Amidst the worrisome humanitarian crisis in parts of Nigeria, journalists have been charged to up the ante in their coverage of the various issues affecting the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as their number continues to swell across the country.
“The media can become the voice of the IDPs by ensuring the several issues they’re facing are well reported so as to make government and members of the public address their plights for them to return back to their communities,” says the founding President, Journalists For Christ (JFC), International Outreach, Nigeria, Mr. Lekan Otufodunrin, while speaking at the public presentation of a report entitled: ‘Muffled Voices: Monitoring Media Reportage and Portrayal of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Africa.’
The 36-page report published by JFC Nigeria with support from World Association For Christian Communication (WACC) and Waldensian Church’s Otto Per Mile (OPM) is a compendium of findings made from a two-month survey of media reports in six national dailies and two online platforms in Nigeria.
Reviewing the content of the report, Associate Professor, Deparment of Mass Communication, University of Lagos, Prof. Tola Sunday said despite the daily cry of the IDPs, their voices have been stifled due to the media not paying enough attention to their predicaments.
The report had documented how 70% of the stories surveyed within the period under review were news based, giving credence to only the activities of government officials, institutions and donor agencies, a trend which Prof. Sunday said will continue to lead to the dearth of action-driven reports coming out of IDP camps if not addressed.
“The media should continue to highlight issues that concern persons affected by hostilities and conflicts without being distracted,” he added.
In November 2018, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) had put the total number of IDPs in the country at 2 million, making Nigeria to account for a third of IDPs in Africa and 10% in the world. Asides the existential threat of the Boko Haram insurgency, the incessant attacks by bandits and the marauding Fulani herdsmen had scaled up the IDPs number in recent months.
The Executive Director, CEE HOPE, a girl-child non-profit, Mrs. Betty Abah, bemoaned the state of the IDPs in various camps, stating that the lack of welfare resources like sanitary pads, cloths, food and other life support materials, coupled with cases of child abuse and funds mismanagement have often gone unreported or at most, summarily mentioned.
“Despite the absence of natural disasters in Africa like we have seen in other climes, it’s worrisome that the number of displaced persons keeps rising due to the man-made issues we have created for ourselves,” Abah lamented.
Meanwhile, the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI) called for more citizens’ support to effectively resettle the IDPs in the country. While making the call, the Head, IDPs/Protection Unit, NCFRMI (Southwest), Mrs. Ola Erinfolami noted that the IDP camp at Ibeju-Lekki in Lagos is currently housing about 10,000 refugees and Libya returnees.
“The coverage of the IDPs has not been media focused, but it would be better if more media houses can commission story projects to be reported by journalists,” says a former Saturday Editor, Punch Newspapers, Mrs. Deji Folutile. She also advised media houses to endeavour to sponsor journalists to independently visit IDP camps to have first-hand experience of the situation there.
Similarly, the News Editor, Radio Lagos, Mr. Muyiwa Kalejaiye, urged JFC to work with media houses in funding investigative reports that will speak to the challenges faced by the IDPs, noting that only adequate funding can translate to improved reportage.
“Journalists should not only focus on the IDPs displaced by the insurgency alone, but they need to also report on IDPs displaced in other parts of Nigeria, for instance, in Southeast where soil erosion has been displacing a lot of people over the years,” he added.
In his remarks, the Chairman, Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Lagos Chapter, Dr. Qasim Akinreti reiterated that “journalists are the conscience of the nation,” urging them not to abdicate their role in holding government accountable to the people. Akinreti called on journalists to conscientiously report on the plights of the IDPs in the country as this will ensure their voices are not muffled.