haram’s continuing attacks on communities (The Will Newspaper 2014, August 24). Decongesting the camps requires extra effort as well as financial and material resources, which are often insufficient.

Although NEMA is doing its best through Nigerian security forces to ensure the security of IDPs in the camps, it faces serious challenges stemming from difficulty in identifying genuine IDPs and infiltration of the camps by terrorists (Nairaland Forum, 2016), like the February 9, 2016 bombing incident that occurred when some Boko Haram suicide bombers found their way into an IDP camp in Dikwa, killing 58 IDPs and injuring 78 others. Therefore, guaranteeing maximum safety and security of IDP camps presents a serious problem to NEMA.

Another problem NEMA is grappling with is that of unavailability of steady supplies of sufficient relief items to timely respond to the daily needs of the IDPs. High port tariff in clearing relief material sent by international donors is contributing to this. Resultantly, some of the relief materials meant for the IDPs are currently lying at the seaports of Lagos (Nairaland Forum, 2016). Insufficient funds also affect the provisioning of enough relief materials to adequately cater to the 3.3 million IDPs (Ajimande, 2015). NEMA’s main source of funds is the Nigeria’s Federation Account. As stated in section 13(1) of the NEMA Establishment Act 1999, the agency shall establish and maintain a fund from which all expenditure incurred by the agency shall be defrayed (FRN, 1999). Sub-section (2) (a) of section 13 of the Act stipulates that pursuant to subsection (1) of this section, allocations to the agency from the Federation Account shall be credited to the fund established (FRN, 1999). Sub-section (2) (c) of section 13 provides that all monies as may, from time to time, be granted or lent to the agency by the Federal Government, a State Government or a Local Government council are to be paid into the fund (FRN, 1999). According to sub-section (2) (d) (i-ii), this include such money as may, from time to time, received from the organized private sector and international or donor organizations and non-governmental organizations (FRN, 1999). Thus, NEMA also receives financial grants from external sources. However, being the major source of funds for NEMA, allocations from the Federation Account has reduced significantly as the persistent fall in price of oil in the international markets is negatively impacting on the oil-producing states (NSRP, 2015). This limits NEMA’s ability in caring for the affected persons.

Reintegration of the IDPs constitutes another serious concern to NEMA due to continuing terror attacks by the Boko Haram insurgents on more communities, resulting in fear and refusal by the displaced persons to return to their homes. Adding to this is that most of the affected persons had their houses burned by the Islamic extremists, thereby rendering them homeless and with nothing to start life afresh (ThisDay Live 2016, February 3). This hampers NEMA’s efforts at reintegrating the affected persons into society, since the agency cannot adequately cater to the financial needs for their resettlement through the Victim Support Fund due to their large number. This is more so as the Victim Support Fund solely depends on freewill donations by philanthropic individuals and organizations as well as governments. Hence, NEMA assists affected people within the limit of resources available in the VSF.

Corruption among NEMA officials in charge of managing the IDP camps also raises serious concern. There have been immense outcries over alleged misconduct and unethical practices by some NEMA officers. For example, during a visit by Nigeria’s Deputy Senate President, Mr. Ike Ekweremadu to an IDP camp in Adamawa State, a woman displaced by Boko Haram crisis alleged that IDPs are being short-changed by officials of NEMA, who divert relief items meant for their upkeep (Premium Times 2015, August 5). This is in spite of the already prevailing condition of insufficiency of relief items. This dire development depicts unprofessionalism on the part of NEMA officials, and it is damaging to the agency’s integrity.


To enable NEMA overcome these challenges and improve on its performance in caring for people displaced by the Boko Haram crisis, this paper recommends the following measures:

  • Nigeria’s Federal Government should, first and foremost, intensify efforts through the military, to quickly execute the ongoing war against Boko Haram militancy so that any measures at addressing the plight of the affected citizens will produce meaningful results.
  • The Federal Government in joint effort with affected State Governments in northeast should make enough funds available to NEMA to enable it establish more relief camps and provide adequate shelter to contain the steady influx of people into the existing facilities.
  • Local and international humanitarian actors can do more in supporting Nigeria’s Federal Government in providing relief items to NEMA, so as to forestall sudden shortages and guarantee the steady availability of the right quantity of relief materials at the agency’s disposal for the growing populations of IDPs.
  • The Federal Government should issue special orders to the Nigerian Port Authority regarding the handling of IDPs’ relief items sent from overseas. Tariffs on such goods should be reduced to the barest possible minimum and the process of clearing them from the port accelerated, so as to ensure their timely delivery to NEMA.
  • Officers of the intelligence units of Nigeria’s security forces should be strategically positioned, and continually conduct intelligence operations at the IDP camps to ascertain the identities of people temporarily living in the camps and new entrants, so as to prevent infiltration of IDP camps by disguised terrorists.
  • Nigeria’s Federal Government, concerned state governments, foreign governments, and charity organizations need to assist the IDPs to start life afresh through financial donations into the Victim Support Fund, for the rebuilding of the displaced persons homes and villages, and to make the IDPs reintegration process easier in due time.
  • Any officials of NEMA caught in any corrupt acts should automatically be dismissed and be made to face severe penalties.


This paper has examined NEMA’s role in caring for Nigerians displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency in northeast Nigeria. As the paper reveals, NEMA is playing a pivotal role in assisting persons affected by the crisis. However, the agency is confronted with certain challenges. These problems, as the paper identifies, include daily influx of IDPs into NEMA relief camps, difficulty in identifying genuine IDPs and infiltration of camps by terrorists, lack of sufficient quantities of relief material, difficulty re-integrating IDPs’ into the society, and corruption among some NEMA officials  managing IDPs’ camps. These issues are impeding NEMA’s effectiveness in assisting persons affected by the Boko Haram violence. However, there is optimism that adequate application of the measures recommended by this paper would enable the agency to surmount the challenges, thereby improving its performance in this regard.


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About the Authors

Solomon I. Ifejika works in Department of Political Science, University of Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria. He can be reached at