February 20, 2015
AFRICA’S LARGEST economy and most populous nation is facing a humanitarian crisis. Headlines have focused on Nigeria’s struggles against the murderous Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, as well as the country’s controversialdecision to postpone its national elections. Less attention has been paid to the hundreds of thousands who have been displaced by extremist violence and who face hunger and disease if assistance does not come soon.
Boko Haram, which has been escalating its violent attacks in Nigeria and neighboring states, is estimated to have killed almost 20,000 people since President Goodluck Jonathan was elected in 2011. More than 200,000 have fled into neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger. The governments of all three countries have requested international assistance to help cope with the influx. On Friday, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees called for humanitarian access to those countries to provide emergency relief to those displaced.
But at least another 1.5 million people have been displaced within Nigeria. According to European Union estimates, 400,000 people fleeing Boko Haram’s violence have come to Yola, a town in Adamawa state in northeastern Nigeria with an original population of 300,000. Some residents have as many as 50 people living in their cramped homes and yards. Other migrants have found shelter in abandoned buildings.
Religious and civil society leaders in Yola, including from theAmerican University of Nigeria and the Adamawa Peace Initiative, have been leading efforts to provide relief. Muslim and Christian leaders work side by side to provide food and aid to almost 270,000 people. Mosques and cathedrals in Yola host weekly food distributions, with as many as 6,000 people, mostly women and children, lining up to receive rice, maize and beans. The coalition also hopes to help give skills training to adults and education to children whose schools have been burned down by Boko Haram.
But funds for these efforts have run dry. Margee Ensign, intrepid president of the university, said she is “deeply grateful” for $100,000 the aid-givers received from the U.S. government. But that money lasted only a month, and the coalition desperately needs food, medicine, malaria nets — and vaccines, as measles has broken out in the camps.
Despite U.S. offers of assistance to Nigeria in combating Boko Haram, the government has proved to be a difficult partner to work with. But t he United States has an opportunity to directly help Nigerians in need by funding local humanitarian relief efforts in the north, such as in Yola — as well as regional efforts in Chad, Cameroon and Niger. As far as possible, support should go not to U.S. contractors but to local providers, who are in place to offer immediate help. Such assistance could go a long way toward showing the United States’ commitment to Nigeria’s people and helping stave off further radicalization of those who feel abandoned by Nigeria’s government and the world.
Source: Washington Post