On Wednesday, July 7 2021, Borno Governor, Babagana Zulum, on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily, lamented that prostitution is on the rise within the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps of the terror-ravaged North-East state. The statement could ordinarily pass scrutiny in Nigeria’s cultural clime – one that is largely anti-sex work, but for a number of reasons.
According to multiple reports by Amnesty International since 2015, Nigerian soldiers and Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) personnel have taken on the habit of raping women in IDP camps in exchange for food. The military as well as the Federal Government through Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, dismissed the reports as lacking credibility.
According to him, “Engagement was claimed to have been made with Nigerian authorities but which authority is it, is not provided with clarity.”
“This then is just a wild goose chase report, in essence,” he said.
A special investigative report by HumAngle titled; Sex for Survival, however, confirmed not only the credibility of the report but also put names to the story. Documenting in painstaking detail the story of Aisha (not real name) who was repeatedly raped for access to food tickets from the age of 13 in IDP camps in the state, and Fatima (also not real name) who at 16 had also repeatedly suffered a similar fate.
The Military and the state government did not respond when HumAngle reached out to get a reaction from them.
The Governor may have come the closest any government or military official has come to admitting to these atrocities that the authorities seem determined to sweep under the carpet.
Prostitution – the stigma-laden term for sex work – is impossible to happen in an IDP camp scenario.
Sex work, which involves the consensual transactional exchange of sex for money or other things, is an impossibility where one party – in this case, the IDPs – is vulnerable and wholly dependent on the goodwill of the other party – soldiers and JTF members – for basic necessities of life like food.
It is good that the governor has admitted to this, even if his use of language is far off-field. Whether that was intentional or an honest error is immaterial to what the right next step must now be – facing this difficult truth head-on and with the welfare of IDPs as the centre focus.
It won’t hurt if sticking with the governor’s wonky use of language the authorities seek out the solicitors of this ‘prostitution’ and subject them to the appropriate punishment for the rape that they have been committing and getting away with.
Governor Zulum can still salvage this situation if he is so inclined.