Close to two million people have been forced to flee their homes by the brutal conflict that has plagued Nigeria for the past eight years. Unlike other contexts, the majority of displaced communities are not living in traditional camps. Most families have opted to head for big towns and cities instead. There they rent accommodation or live with extended families where they feel safer.
But renting brings challenges of its own, and often leaves families displaced a second time or faced with new unforeseen problems.
Munakur Dabariju Mamza is a legal coordinator working for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in north-east Nigeria. She tells us how her team helps people who have fled their homes to escape the violence.
An unfamiliar challenge
“Many families don’t know their rights, and rent accommodation without signing a tenancy agreement,” Mamza says. They are often faced with massive rent hikes or are thrown out without notice.
This is where NRC’s legal assistance steps in. “We don’t bring food, we don’t bring medicine. What we’re doing is quite unique,” she observes. “We are filling a void not tackled by anyone else here in the north-east.”
Her team goes straight to the heart of the community, she explains. They offer free legal assistance, counselling and training to people who are displaced.
“We teach parents their rights, from ensuring they don’t get evicted, to insisting they have written rental agreements,” she says.
It’s basic stuff that many people take for granted. But these people have only ever lived in their own homes. After fleeing and ending up in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s Borno State, they are only learning how to navigate a new unknown system.
Displaced by Boko Haram
Mamza’s family has been displaced themselves. Her mother-in-law has lived with Mamza for two years, after the armed group Boko Haram burned down her house and everything in it. Mamza’s father went through a similar experience, and has not been able to travel home to Lassa village for Christmas as he usually does, or to farm during the rainy season.
But they were some of the lucky ones, being able to live with extended family where they are supported. Other families were not so fortunate.
“Almost everyone has been touched by this conflict one way or the other,” says Munakur. “My father would like to go home, but he’s scared that there’s still insecurity in his village. Boko Haram are still around.”