Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Q&A: Growing Humanitarian Crisis in North-East Nigeria

Now in its seventh year, the ongoing conflict provoked by Boko Haram in Nigeria's north-eastern region has resulted in widespread internal displacement and the errosion of livelihhods for millions of people. The extent of human suffering has become increasingly apparent as the Nigerian Armed Forces have pushed Boko Haram out of certain areas that the insurgent group has held. HI² International Fellow Chris M.A. Kwaja, who provides technical support to governors of northern Nigeria to address the drivers of the conflict, shares insight on the conflict and the resulting humanitarian response.

Q&A with Chris M.A. Kwaja (HI² International Fellow)

HI² -- Can you please shed some light on the current humanitarian crisis occurring in north-east Nigeria?

Kwaja -- As a result of the insurgency perpetrated by members of Boko Haram, from 2009 to date, Nigeria has recorded over two million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Adamawa and Yobe are the two frontline states for the insurgency, which has resulted in over 20,000 deaths. The UN OCHA recent 2017 humanitarian response plan for Nigeria’s north east region revealed that 5.1 million children may die of hunger and starvation in 2017. The fate of IDPs is still uncertain in the region as a result of the pervasive humanitarian crises.

HI² -- To date what has the international humanitarian community response been like to these affected regions?

Kwaja -- Despite efforts by governments at all levels, civil societies, development partners and the international/humanitarian community in general, the response of these actors has not achieved the desired result in view of the huge number of IDPs and the scale of the crises.

HI² -- How has the Boko Haram insurgency affected relief efforts in terms of security and access to displaced and vulnerable populations?

Kwaja -- The Boko Haram insurgency has adversely affected relief efforts in terms of the scale of attacks against communities, as well as humanitarian workers. The fact that roads remain un-safe, makes movements difficult and risky for relief workers and even security personnel in some cases.

HI² -- How have the large number of IDPs changed the demographics of the affected regions?

Kwaja -- A recent report on the state of displacements in the north-east region revealed that there are currently 1,878,205 IDPs that spread across three states as follows: Borno state, 1,446,829; Adamawa state, 163,456; and Yobe State 135,442 respectively. The report also revealed that there are currently 72,846 refugees in Cameroon. According to the Presidential Committee on Northeast Initiative (PCNI), the northeast has so far lost over $9 billion due to the insurgency that started in 2009.

HI² -- How do these demographic shifts impact the access to livelihoods and resources?

Kwaja -- The current humanitarian and protection needs of IDPs is grossly inadequate, as evident in the continued reports of malnutrition and deaths. This displaced population is currently faced with huge existential threats that require urgent life-saving interventions. With only an estimated 10 percent of the IDPs located in formal camps, the majority of them are located in host communities where both the resources and services they receive are over stretched and strained.

HI² -- What are some of the perceivable long-term impacts?

Kwaja -- So far, people displaced and those fleeing from their communities left their productive assets behind, which are mostly agrarian, thereby compromising their livelihoods and further disrupting agricultural production. These traditional sources of livelihood are disrupted, which in turn has led to a shrinking of the economies in the north-east region. In a fundamental way, the drying up of the Lake Chad, coupled with desertification is having a negative impact on the states that are viewed as the frontline states in the northern region, mainly Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states.

HI² -- Can you please describe the current work you are doing in the north-east region?

Kwaja -- I was recently appointed as a member of the United States Institute for Peace (USIP), Senior Working Group on the drivers of instability in northern Nigeria. Our work involves providing technical support to governors of northern Nigeria in terms of addressing the drivers of conflict, which also includes the north-east region. I have been involved in several research initiatives, which focus on (i) missing persons and enforced disappearances as a result of insurgency (ii) the benefits of de-radicalisation, rehabilitation and reintegration for returnee members of Boko Haram.