Nigeria cannot overcome its gathering humanitarian crisis alone – Saraki
…With food insecurity affecting 4.4 million people and creating a fertile breeding ground for Boko Haram, Nigeria needs help from the international community
The situation facing internally displaced people in the north-east of Nigeria is fast becoming a full-scale humanitarian crisis and Nigerian authorities and the international community have been accused of not acting quickly enough to avert disaster. The UN has estimated that 4.4 million people in the Lake Chad region are severely food insecure, but international donors have not funded UN relief efforts to the necessary extent.
Lone voices have warned of catastrophe for some time, but efforts to address the suffering of internally displaced people and prevent humanitarian disaster have been ineffectively coordinated. Nigeria is acting to alleviate the adversity facing its people. Emergency workers are operating on the frontline of the crisis, and the senate is leading a much improved coordination effort to overcome institutional and logistical hindrances to getting aid to the neediest. We are urgently seeking to pass a motion to secure an additional £215m in aid to tackle the emergency, and we are engaging with humanitarian organisations and the international community to ensure food reaches those who most need it as quickly as possible.
Yet while Nigeria must do far more to coordinate relief efforts, we cannot tackle the crisis alone, just as we cannot tackle its root causes – poverty, insecurity and instability – without a concerted effort from, and renewed partnership with, the international community. We need far greater support from overseas to ensure that, first, people are able to leave the camps and live their lives safely and securely, and, second, those who have suffered so much are effectively rehabilitated.
This crisis will not simply go away, and neither will its instigators. The UN has rightly identified the Lake Chad region as the world’s most neglected humanitarian crisis.
It is not a coincidence that this situation has developed in Borno and north-east Nigeria. The north-east has the highest poverty rate in Nigeria, and in 2013 a state of emergency was declared in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states due to the deteriorating security situation.
An international conference should be convened focusing on the crisis in north-east Nigeria and the Boko Haram threat.
While progress has been made in improving security, this is at risk of being undermined by the humanitarian situation. Poverty, malnourishment and isolation form a perfect breeding ground for Boko Haram to recruit desperate individuals and turn them into their latest weapon against humanity.
Islamic State is reportedly recruiting members from European refugee camps. Kenya has announced plans to close Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee complex, due to fears that al-Shabaab is recruiting on an unprecedented scale.
This is more than just an immediate humanitarian challenge for Nigeria. A failure to act and mobilise the full resources of the international community in relieving the pain and suffering of internally displaced people will have implications that are likely to be felt across the globe.
The international community must come together and focus its collective attention and resources. An international conference focusing on the situation in north-east Nigeria and the lingering threat of Boko Haram should be convened, similar to those held recently in London to address the crises in Somalia and Syria.
The recovery effort is underway, and aid is beginning to reach some of the most vulnerable. But improving the living conditions for Nigerians is vital. That means tackling the country’s immediate economic challenges, stabilising the currency, and getting money flowing around Nigeria again. But it also means diversifying the economy to attract greater foreign investment to develop Nigeria’s fledgling but hugely promising industries. Ultimately, it means sharing the proceeds of future growth more evenly throughout the country, not least in the north-east.
Nigeria will act to address the causes of the catastrophe. The senate has advanced plans for a development commission that will initially focus on the crisis, and it has made facilitating economic growth and attracting greater investment its chief priorities.
All legislative efforts will be geared towards encouraging investment for social development. Only through deeper partnership with the international community can we facilitate the necessary economic reforms to secure Nigeria’s future prosperity and only through sharing the proceeds of economic growth can we ensure such a crisis never takes root in Nigeria again.
By Bukola Saraki, the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigerian