Women in an Internally Displaced Persons in Abuja, the Federal Capital of Nigeria, 2018.

Forced migration in Nigeria is a development issue

By Fatima Mamman-Daura, Acting Director at National Commission for Refugees Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons

No other country in Africa, outside the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia, is facing a mixed-migration challenge as severe as that of Nigeria, characterised by prolonged internal displacement, migrant smuggling, human trafficking and ‘brain drain’. Over the course of a decade, low levels of short-term internal displacement in Nigeria have transformed into widespread, large-scale and protracted displacement.

There are currently over 3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), 1.7 million largely unsettled returnees (who were formerly Nigerian migrants and refugees in other countries) and 74 000 refugees and asylum seekers in Nigeria. Over 300 000 Nigerian refugees in neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon also await repatriation. As migration trends have evolved, so too has the Federal Government of Nigeria’s approach to the co-ordination and management of migration, while the issue of internal displacement has come to the fore of national development planning.

Why does Nigeria’s migration challenge matter?

Nigeria is the seventh most populous country in the world. With an estimated population of 206 million people, growing at an annual rate of 2.6%, Nigeria is projected to become the third most populous country in the world by 2050. One in four Africans is a Nigerian and Nigeria’s GDP accounts for 63% of the GDP of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Unmanaged forced displacements in and from Nigeria would unsettle the economies of the wider West-African sub-region and have negative consequences on peace, security and development in Africa as a whole.

By signing up to international and regional instruments for the protection of forcefully displaced persons and migrants[1], Nigeria has committed to reflect the provisions of these treaties in domestic laws, policies and programmes. Indeed, the Nigerian government has shown great commitment to swiftly passing this type of legislation.

In 2003, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons was created to address human trafficking. In 2009, the mandate of the National Commission for Refugees was expanded to include co-ordination of all migration-related activities and provision of durable solutions for internally displaced persons, asylum seekers, stateless persons and returnees. This in turn led to the creation of the National Commission for Refugees Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons.

In 2015, the National Migration Policy was developed to mainstream migration into the country’s national development planning, and Nigeria’s National IDP Policy was adopted in September 2021. To engage its international diaspora in national development policies and projects, the Government set up the National Diaspora Commission in 2017.

To co-ordinate the growing number of national agencies, the Government of Nigeria created the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development in 2019.  

A practical approach to the inclusion of displaced persons in development 

Nigeria is becoming a global leader in granting citizenship rights to its displaced community through a number of measures:

  • Non-encampment: in 2007, Nigeria adopted a non-encampment policy towards refugees – allowing them to move freely and access the same social services as nationals.
  • Inclusion in national identification systems: Refugees and other displaced groups are specifically targeted and registered in national systems such as the National Identification Management System to receive national identification numbers (NIN). The NIN is a requirement for opening bank accounts, getting SIM cards for mobile telephones and other services. Under a special scheme, birth certificates are also systematically issued to children of displaced persons in select camps and host communities.
  • Financial inclusion: The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) issued a directive to all banks in the country to accept the refugee ID card as a valid document to open bank accounts. In 2020, 213 270 IDPs, refugees and returnees in Borno State and 17 354 IDPs in Katsina State opened bank accounts and enrolled in CBN’s development finance schemes focused on agriculture and related value chains.  
  • Inclusion in social safety net programmes: Over 33 million people are registered in Nigeria’s National Social Register (NSR) of poor and vulnerable households, which is now expanding to cover the needs of IDPs, and in the future, of refugees.
  • Livelihood restoration and support: In Borno state, the epicentre of Nigeria’s displacement crisis, funding was provided to build 10 000 housing units for the resettlement of IDPs. IDPs are themselves engaged in the building process as labourers, artisans and builders. 

A combination of policy and practical programming that specifically addresses the protection of victims of forced migration can ensure durable solutions to this crisis. For instance, IDPs and returnees in Nigeria’s northeast states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe are trained in vocational and entrepreneurial skills, combined with start-up inputs including capital. Livelihood support should be introduced at the earliest opportunity to accelerate the re-establishment of these communities’ self-reliance. In Nigeria’s south-western states of Lagos and Ogun, for instance, urban refugees have received training and, through revolving funds, have accessed financial services such as micro-credits and small-scale loans.

Despite surviving two economic recessions in the past five years in addition to the global economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Nigerian government has shown significant commitment to addressing the migration challenges it faces. However, the country is resource-constrained, with insecurity and other pressing concerns such as the 47.3% of Nigeria’s population living in multi-dimensional poverty, or the 10.5 million children out-of-school, competing for resources.

The global community can strengthen Nigeria’s management of forced migration by improving counterpart funding and technical support to implement Nigeria’s humanitarian-development-peace framework. This plan addresses the root causes of forced migration whilst also responding to its consequences and mitigating its re-occurrence. A more deliberate global investment in Nigeria’s forced migration response would reflect the country’s strategic importance for maintaining peace and socio-economic development in Africa.

[1] Such as the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Global Compact on Refugees, the Global Compact for Migration, and the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of IDPs.

Photo by Paschal Okwara, Shutterstock