One of the critical issues resulting from the Bokoharam insurgency in northeast Nigeria is the internally displaced persons (IDP) crisis. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported that more than 2.9 million people were displaced in the northeast in December 2021.
IDPs in the region move from place to place in search of safety, with some experiencing multiple displacements due to the convergence of conflicts. There is death and displacement as well as the loss of livelihoods and existential support systems. They often experience human rights violations and have many unmet needs with more negative effects on vulnerable groups such as women, children and people with disabilities.
In partnership with the global community, the Nigerian government has supported IDPs by building camps, providing food, evacuating insurgency victims from terrorist locations and signing the Kampala Convention to protect IDPs, among others. While many humanitarian and diplomatic interventions in Nigeria focus on livelihoods, the situation is rapidly moving towards the resettlement and reintegration of displaced people. This change, by necessity, necessitates a critical assessment of data processing protocols in the context of humanitarianism and displacement in Nigeria, as data is essential for practical understanding and improving humanitarian protection systems.
Unfortunately, the data process needed to deliver effective and sustainable assistance to displaced people in northeastern Nigeria is lacking. Reliable and valid humanitarian data are essential for designing and implementing practical and sustainable interventions. This humanitarian data must be collected responsibly and ethically.
The need to collect humanitarian data using ethical standards is at the center of our research project with the Data and Displacement Research Team at the University of Warwick, UK and the University of Ibadan , Nigeria (www.warwick.ac.uk/datadisplacement). This project, led by Professor Vicki Squire, is funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (AHRCFCDO). The research involved 50 displaced people in five camps in Maiduguri, Borno State and 20 stakeholders and practitioners from 2021 to 2022. We explore this question in more detail in our report titled Humanitarian Crises and Internally Displaced People. Nigeria: A Situation Analysis (Olufunke Fayehun and Olayinka Akanle 2022).
Our work so far shows that the humanitarian data process in North East Nigeria faces several challenges. First, gaps in personnel, technology, and infrastructure affect the consistency of data storage and processing processes. Databases exist but are distributed among divergent institutions and actors, generating problems of reliability and systematization. Second, there are procedural and administrative barriers to defining vulnerability. These have created significant irregularities in the classifications and identifications of the most vulnerable IDPs in the camps. Third, engagement with IDP communities has been a challenge. In other words, data collectors fail to effectively engage affected IDP communities in the production and use of data. Displaced people said they had at one time or another given their data to different organisations, but did not know what the data collected was used for or why it was requested. Fourth, and most crucial, is the challenge of inconsistent or limited enforcement of ethical systems in the collection, storage, sharing and use of data. Full disclosure and understanding of information by IDPs often seems to be overlooked in data collection.
How to improve the living conditions of internally displaced people in north-eastern Nigeria? We need to improve technological and infrastructural facilities. Rigorous capacity building should be pursued inside and outside the camps to support performance in data collection, storage and use. We also need to advance understanding and build consensus around the multiple vulnerabilities in IDP camps. At the heart of it all is the need to appreciate the need for ethical, data-driven humanitarian practice for efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability. This process should involve a commitment to improving literacy and access to data on IDPs as well as strengthening and institutionalizing systems and ethical values in collecting data from IDPs in camps and urban settings.
Ethical data collection and management processes are key to improving sustainable humanitarian assistance to displaced populations. The Nigerian government and key stakeholders in the humanitarian corridors should review and implement appropriate policies to improve the living conditions of displaced people. Additionally, collecting ethical qualitative data can ensure an understanding of the social context in which they live. Through this, we can know how displaced populations move, the challenges they face, and adequately plan for the unintended consequences that such movement may bring.
In addition, the processing of humanitarian data must respect ethical principles such as humanity (consider their suffering and guarantee their dignity), neutrality (data collectors must not be politically motivated), impartiality (it must not there be no bias based on gender, religion, ethnicity or age) and independence (humanitarian organizations accessing this data must be free from social, political, economic and military issues that impede their services in if necessary).
Safe, ethical and effective management of humanitarian data will ensure that issues uncovered by data will drive evidence-based interventions. Adhering to and committing to a responsible and ethical humanitarian data process will improve the lives of displaced people in North East Nigeria.
Dr. Fayehun is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology, University of Ibadan