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By Esther Hatsiwa (Mrs)


The phenomenon of internal displacement has always existed; it however became the subject of significant concern for the international community only recently, with crisis and sectarian violence in most continents of the world. Most International Instruments maintain that internally displaced persons are not refugees because they are still within their country of origin, as they have not crossed a national frontier. Thus, if persecuted individuals cross their national border, an elaborate system of international law and institutions comes into play for their protection, however if they remain within the national border they are not considered refugees, hence are not entitled to such protection. IDP’s may however be given ad hoc protection if the United Nations General Assembly requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to render its 'good office' to assist, or if the Security Council so directs.

In Nigeria, recent mass displacements were caused by the activities of Boko Haram insurgents. Boko Haram is an Islamic militant group based in North-Eastern Nigeria, which calls for the use of violence to ensure a return to the true practice of Islam with the ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic State. The Group’s violent campaign has resulted in humanitarian crisis in Nigeria with an estimated 1.9 million persons displaced. Reports from Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) posit that 85 percent of internal displacement in Nigeria is as a result of insurgency by Islamic militants. <>

Just like all other human beings, Internally Displaced Persons are entitled to human rights as derived from natural rights; they are also entitled to fundamental rights as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution. Internally displaced persons can enforce their fundamental rights under chapter 4 of the 1999 Constitution once they can establish their entitlement to a relief, this can be done by following the procedure provided by the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules 2009. The Rules provides for among other things; how matters can be commenced, courts with jurisdiction and orders can be made if the applicant is successful. The orders that can be made include: orders for Damages (which is usually in the event of breach of duty by the respondent), an Injunction (restraining one’s arbitrary arrest), or a Declaration.

Some factors that hinder the full enjoyment of rights of the internally displaced in Nigeria include ignorance on the part of the IDP’s, Lack of resources to pursue matters in court, lack of political will to guarantee their rights on the part of government,  corruption, sabotage, etc.

  Some domestic and International legal framework touching on the rights of IDP’s include; National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Act, 1999, The United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement 1998, The African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of IDPs in Africa 2009, The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, Cap A.9. Laws of the Federation, 2004, The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols 1-2 of 1977.

  The major issue with the rights and status of displaced persons in Nigeria generally is that there is no specific National legal framework on their protection and assistance, apart from International conventions and the general Constitutional provisions on fundamental human rights available to every citizen. There are obvious gaps and inadequacies in our national laws under which the emergency management agencies operate. It is therefore recommended that apart from the general legal provisions which directly or indirectly touch on the protection and assistance of internally displaced persons, there should be specific provisions guiding the protection and assistance of these affected population as a legal basis for which the Government and relevant institution/stakeholders can be held directly accountable, and in the main time, the powers of the existing disaster management agencies can be expanded to go beyond conducting disaster management to providing durable solutions for these displaced persons.


This note was contributed by Esther Hatsiwa (Mrs), Research Fellow II, NIALS Lagos. The note is an abridged version of her NIALS Staff Seminar paper presented in