Social Work Services for Internally Displaced Persons in Nigeria

Scientific Essay, 2019

29 Pages


Table of Contents


Literature review



Limitations of the study






One unique feature of the social work profession is the centrality of the person-in environment perspective. The purpose of this study is to examine the nature of social work services to internally displaced persons (IDPs). This research is a qualitative study, conducted with 15 social workers in Nigeria. Data were collected through a semi-structured interview with the participants in Abuja. Results show that social work services are largely inadequate to address the broad range of needs, issues, and concerns of displaced persons. Feasible suggestions that consider the intersectionality between people and their social environment are offered to social workers.

Keywords: Social work, internally displaced persons (IDPs), person-in-environment perspective, ecological framework, advocacy intervention, Nigeria


Since the past three decades, global efforts have been intensified to achieve the following objectives: raising awareness about the realities of internal displacement; creating an international legal framework that would protect displaced people from further harm; and urging States to take proactive measures in minimizing situations could result in displacements while, at the same time, taking responsibilities for affected people in cases where displacement is inevitable (Cohen & Deng, 1998). Despite these efforts, the global population of displaced persons have risen from 1.2 million when it was first calculated in 1982 to 26 million in 2008 and 38 million by the end of 2014 (IDMC, 2015; UNHCR, 2010). In this paper, internally displaced persons (hereafter, IDPs) refers to individuals or group of individuals that have been forced to flee their homes, communities, or place of residence but still residing inside their country. According to Lindgren (2013), displacement violates social ecology of human organization, causes deprivation, increases risks of further violence, promotes social exclusion, and advances the emergence of psychological catch of dependency (cited in Semigina, 2015, p.4.). Being displaced means that victims have to leave their families behind or get separated along the way. Alone and dejected, they are faced with the harsh realities of physical, emotional, and social trauma when dealing with life’s challenges.

Research have documented the harmful effects of displacement on the physical and mental health of victims’ (Getanda, Papadopoulos, & Evans, 2015; Kim, 2007; Odusanya, 2016) and also, in the context of pre-existing social conditions, suggested that they have experienced a great deal of social misfortunes translating in poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment (Braimah, 2016). Furthermore, it has been shown that vulnerable groups such as women, children, and older adults, are disproportionately represented among this population (Akume, 2015), with women and children alone accounting for over 70% of this population (IDMC, 2016) and exposed to sexual and physical violence (Human Rights Watch, 2016).

As conveners of social justice and human rights, this situation poses legitimate concerns for social workers whose stated objectives are ‘to enhance the social functioning of individuals, groups, and families [and] to address environmental influences that impact on the client systems’ ability to address needs, insufficient resources and high risk-factors’ (Timberlake, Zajicek- Faber, & Sabatino, 2008, p.5.). In keeping with this mandate, social workers have maintained a staunch commitment to displaced people, often bringing their experience and expertise to bear in addressing IDPs’ needs (Cox & Pawar, 2006; Ramon and Maglajlic, 2012). Despite this, the literature on the nature of social work services to this population is very limited. An understanding of social work services is critical not only in enabling practitioners provide effective services to IDPs but also, in improving the image of the profession especially in a context where social workers still contend with issues of non-professionalization.

The purpose of this study is to describe the experiences of social workers who are working with IDPs in Nigeria. Precisely, it aims to examine the nature of current social work services to IDPs and to discuss ways in which adequate services, if applicable, can be delivered.

NIGERIA: Country profile

Nigeria, with a population of approximately 184 million people, is located in the western part of sub-Sahara Africa, accounting for 47% of West Africa’s inhabitants, and clearly the largest population in the continent (World Bank, 2017). With an abundance of natural and human resources, Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $375.8 billion (World Bank, 2017). In contrast to its impressive economic indices, the country’s human development indices have been hugely disappointing. With respect to poverty, for instance, official report indicates that more than half of the population live in extreme poverty, an increase from about 39 million in 1992 to over 112 million people in 2010 (NBS 2012). However, poverty in Nigeria varies across the country’s two regional bloc with the predominantly Muslim north (having as much as 81% of the population in poverty) surpassing the level of poverty in the predominantly Christian south (standing at about 34% of the population) (NBS, 2012). Nigeria is also a diverse country with over 374 ethnic nationalities based on a conservative estimation (Otite, 1990). Since gaining independence from Britain in 1960, the country has been beset with decades of military rule combined with corrupt political class which, invariably, has resulted in the denial of access to basic social infrastructures and welfare services to millions of citizens.

IDPs in NIGERIA: Causes, prevalence, and response

Prior to insurgency in northern Nigeria, displacement in the country have been triggered by incessant torrential rainstorms, flashfloods, ethno-religious violence, militancy, and state sanctioned demolitions of “illegal” structures, cutting across Nigeria’s six geo-political zones. In these situations, displacement occurred at a minimal level in terms of figures and groups hurt. However, following the thick of insurgency that began over a decade ago, displacement have happened on a humongous scale and have taken a devastating toll on vulnerable groups. In other words, the wave of insurgency in the country have continued to account for the upsurge in the numbers of IDPs in Nigeria, sparking a humanitarian crisis.

The International Displacement Monitoring Council (IDMC) reports that over 3 million people have been displaced in Nigeria (IDMC, 2016), thereby, ranking the country has having the highest population of IDPs in Africa (Premium Times, 2014). Although local authorities such as the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) have, to a reasonable degree, assume certain responsibilities for displaced persons, in terms of providing temporary shelters and facilitating aids delivery, more calls, however, have been made by the Nigerian political leadership urging for additional support from the organized private sector (including non-government organizations, for-profit organizations, civil society organizations, faith-based organization etc.), with reference to the deployment of helping professionals to camps where this people are sheltered. Today, in response to such calls, many independent humanitarian organizations within and outside the shores of the country, have been active on ground level in providing support services to IDPs. As an advantage in conducting various tasks, these organizations utilizes the services of helping professionals such as healthcare workers, psychiatrists, social workers, among others.

Literature review

The literature on social work services to displaced persons, as noted earlier, is very limited. Consequently, the two studies that have investigated this subject matter in Nigeria will be reviewed alongside one study conducted in Ukraine.

The first study was conducted in southern Nigeria involving 25 organizations (20 nongovernment organizations and 5 government agencies) and 55 IDPs (Enwereji, 2009). These organizations were committed to providing support services to displaced persons, albeit it was not specified whether these organizations utilized the services of social workers. Using a mixed methods approach, the researcher found that services rendered to IDPs were inadequate, in that intervention efforts overly concentrated on addressing the immediate needs of displaced persons with no focus on addressing the long-term needs or societal issues expressed by IDPs. Although Enwereji (2009) did not indicate whether or not needs assessments were carried out before interventions were made, it was found that in-kind items such as food and clothing which were provided on ad-hoc basis dominated the services rendered to IDPs. Moreover, the researcher, while noting the significance of psychosocial services in offsetting the trauma experience of displaced persons, found that the delivery of such service was fragmented, in which case, 3 (12%) of the organizations surveyed reportedly offered.

The second study was conducted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in northern Nigeria and surveyed 35 state and non-state humanitarian organizations (ICRC, 2016). Findings revealed that IDPs received fairly adequate humanitarian assistance such as food and clothing but that in relation to rendering psychosocial services there were ‘significant gap’ despite overwhelming complaints of mental health problems by displaced persons (ICRC, 2016, p.44).

Semigina (2015) conducted a study involving 10 social workers who were drawn from 10 organizations (2 public and 8 private) proving services to displaced persons in Ukraine. Using a mixed method approach based on a rapid assessment technique, the author found that social work services were lopsided and insufficient as intervention efforts were mainly oriented to therapeutic treatment and/or crisis intervention. She concluded that social work services ‘lack[ed] systematic approaches… [since] they are not empowering strategies but passive tactics of meeting basic needs’ (p.10).

Theoretical framework

In this study, the ecological model was utilized to guide the theoretical framework. The underlying tenets of the ecological model is based on the notion of mutual reciprocity or exchanges that exists between people and their physical or social environment (Germain & Gitterman, 1996). According to this model, to effectively respond to a complex trouble situation like displacement and its accompanying fall-out, interventions should be aimed at meeting displaced persons’ needs from a personal, individual or micro level on the one hand, while the environmental, structural or macro influences that could undermine the effectiveness of such intervention strategies are addressed on the other hand. Put simply, the ecological model underscores a holistic approach to problem-solving and abhors intervention strategies that are lopsided.

The ecological model is consistent with the person-in-environment perspective of the social work profession, with renewed focus on the environmental or macro realm gaining traction in recent times. This is evident in the National Association of Social Work Code of Ethics which charges social workers to ‘promote the general welfare of society…and the development of people, their communities, and their environments. Social workers should advocate for living conditions conducive to the fulfilment of basic human needs and… the realization of social justice’ (NASW, 2008, sec. 6.01, p.26-27). This focus is also conspicuous in the Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards document of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) which articulates that ‘social work’s purpose is actualized through its quest for social and economic justice, the prevention of condition that limit human rights, the elimination of poverty, and the advancement of the quality of life for all persons’ (CSWE, 2008, p.1). As Netting, Kettner, and McMurtry (1998) note, macro activities extends beyond individual interventions but are often based on needs, problems, issues, and concerns identified in the course of working one-on-one with service-users.


Sample and procedure

The participants in this study are social workers who are providing services to displaced persons. Purposive sampling was used to identify and recruit social workers who were located in the full range of settings for displaced persons in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. These social workers are spread across the four official shelters or camps for displaced persons in Abuja, namely: Lugbe, Area One, New Kuchingoro, and Kuje. Participation in the study was voluntary and all the social workers gave their informed consent to be interviewed after the purpose of the study was spelt out. A one year working experience with IDPs and a minimum of a Bachelor of Science ( qualification in social work were criteria for inclusion in the study. These social workers were from diverse backgrounds and included 11 females and 4 males. Among these social workers, 12 were working in nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and 3 were working in government ministries.

Data collection and analysis

This study employed a qualitative research design to better understand the subjective experiences of social workers who are providing services to displaced persons in Nigeria (Creswell, 2014). Given the limited literature, an exploratory-descriptive strategy was utilized for this study (Rubin & Babbie, 2010). A semi-structured interview schedule based on a one-on-one interviews with the participants served as the primary means of data collection (Neuman, 2011). Prior to the commencement of the study, an interview was pilot-tested with one social worker who clarified that the questions were not ambiguous and, thus, did not require any modification. During the interview, the participants were requested to reflect on and respond to the main question: what kind of services do you provide to IDPs? This question was followed by four questions:

1. How relevant are social work services to IDPs?
2. How would you describe your experience in working with this people?
3. What barriers have you encountered while providing services to this people?
4. What can social workers do to make a great difference in the lives of this people?

Guided by the principle of data saturation (Bowen, 2008), twelve interviews which lasted 25 to 40 minutes were conducted resulting in the cancellation of the outstanding three since the interviews began yielding repetitive data.

The interviews were audio recorded and transcribed with the consent of the participating social workers and the process of thematic content analysis was utilized to analyze data from the interviews. The data analysis’ procedure followed the steps recommended by Terre et al. (2006); (a) familiarization and immersion, (b) inducing theme, (c) coding, (d) elaboration, and (e) interpretation and checking. To ensure validity of the qualitative data, Maxwell’s five validity categorization in qualitative research was used (Maxwell, 2008). Descriptive validity was based on an attempt to accurately describe the data by means of transcripts of verbatim responses. In this regard, no information was left out or altered and the use of an integrated independent coder also contributed to descriptive validity. Interpretive validity was ensured by the use of the transcript that included both the verbal and non-verbal data to justify interpretations. To ensure theoretical validity, a literature control was done once the themes and sub-themes were identified through data analysis. The use of purposive sampling technique and the thorough description of the implementation of the research methodology ensured transferability of the findings to other applicable contexts. Evaluative validity was achieved by ensuring that the evaluation was based on the findings that emanated from the process of data analysis. In show of appreciation for their willingness to participate in the study, the participants were provided with some refreshments before the interviews commenced.

Ethical considerations

Ethical issues addressed in this study were informed consent, privacy, and protection from harm (Graziano & Raulin, 2007). As such, identifying details of the participants and their organizations were concealed. To this end, when quotes from the interviews are used in this paper, the participant are identified by their professional designation and gender.


Five major themes emerged in the data: (1) social work as a relevant support system, (2) nature of current services, (3) challenges encountered when working with displaced persons, (4) impediments to effective service delivery, and (5) perceptions of what future services should entail. They will be discussed below and conveyed through verbatim quotes and a literature control.

Theme 1: Social work service as a relevant support system

Social workers’ views regarding their professional role, to a significant degree, influences their self-esteem which, in turn, shape the nature of the services they provide and how much these services are effective. The participating social workers viewed their services as absolutely crucial to stabilizing and supporting displaced persons.

Subtheme 1.1: Profoundly crucial

In relation to the relevance of their services to supporting displaced persons, the participants mentioned that their expertise and experience combined with their unalloyed commitment to IDPs signified that their services were crucial to assisting displaced people:

It is difficult to imagine what will happen if we don’t provide the kinds of services we do. Getting our friends [displaced persons] back on their feet is our primary task… so, on this note, what we bring to the table is highly crucial to their well-being. (Social worker, Female).

I think they will be in the best position to tell whether what we do for them is significant or not. But to those who have eyes, there is no doubting what we do… even the government begs us to continue assisting our friends when others ‘helping professionals] back out… our service is important that is why they will do that, is it not. (Social worker, Male).

Comments by the participants support the literature affirming social work as a useful support system (Avenirsocial, 2014; Bisman, 2004; Putnam, 2002). Building on the concept of social capital, Bisman (2004) noted that social work services are not only for individual benefits but for group and community benefits especially in context where needed support systems are absent. Such scenario vividly portrays the experiences of displaced persons in view of their lost social capital. The basic idea of social capital is that family, friends and other members of a person’s social network constitute an importance source of resources that can provide material aid, opportunities for social participation and enjoyment and support in crisis situation (Woolcook & Narayan, 2000). These are the responsibilities social workers have selflessly assume in the course of working with displaced persons.

The profession’s principles of social justice and human rights was equally cited as a yardstick for their relevance. One participant notes:

Can we pride ourselves as social change agents if we ignore for one moment the gross abuse that is going on around here. Actions that impact negatively on human rights is frowned upon by all social workers and so, by virtue of social justice, we do what we can to make sure that such things do not happen again. (Social worker, Female)

This finding is consistent with the principles of human rights and social justice which basically represent the fundamental values guiding the professionals to act to improve social conditions and human lives (IFSW & IASSW, 2012).

Theme 2: Nature of current services

In a helping context, understanding the service that are offered to targeted audience are instrumental for evaluative purposes with a view to either maintaining the status quo or making necessary adjustments for enhanced services. All the participants described their current services as comprising three components: (a) conducting needs assessment, (b) coordinating the delivery of support services, and (c) providing counselling services.


Excerpt out of 29 pages


Social Work Services for Internally Displaced Persons in Nigeria
University of Benin
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social, work, services, internally, displaced, persons, nigeria
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Amadasun Solomon (Author), 2019, Social Work Services for Internally Displaced Persons in Nigeria, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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