A version of this post appeared in Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own.
In a recent report the Norwegian Refugee Council and its Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimate that there are 3.3 million displaced persons in Nigeria. It says that Nigeria’s displaced population is the third largest in the world, following Syria and Colombia, and the largest in Africa.
Boko Haram, and the efforts by the government to defeat it, account for 254,816 displaced in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states, all places where a declared state of emergency is in effect.
The population displaced by ethnic, religious, and land-use conflicts in Nigeria's Middle Belt may be larger. The report also notes road building projects in Lagos in February 2014 made some 9,000 homeless.
The Nigerian federal agency directly involved with the internally displaced, the National Emergency Management Agency, offers that little is known about the protection and assistance needs of Nigeria’s displaced population. Neither the government nor international organizations have systematically assessed the situation.
Parts of the northeast are inaccessible to humanitarian workers because of security issues. Most of the displaced live with extended families or hosts of the same ethnic group.
The government has established camps in the Middle Belt and also in Bauchi state to accommodate those fleeing the northeast.
Conditions within the camps are said to be poor. In the coming year, there will be concerns about food security.
In the three states under a state of emergency, the Norwegian Refugee Council estimates that over 60 percent of the region’s farmers were displaced before the planting season began.
The international community needs to pay more attention to this pending humanitarian disaster, which risks destabilizing not only Nigeria but also its immediate neighbors.
A systematic survey needs to be conducted, insofar as the security situation allows. Then there needs to be a coherent strategy for meeting the humanitarian needs of a region which, even in the best of times, is one of the poorest in the world.
These are not the best of times.