LONG-TERM PROTRACTED CONFLICT IN NORTHEAST NIGERIA PRIMARILY A PROTECTION CRISIS
The conflict in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (BAY) states is first and foremost a protection crisis. Even before the outbreak of the COVID-19, the situation was severe; characterized by forced displacement, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), particularly against women and girls, and including rape, deliberate attacks on civilians, abductions, destruction of property and the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
A high percentage of displaced women and girls were survivors of SGBV and face stigmatization when they return to their communities. Many IDPs have suffered exploitation and abuse at the hands of the security forces mandated to protect them. As the government pursues a policy of relocation to improve the situation in overcrowded IDP camps there are widespread concerns within the humanitarian community that many returns fall short of international standards on voluntariness, safety, and dignity.
At the start of 2020 children faced multiple of protection risks including the risk of sexual exploitation and abuse (SGBV), increased violence in the home, homelessness, and dependence on negative coping mechanisms (such as early marriage, child labor and begging) due to poverty. UNICEF estimated that more than 1,000 children have been abducted by Non-State Armed Groups (NSAGs) in the northeast between 2013 and 2018, and even for those that are subsequently freed the stigma remains and reintegration into society is challenging (UNICEF 13/04/2018, UN OCHA 01/04/2020, UN OCHA 31/03/2020).
EDUCATION SERVICES IN NORTHEAST NIGERIA IN A POOR STATE WITH LOW ENROLMENT AND CRUMBLING INFRASTRUCTURE PRE-COVID-19
Before the pandemic, school enrolment levels in the BAY states were amongst the worst in Nigeria with 52% of children out of school and 935 schools already closed due to the conflict. Children faced many barriers to accessing education with many unable to enroll as schools were overcrowded or refusing to enroll children unable to pay for school levies or uniforms. Economic issues were cited as the main reason for families not enrolling children and included lack of money to pay fees and levies, being unable to afford uniforms or learning materials or the need for children to support the family through earning income. Cultural attitudes were also an issue, especially for girls. In addition, with large class sizes, many untrained teachers, old and dilapidated buildings and a lack of WASH facilities, the state of the education system deterred participation (UN OCHA 01/04/2020, EiEWG 06/12/2019).
INITIAL LOCKDOWN MEASURES CONTRIBUTED TO A RISE IN PROTECTION RISKS
COVID-19 containment measures, and in particular lockdown and movement restrictions limited access to affected populations and limited the access of populations to essential protection services. This also led to an increase in the number of unreported incidents. Psychosocial support services and reintegration efforts for children formerly associated with armed groups counted amongst the interventions heavily curtailed by restrictions. In addition, protection actors had to rely more heavily on community-based structures and remote systems to monitor the protection situation and to adjust modalities of interventions in line with COVID-19 prevention protocols.
UNHCR recorded an increase in incidents of Gender Based Violence (GBV) between January and April 2020, linking it to limited economic opportunities and lack of access to basic needs caused by the COVID-19. Additionally, the virus containment measures, such as the lockdown, are said to have worsened the pre-existing tensions in households, resulting in an increased rate of physical violence (UNHCR 26/05/2020).