Succour or Sorrow

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Many families in the Northeast region of Nigeria have known violence for more than a decade. The ensuing humanitarian challenges they have experienced are enormous. From losing their source of livelihoods to forced displacement. According to the United Nations (UN), in 2019, about 140,000 people have been displaced and more than 3 million people made food insecure as a result of renewed violence. The IDP camps where they have sought refuge and succour have not been able to provide the needed support. With the help of humanitarian agencies in the war zone, their chances of surviving the hunger, diseases, and healthcare challenges have greatly improved. However, some of these sources of succour have recently been cut off by the Nigerian state.

On Wednesday, 18th September 2019, members of the Nigerian military ordered Action Against Hunger (ACF) to close its main office in Maiduguri, Borno State. The move has, apparently, jeopardised the assistance of ACF to the vulnerable population of the terror-packed Borno state. Barely a week later, the Army closed down Mercy Corps office in the North-eastern region. The closure according to the military was due to the recent activities of some unscrupulous persons connected to the organisations, which have, tended, to undermine military operations in the region. Anecdotal accounts are that some humanitarian agencies are supplying drugs and food items to insurgent groups, improving their chances of surviving military conquest. However, the United Nations (UN) Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, has assured that the ban will be lifted soon.

According to the UN, stopping the work of the aid groups has left nearly 400,000 people without food and other essential items. While this is true considering the deepening humanitarian crisis, it is also important to tackle activities that have aided the elongation of the conflict. If terror groups have access to humanitarian aids, they will be better poised to wage the war against the Nigerian state. In the United Kingdom and the United States of America, there are stringent counter-terror laws that prohibit NGOs from giving material assistance to terrorist groups. Although the UN, acknowledges that this practice can also hinder aids to reach the vulnerable population in areas controlled by terrorist groups, there is an obligation to ensure that actions and inactions do not directly or indirectly support terrorist agenda.

Nigeria has to act fast. With investigations already running into weeks and humanitarian crisis rapidly reaching a crescendo, the Nigerian state has to be prompt in its investigations as such bans have put more people on the pedestal of suffering. Whatever the outcome of the investigations will be, the Nigerian state should, through demonstrated mechanisms, ensure that humanitarian agencies working in the troubled region are not just sources of succour, but also enablers of terror groups.