While the wars in Yemen and Syria dominate global news cycles, the conflict in North-East Nigeria features less in media. The conflict, with no sign of abating, has decimated communities, livelihoods and local economies of the region that depend on farming or grazing, rendering farming impossible on large swathes of land that are prone to attacks, writes Leonard Blazeby, Head of Prevention, Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with about 200 million people. Its nearly $500 billion economy makes it the continent’s largest economy. The country is a major oil producer, has the world’s third-largest movie industry and contributes internationally to literature and sports, winning the continent’s first Nobel Prize in Literature and Olympic gold medal in football. Unfortunately, the country has faced conflicts and violence for several decades since its independence from the United Kingdom in 1960. Today, the country faces violence and insecurity, with the armed conflict in the North-East the most well-known. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been constantly present in Nigeria since 1988.
While the wars in Yemen and Syria dominate global news cycles, the conflict in North-East Nigeria features less in media, but is ICRC’s fifth largest operation globally. The cause of the protracted armed conflict is politico-religious, and armed groups have made it clear that they are fighting to enthrone their vision of an Islamic state in the region. Since 2009, the armed conflict has led to the death or maiming of tens of thousands of people, displaced nearly two million, and spread into neighboring countries. The conflict, with no sign of abating, has decimated communities, livelihoods and local economies of the region that depend on farming or grazing, rendering farming impossible on large swathes of land that are prone to attacks.
In the North Central region, the perennial conflict among crop farmers and cattle herders has escalated in the last decade. This has been linked by some experts to fights over dwindling resources and climate change. As Nigeria’s population tripled over the last fifty years, its arable land is proving inadequate for the country’s inefficient agricultural systems while also facing the impact of desertification and unpredictable weather patterns. Besides the fight over land and grazing rights, the region also faces ethnic violence and criminality including kidnapping.
The South-South region, also known as Niger Delta, faces its own kind of violence. The oil and gas producing region’s wealth has not contributed to better lives for communities living there, so youth embarked on an armed struggle against the Nigerian state in the late 1990s. This strand of violence subsided with the Government’s amnesty program introduced in 2009, but the region still faces periodic violence in urban areas, oil bunkering, and ethnic violence that pits neighbouring villages against each other. Its immediate neighbor, the South-East region was the centre of Nigeria’s Civil War in the 1960s and today faces another round of violence not unconnected to secessionist sentiments that led to the Civil War. Crackdown on agitators in the region has killed scores while continuing to heighten tension.
The human cost of the conflict and violence in many parts of Nigeria has taken its toll on thousands of lives. The crisis has been further exacerbated since 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic. Access to health care for the wounded and sick in the North East is one of the causalities of the conflict. The ICRC works on building and strengthening a holistic approach to the care of the wounded and sick.
The majority of the nearly two million people displaced by the conflict in North-East Nigeria are women and children. Displaced people live in precarious conditions in crowded makeshift camps and in host communities, without the support of their social networks or a sustainable source of income. Many have been displaced more than once. Their resilience has been stretched to the limit, making them vulnerable to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ICRC provides emergency food, water and shelter for displaced people living in camps and for the host communities that strive to support them. Thousands of people are provided with food and cash assistance where there are functional markets. Water and sanitation facilities are installed for displaced people to live in hygienic and healthy environments to wade off water borne diseases. While the ICRC also provides building materials for displaced people to erect shelters for themselves.
As people flee from fighting and attacks in North East Nigeria families are separated, and many loved ones especially children and the elderly go missing. Almost 24,000 people are registered with the ICRC by their families as missing, the highest number in the world, and their loved ones have no news of their fate and whereabouts. The ICRC works with the Nigerian Red Cross Society (NRCS) to locate missing people, reconnect and reunite them with their families.
To assist people in conflict and violence affected communities in Nigeria to restart their livelihoods, the ICRC works with private sector organizations such as the Tony Elumelu сноска: Tony Elumelu is a prominent Nigerian entrepreneur, economist and philanthropist. Foundation (TEF), an African private-sector-led philanthropic organization whose vision is to empower African entrepreneurs. About 500 entrepreneurs from the North East and South regions of Nigeria have received seed capital to start small and medium size businesses. This partnership with TEF contributes to the ICRC’s efforts to help people become financially independent and restore their dignity through income generating activities.
Nigeria’s importance in Africa is reflected by the fact that 102 Embassies and high commissions are present in the capital, Abuja, enabling the ICRC to have an important dialogue on its work and humanitarian issues with representations from across the globe such as the Russian Federation, a number of which are donor countries to the ICRC and to our work in Nigeria specifically.