Governing Our Humanitarian Crisis, By Jibrin Ibrahim
There are two parallel efforts to address the governance of the humanitarian crisis… Why has none of the initiatives come to fruition after over one year of parallel discussions? I believe that the time has come to set politics aside and come out with an integrated, coherent and effective initiative that could address the crisis immediately.
Why did we as a nation wait until “Doctors Without Borders” (MSF) told the world that our children were dying of starvation before sending a team from the Presidency to go to Bama to find out whether it was true? Why had the State and Local Governments, NEMA and the Nigerian Red Cross not raised the alarm and called for urgent action? If they did and were simply ignored, what sanctions were taken against the officials who knew but did nothing while our children were dying? Maryam Uwais who led the team to Bama promised to accelerate the provision of more relief materials to save the children and I understand there has been an acceleration of the provision of relief supply to the zone. My concern however is that we are confronting the third worse humanitarian crisis in the world and we still do not have an effective monitoring and coordination mechanism to address the crisis.
It would be recalled that in September last year, President Buhari had promised that a Presidential Committee on North East Initiative would be established under General T.Y. Danjuma to address both the humanitarian crisis and the recovery strategy for the zone. Eleven months later, the Committee has still not been established. NEMA, which has the mandate for humanitarian response and coordination, is overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem and the crisis on the ground intensifies. Currently, domestic and international aid agencies are investing intensely in providing relief without a national coordinated framework for action. Meanwhile hundreds of people are dying each month from starvation. Did we need the demonstration of hundreds of hungry IDPs in Maiduguri lest week to prick our conscience and demand for our empathy and action.
Last week, UNICEF published a report pointing out that 1.4 million children have been displaced in the Lake Chad region due to the destructive activities of Boko Haram. At least one million of them are still trapped in hard-to-reach areas in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad. As Manuel Fontaine, the UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa has explained: “Humanitarian needs are outpacing the response, especially now that new areas previously unreachable in north-east Nigeria become accessible.” The total number of internally displaced persons in Nigeria is at least 2.6 million and most of them are living with friends, relations and co-religionists who are themselves poor and vulnerable. The most vulnerable are in camps where many are starving to death. The report points out that an estimated 38 children have been used to carry out suicide attacks in the Lake Chad basin so far this year, bringing to 86 the total number of children used as suicide bombers since 2014. An estimated 475,000 children across Lake Chad will suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year, up from 175,000 at the beginning of the year. Many of these children are orphans or have been separated from their parents.
Isn’t the bigger issue to set up an effective structure that can provide a coordinated and effective response to the crisis? The key stakeholders, Federal, State and Local Governments, international and local charities and citizens need to work in concert to reduce the level of human suffering we are witnessing.
As most IDPs are staying with poor relations or friends, the already existing stress and misery within the community is deepening as their limited resources are being shared among more people. The international charities have not been able to raise sufficient resources to scale up their support. Internally, the budget for NEMA is insufficient to meet the huge humanitarian crisis confronting the country. It must be distressing to all of us to see hundreds of women IDPs protesting and barricading the Maiduguri-Kano Road over acute shortage of food in their Arabic Teachers College Camp. Their plight should be the shame of the nation – the officials of the Central Feeding Committee, they claimed, are diverting the little food that has been provided for their survival. The Borno State Government has now disbanded the Committee but why did it require hungry and weak people protesting before their plight is looked into? Most of the camps have become centres of hunger, malnutrition and communicable diseases. Given the vulnerability of the people, prostitution and crime is expanding rapidly.
The epicentre of the crisis, Maiduguri has over one million more people to feed and cater for. We as a nation must take the decision that we will provide the resources to cater for these people. First the EFCC and now the Senate have announced that they are investigating the diversion of supplies for IDPs. Isn’t the bigger issue to set up an effective structure that can provide a coordinated and effective response to the crisis? The key stakeholders, Federal, State and Local Governments, international and local charities and citizens need to work in concert to reduce the level of human suffering we are witnessing.
There are two parallel efforts to address the governance of the humanitarian crisis. The National Assembly has for the past year been working on the establishment of the North East Development Commission (NEDC). The Presidency on the other hand has been working on the establishment of the Presidential Committee on the North East Initiative (PCNI) under the leadership of General Danjuma. Why has none of the initiatives come to fruition after over one year of parallel discussions? I believe that the time has come to set politics aside and come out with an integrated, coherent and effective initiative that could address the crisis immediately.
… all these would remain meaningless if we do not ensure they have access to sufficient food, as well as to health and educational services. The provision of immediate relief to the people in the North-East is the most urgent necessity without which the crisis is bound to escalate further. The time for action is now.
Resolving the challenges in the North-East is one of the most serious governance challenges we have faced in our history and we need a coherent approach. The first issue is that our armed forces who have almost completely crippled Boko Haram must complete the work as soon as possible to make practicable an effective handling of the humanitarian crisis and the development and implementation of a coordinated rehabilitation and resettlement programme. The work of effective reconstruction of social and physical infrastructure is essential to the successful deployment of a recovery and development strategy.
Nigeria must immediately come out with a comprehensive plan, structure and process capable of providing leadership, coordination and synergy for the following tasks ahead. These are the restoration of peace, stability and civil authority in the North-East. We cannot depend on external help, we must mobilise sufficient resources from governments and private citizens to jumpstart the region’s economies while strategically repositioning the region for long-term prosperity. At the same time, we must address the challenge of counter-radicalisation, so that the foundations for promoting a civic culture that is supportive of peaceful co-existence in the zone can be rebuilt. Meanwhile, all these would remain meaningless if we do not ensure they have access to sufficient food, as well as to health and educational services. The provision of immediate relief to the people in the North-East is the most urgent necessity without which the crisis is bound to escalate further. The time for action is now.
A professor of Political Science and development consultant/expert, Jibrin Ibrahim is a Senior Fellow of the Centre for Democracy and Development, and Chair of the Editorial Board of Premium Times.