Some Nigerians under the aegis of Bomb Victims Association of Nigeria (BVAN) addressed the media last week not only to draw attention to their plight but also to raise pertinent questions about the Victims Support Fund (VSF) launched with fanfare in August last year by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
“We come from every state and zone of Nigeria. We are united by our scars and by our belief that together we can care for and support one another to get through this trauma, reclaim our dignity and, ultimately, prevail over the perpetrators of the crimes that have scarred our lives forever,” said the group.
The victims, who lamented the seeming neglect by the authorities were able to come together with the support of the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, and are now appealing to the conscience of both the society and the current government in power. They are also making some demands which include the rendering of account by the VSF through which substantial sums of money was raised to cater for them.
We wholeheartedly endorse the stance of the group, especially considering that the aim of the VSF was to ameliorate the suffering of our nationals who have been at the receiving end of the Boko Haram menace even as we recall that at the launch in Abuja, financial pledges running into several billions of naira were made by individuals and corporate organisations.
As we highlighted at the time, the ideals for setting up the VSF are no doubt lofty ones. Apart from its humanitarian value, establishing the VSF was meant to assure the world that the Nigerian government was alive to its responsibility to the citizens, especially the vulnerable, and that our nationals are their brothers’ keepers. But conceiving the idea and even realising huge donations at a fund-raiser was actually the easiest part of the whole project. The harder part now is for the VSF to do the tough job it has been assigned while making judicious use of resources in such a manner that the distressed and the displaced can benefit. That, it would seem, is where the problem now lies since the victims believe they have practically been abandoned to their fate.
The VSF is a sacred trust. Its mission is at the heart of the primary role of government which is the protection of all who live within our country, especially the vulnerable. Even more, the VSF was designed to rally Nigerians in a show of unity, compassion and mutual support against a common adversary. This mission cannot be undertaken or accomplished without the full participation of the people most affected: the victims.
By coming together in an organisation, these victims have shown both courage and tenacity while their central demand for participation in the work of the VSF seems reasonable. They have refused to surrender to the perpetrators of terror. Their outcry about being neglected and not knowing or being carried along in the processes of the VSF cannot be ignored. Therefore, to demonstrate that they are alive to their responsibilities, the leadership and management of the VSF should show a constructive spirit in responding to them. The federal government also should find ways to ensure that the VSF remains relevant and accountable to the communities and survivors of terrorist violence.
Additionally, there is also an opportunity to reinvigorate all other public institutions that offer humanitarian support, protection and assistance to Nigerians affected by the Boko Haram insurgency and other conflicts in the country, such as the NEMA, the National Refugee Commission and the National Human Rights Commission. More than ever before, these institutions, individually and collectively, must justify the investment that the nation makes in their existence by ensuring that Nigerians affected by these crises feel their presence and relevance.