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International Community Must Not Miss This Chance to Act on Lake Chad Crisis
International Community Must Not Miss This Chance to Act on Lake Chad Crisis
Nigeria: Growing Insecurity on Multiple Fronts
Nigeria: Growing Insecurity on Multiple Fronts
Op-Ed / Global

International Community Must Not Miss This Chance to Act on Lake Chad Crisis

Originally published in IRIN News

One of the world’s worst humanitarian crises is unfolding in West Africa’s Lake Chad region, where 11 million people are in urgent need of emergency aid.

Nigeria, its neighbours, and the world are struggling to find an adequate response. Failure to do so will condemn millions to more suffering, and raise the region’s vulnerability to violent extremism.

Donors meeting at the Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad region on Friday must seize the opportunity to act more effectively.

Up to 100,000 people may have died in the seven-year Boko Haram insurgency, according to Governor Kassim Shettima of Borno State in Nigeria’s northeast, the epicentre of the fighting. He says it has made orphans of 52,000 children.

More than 1.7 million people have been uprooted by the violence in Nigeria alone. The International Organization for Migration estimates that roughly 14 percent of the displaced have found shelter in government-run camps, most of which are ill-equipped and poorly administered.

But the vast majority survive on the benevolence of poor host communities, straining those limited resources still further.

Thousands of women and girls kidnapped by Boko Haram have suffered physical and psychological abuse, forced marriage, sexual slavery or compulsory labour. Some have been used as “suicide bombers”.

Boys, forcibly turned into combatants, have witnessed or committed gruesome atrocities and now battle their invisible trauma.

Although the region’s militaries have made great progress against Boko Haram since late 2015, and the insurgents have been weakened by both internal feuds and lean resources, continuing attacks on remote communities mean civilians are still at risk from the insurgency.

Local economies in ruin

The conflict has devastated the region’s infrastructure. In Borno, the violence has destroyed 30 percent of houses, and hundreds of schools, health centres, water sources, roads and bridges.

Food production has been hobbled by the flight of farmers, herders and fishermen. The Nigerian authorities’ decision to limit mobility and put several key trades, such as fuel marketing, under embargo as part of its counter-insurgency strategy has compounded the situation.

The exodus of large numbers of professionals, including school teachers and health care workers, has hollowed out social services.

The result is that roughly 11 million people across the four countries of the conflict-impacted Lake Chad region now need humanitarian assistance. In Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad, some 7.1 million people are facing severe food insecurity.

In northeast Nigeria alone, more than five million are in food crisis. By June this year, 120,000 people could be facing famine in pockets of the region, according to the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA.

The international response

Since 2016, the humanitarian community has been struggling to strengthen its response, but inadequate international support has been a major drawback.  

First, the outside world has been slow to recognise the crisis because it was underestimated. But significant improvements in security have now allowed access to hitherto inaccessible areas. Media reporting has been patchy, both locally and internationally, compared to other humanitarian emergencies of similar scale.

Secondly, the crisis has not been accorded requisite policy attention by donor countries and agencies. Many would-be donors had assumed that because Nigeria, the main country impacted by the crisis, was oil-rich it was therefore capable of managing its challenge.

But even at the best of times, the needs of the country’s mostly poor 182 million population meant it had limited resources to respond to a major humanitarian crisis. Resources are sharply lower since the slump in oil revenues since late 2014 and have been depleted further since January 2016 by the sabotaging of domestic production by armed groups in the Niger Delta

Some potential donors may also have been put off by long-standing concerns about corruption and accountability in Nigeria, and the government’s sensitivity to external involvement in the situation.

As one Western diplomat in Abuja noted, President Muhammadu Buhari’s charge that humanitarian agencies cooked up the crisis with “hyperbolic claims” in order to boost their own fortunes could be extremely discouraging to some potential donors.

Third, the donor response to funding appeals has been far short of the needs, an understandable result of the poor media coverage and low policy engagement. The UN assistant secretary-general and lead humanitarian coordinator for the Sahel, Toby Lanzer, recently observed that the $739 million required under the 2016 response plans was only 53 percent funded.

The Oslo conference is an opportunity to address the deficits in the international response. It provides a forum for better understanding the real dimensions of the crisis and forging a stronger compact between the international donor community, the governments of impacted countries, and UN and humanitarian actors on the ground.

It must, in particular, inspire greater donor commitment to fund the $1.5 billion response plan and appeal for 2017. 

Uprooting Boko Haram

The present humanitarian crisis has roots deeper than the Boko Haram insurgency. These include the region’s rapid and unsustainable population growth, the severe vulnerability of livelihoods resulting from climate change and environmental degradation, prolonged under-investment in social services, and the failure to alleviate mass poverty.

The Oslo Conference must, therefore, focus the international community on the necessarily longer-term engagements that these complex challenges demand.

Mobilising a more effective response to this crisis must be seen not just as an immediate gesture of international charity but also as a long-term investment in international security.

Failure to improve conditions in the region could exacerbate trans-Saharan migration to Europe’s shores – Nigeria was already the third largest source of migrants crossing the Mediterranean in 2016 – and transform the Lake Chad basin into an incubator for new extremist groups, with more ambitious goals and more global targets than Boko Haram.

As Borno State Governor Shettima warned at a conference in Abuja recently: “If we fail to take care of the 52,000 children orphaned by Boko Haram, then we must get ready that 15 years down the road, they will come back to take care of us”.

Commentary / Africa

Nigeria: Growing Insecurity on Multiple Fronts

While Nigeria confronts the humanitarian fallout of the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency and simmering separatism in the South East, crucial reforms have been stalled. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – Second Update early warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to encourage the government to prioritise engagement with regional leaders and other stakeholders.  

This commentary is part of our Watch List 2017 – Second Update.

Nigeria is facing a time of uncertainty and peril. President Muhammadu Buhari’s failing health – he has spent more than 110 days battling an undisclosed illness in the UK – is prompting intense manoeuvring regarding who will run for president in 2019, particularly among loyalists and others seeking to preserve Northern rule. The eight-year-old insurgency by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram persists. An older problem, Biafra separatist agitation in the South East, is provoking dangerous domino effects in the north and Niger Delta, while deadly clashes between herders and farmers are escalating across the central belt and spreading southward. Defence chief, General Abayomi Olonishakin’s recent comment that the military is battling at least fourteen challenges across the country underscores the widespread insecurity. House of Representatives speaker, Yakubu Dogara, said Nigeria ‘‘is effectively permanently in a state of emergency’’. For the European Union (EU), which is already largely engaged in the Niger Delta and the North East, this means that it should also watch closely political, social and security developments in other regions in Nigeria, and work with other international actors to push for much needed reforms that will address these challenges.

President Buhari’s Health Crisis

The president’s health has deteriorated significantly, particularly since February 2017; government secrecy about his condition has only fuelled diverse speculation. Most observers doubt he can effectively complete his first term, scheduled to end in 2019. As constitutionally mandated, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is filling in, but several important government decisions and appointments are stalled, awaiting the president’s attention.

More troubling, some of Buhari’s Northern and Muslim loyalists are ill-disposed toward Osinbajo, from the South West and Christian. They fear that in 2019 Osinbajo might run for and win the presidency, as former President Goodluck Jonathan did following President Umaru Yar’adua’s death in 2010. That would violate an informal understanding to rotate the two-term presidency between the mostly Muslim north and largely Christian south, which has been in place since the return to multi-party democracy in 1999 as a way to address Nigeria’s delicate ethnic-religious balance. The agreement itself is in dispute, however, and those who argue it is unconstitutional, non-binding and divisive will encourage Osinbajo to run. The South East, where complaints of political marginalisation increasingly are stoking Biafra separatism, also is likely to make a stronger claim to the presidency. The influential Northern Elders Forum has declared that a Northerner must complete Buhari’s second term, signalling a serious north-south power struggle in 2019.

Adding to these, army chief General Tukur Buratai’s warning in May that troops should steer clear of politicians approaching them for ‘‘undisclosed political reasons’’ raises fears of military intervention.

To renew confidence and further reduce north-south suspicions, as well as ensure stable federal governance, the EU, along with member states most closely engaged with Nigeria, should:

  • Encourage transparency about the president’s health as a matter of public accountability to dispel rumours of a Northern conspiracy to keep him in power even if incapacitated.
  • Send strong private or public messages to both military and regional political leaders, against unconstitutional actions, particularly military intervention.
  • Press all parties to abide by constitutional provisions, particularly to achieve a smooth transition if Buhari is unable to continue in office.

The Stubborn Boko Haram Insurgency

President Buhari’s December 2016 declaration that the army had conquered Boko Haram’s last stronghold raised hopes the conflict was ending. But, seven months on, the insurgency remains very much alive. Fighters continue to attack civilians and military targets with new ferocity. June’s casualty rate – more than 80 – topped those for earlier months of the year. In April, there were indications that Boko Haram was establishing new forest camps in Borno and Taraba states, and setting up new cells in Kaduna, Kogi and Niger states. There are also indications that the military, which has units deployed in 28 of the 36 states, is overstretched and unable to provide troops with sufficient resources. Some exhausted troops are complaining of not being rotated. The rainy season could further hamper operations, enabling Boko Haram to regroup and rearm.

The conflict’s humanitarian fallout is worsening: about 4.5 million people lack sufficient food.

The conflict’s humanitarian fallout is worsening: about 4.5 million people lack sufficient food. On 8 June, the government launched a new food intervention plan for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Maiduguri, but it remains impossible to reach many of the needy. Despite the February Oslo donor pledging conference, UN officials reported the US$1.05 billion Nigeria humanitarian response plan was only 37.8 per cent funded as of 7 July 2017. Insecurity is also constraining aid efforts, as Boko Haram carried out 97 suicide and vehicle borne attacks between March and June 2017 according to Nigerian military authorities. The Borno state government’s shelving of its earlier plan to close all IDP camps by 29 May underscored that large areas of the state are still unsafe. If aid efforts are not stepped up, expanded and sustained, Borno state in particular could slide deeper into humanitarian crisis.

The EU most recently announced a €143 million support package for early recovery and reconstruction, bringing its total support in Borno state alone to €224.5 million for 2017. Delivering this package requires safe access, but many humanitarian aid agencies complain that convoys are not effectively secured, exposing them to ambushes and abductions. To help improve confidence and guarantee safer space, the EU should:

  • Prod the government to intensify military and other security efforts to ensure safer humanitarian access.
  • Prioritise humanitarian assistance with operational presence, fast-track food assistance and cash-based transfers wherever feasible.

Biafra Agitation Sparking Dangerous Domino Effects

Deepening separatist agitation in the Igbo-dominated South East, spurred by perceived political and economic marginalisation, is producing dangerous ripple effects. A successful sit-at-home action called by agitators on 30 May – the 50th anniversary of the declaration of an independent Biafra – provoked sixteen northern youth groups to demand a week later that Igbos leave the north by 1 October. This in turn prompted a call by a coalition of eight Niger Delta militant youth groups for all Northerners leave the delta by the same date. Although northern state governors disavowed the declarations while Acting President Osinbajo consulted with both northern and south-eastern leaders to defuse tensions, the youth groups have not withdrawn their demands. Should they seek to enforce them, or should mobs take matters into their own hands, there could be violence and large-scale population displacements.

Militants in the Niger Delta have not launched any major attacks on oil installations since the federal government engaged the region’s ethnic and political leaders last November, pledging to revive infrastructure projects, clean up the polluted Ogoni environment and allow local communities to set up modular refineries. Yet the region’s situation remains fragile. Attacks against Igbos or other southerners in the north might lead some delta militants to target oil companies, either to pressure the federal and northern state governments to stop anti-Igbo violence, or to cover criminal activities.

The EU, especially its delegation in Abuja, and its member states should encourage the government to continue consultations with regional leaders and other stakeholders. In particular, it should:

  • Encourage the government to strengthen measures to protect citizens, working with the military, police but also community leaders and associations.
  • Engage with leaders of relevant south-eastern, northern and Niger Delta youth groups, and organise forums with the goal of halting inflammatory rhetoric, withdrawing quit orders and publicly denouncing violence.
  • Urge the National Assembly (federal parliament), presently divided over the 2014 National Conference Report and its recommendations, to commence deliberations on suggested federal reforms that could help prevent conflicts and curb separatist agitation.

The Herder-Farmer Tinderbox

Violent conflict between largely Muslim Fulani herders and ethnically diverse farmers in predominantly Christian areas has taken on tribal, religious and regional dimensions. Clashes across the central belt and spreading southward, are killing some 2,500 people a year. The conflict is now so deadly that many Nigerians fear it could become as dangerous as the Boko Haram insurgency. Escalating internally, the conflict could also spread regionally: herders might seek to draw fighters from their kin in other West and Central African countries, as some Fulani leaders have warned. This in turn could undermine a fragile region already struggling to defeat the Boko Haram insurgents.

In the absence of a strong federal response, states have been devising their own policies, including bans on open grazing that are vehemently opposed by herders and cattle dealers. Because state governments do not control the police and other security agencies, community vigilantes might be mobilised to enforce these bans, which could spark violence, particularly in Benue and Taraba states. In the short term, the EU should:

  • Urge state governments to exercise caution in considering – or enforcing – these new laws, and urge cattle herders’ and dealers’ associations wishing to protest to use lawful channels.
  • Press the federal government and its security agencies to strengthen measures to detect and pre-empt potential unrest among both community vigilantes as well as herders and cattle dealers, particularly in Benue and Taraba states.

In the longer term, EU member states should support, through funding, capacity building and technical aid, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture’s proposed National Ranching Development Plan, which seeks to promote cattle breeding only in ranches, as a permanent solution to herder-farmer friction.