Coronavirus pandemic has worsened the humanitarian crisis in Nigeria. In the second quarter of 2020, 10.6 million Nigerians in the northeast needed emergency humanitarian support. The statistics were at 7.1 million in 2019 and rose to 7.9 million at the beginning of 2020. Nigeria’s humanitarian crisis reaps from the terrorism-induced realities, poverty, marginalisation, underdevelopment, environmental hazards, and now the coronavirus pandemic. The jihadist conflict and the pandemic have combined with worsening harsh realities in the area.
Humanitarian assistance in the northeast is a big drop in the ocean as the crisis increases. Out of the 10.6 million people in need, about 7.8 million are targeted for intervention. With daily reports of coronavirus cases in Nigeria, there is no end in sight as the global struggle for a vaccine continues. Sadly, Boko Haram insurgents are relentless in their violent attacks. This means that the major causative factors of humanitarian crisis are far from over. Both tragedies continue to fundamentally alter lives and livelihoods in the region. Nigeria’s newly created Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development may have been a prophetic move to salvage the ongoing situation. But it has not stopped the exponential increase in the number of people in dire need.
With the ongoing violence, pandemic wave and underdevelopment deficits, the humanitarian crisis may never end. The Nigerian government must see palliatives and other short-term interventions as temporary solutions. The urgency of the humanitarian crisis requires emergency actions. However, government must engender durable solutions. The causes of the humanitarian disaster have shaped people’s realities. But it has also triggered the innovation of coping mechanisms for survival. Government has to seek more international assistance to support such grassroot initiatives that have helped people to survive. It is more sustaining to aid local initiatives than to focus solely on distributing aid. For instance, palliatives reportedly distributed in Nigeria during the lockdown may have helped people to survive hunger at the time, but it has not ended the sufferings today.
In response to the humanitarian crisis, government must mobilise local initiatives. These efforts must be sponsored by the government and donor-agencies but executed and implemented by the local people. According to Oxfam International, a new humanitarian model should reinforce national and local humanitarian responses, not to replace or undermine them. The idea of recognising and supporting local responses serves many positive interests; it will give people a sense of ownership and responsibility as they receive support to cope and improve their lives and livelihoods using their initiatives. It will also trigger local support for government, especially as it regards to the ideological war of the jihadists. A people-driven approach to humanitarian crisis promises sustainable impact to salvage the skyrocketing crisis.
To achieve this, government must partner with grassroots civil society groups, community groups to identify and support local responses to the humanitarian crisis, terrorism, and COVID-19 pandemic. The Ministry of Humanitarian Assistance, Disaster Management and Social Development must live up to its statutory expectation to be the driving government force to this approach. Civil society organisations also have a role to play in heightening the consciousness of local people and building their capacity to monitor governance efforts.