While the wars in Yemen and Syria dominate global news cycles, the conflict in northeastern Nigeria is less widespread in the media. The conflict, with no sign of deterioration, has decimated the region’s communities, livelihoods and local economies that depend on agriculture or grazing, and made farming impossible on large tracts of land prone to attack, writes Leonard Blazeby, Head of Prevention, Delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Federal Republic of Nigeria.
With around 200 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa. With an economy of nearly $ 500 billion, it is the continent’s largest economy. The country is a major oil producer, has the third largest film industry in the world, and makes an international contribution to literature and sports. It won the continent’s first Nobel Prize for Literature and the Olympic gold medal in football. Unfortunately, since independence from the United Kingdom in 1960, the country has been exposed to conflict and violence for several decades. Today the country faces violence and insecurity, with the armed conflict in the northeast being the best known. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has had a permanent presence in Nigeria since 1988.
While the wars in Yemen and Syria dominate global news cycles, the conflict in northeastern Nigeria is less media outspoken, but it is the fifth largest ICRC operation in the world. The cause of the protracted armed conflict is politico-religious, and armed groups have made it clear that they are struggling to anchor their vision of an Islamic state in the region. Since 2009, the armed conflict has resulted in the death or mutilation of tens of thousands of people, displaced nearly two million people and spread to neighboring countries. The conflict, which has shown no signs of weakening, has decimated the region’s communities, livelihoods and local economies that depend on agriculture or grazing, and made farming impossible on large tracts of land vulnerable to attack.
In the north-central region, the ongoing conflict between farmers and ranchers has escalated over the past decade. This has been linked by some experts to struggles over dwindling resources and climate change. With Nigeria’s population tripling in the past fifty years, the arable land is proving inadequate for the country’s inefficient agricultural systems while also being exposed to the effects of desertification and unpredictable weather conditions. In addition to the struggle for land and grazing rights, the region is also exposed to ethnic violence and crime, including kidnapping.
The south-south region, also known as the Niger Delta, faces its own kind of violence. The wealth of the oil and gas production region did not contribute to a better life of the communities living there, so that in the late 1990s the youth began an armed struggle against the Nigerian state. This strand of violence subsided with the government’s 2009 amnesty program, but the region is still exposed to periodic urban violence, oil bunkers and ethnic violence that pits neighboring villages against each other. Its immediate neighbor, the southeast region, was the center of Nigeria’s civil war in the 1960s and is now facing another round of violence that is not inextricably linked to the secessionist sentiments that led to the civil war. The crackdown on agitators in the region has killed numerous people and at the same time heightened the tension.
The human costs of the conflict and violence in many parts of Nigeria have claimed thousands of lives. The crisis has worsened since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Access to medical care for the wounded and sick in the northeast is one of the causes of the conflict. The ICRC is working to build and strengthen a holistic approach to caring for the wounded and sick. This continuum of care follows the patient’s care from the community level or from the battlefield to his return to society. It starts with first aid training for first aiders. primary health care with medicines and equipment; Training in dealing with trauma, reproductive health, therapeutic treatment, nutrition, immunization, mental health, and psychosocial support. The ICRC also conducts war surgery and training, emergency trauma and physical rehabilitation for people with disabilities. The ICRC works with other stakeholders such as the Nigerian Red Cross Society (NRCS), the Ministry of Health and municipalities to improve access to health care. We have also adapted our working methods to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, both in our approach and to better protect vulnerable populations.
The majority of the nearly two million people displaced by the conflict in northeastern Nigeria are women and children. Displaced persons live in precarious conditions in overcrowded makeshift camps and in host communities, without the support of their social networks or a sustainable source of income. Many have been evicted more than once. Their resilience has been pushed to the limit, making them vulnerable to the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ICRC provides emergency supplies, water and shelter for displaced people living in camps and host communities who seek to support them. Thousands of people get food and cash when markets are working. Water and sanitation facilities are installed to allow displaced persons to live in hygienic and healthy environments to ward off water-borne diseases. While the ICRC also provides building materials for displaced people to build shelters for themselves.
As families flee from fighting and attacks in northeastern Nigeria, families are separated and many relatives, especially children and the elderly, are missing. Nearly 24,000 people are reported missing from their families, the highest number in the world, and their loved ones have no news of their fate or whereabouts. The ICRC is working with the Nigerian Red Cross Society (NRCS) to locate missing people, reconnect them, and reunite them with their families.
To help people in communities affected by conflict and violence in Nigeria regain their livelihoods, the ICRC works with private sector organizations such as Tony Elumelu. Tony Elumelu is a well-known Nigerian entrepreneur, economist, and philanthropist. Foundation (TEF), a philanthropic organization run by the African private sector whose vision is to empower African entrepreneurs. Around 500 entrepreneurs from northeast and south Nigeria have received seed capital to set up small and medium-sized 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.
The importance of Nigeria in Africa is reflected in the fact that there are 102 embassies and high-level commissions in the capital, Abuja, which enable the ICRC to have an important dialogue on its work and humanitarian issues with representatives from around the world such as the Russian Federation Some of them are donor countries for the ICRC and especially for our work in Nigeria.