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Youths, COVID-19 and North-East Conflict

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The coronavirus has continued to pose varying degrees of challenges worldwide. In the Lake Chad region, the impact of the pandemic will most likely be worse for apparent reasons. First, the region has known Boko Haram violence for over 10 years. As a result, about 2.5 million people are currently displaced in the region. Moreover, nearly 10.7 million people require crucial humanitarian assistance. The environmental challenges in the region are also worrisome. The shrinking Lake Chad which is of immense agricultural cum economic importance has affected lives and livelihoods in the region. Much worse, the violent conflict and its attendant losses to livelihoods further complicate these internal challenges. According to conflict specialists, the scarcity of human capital development has left the population vulnerable to the antics of conflict entrepreneurs. How will COVID-19 pandemic affect the teeming population of youths in the region?

An estimated 246 million population surrounds the Lake Chad Basin. Also, about 30 million people are currently living within the area. The Lake Chad Basin countries (Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad) has a youthful population with its median age barely at 17.6 years according to the United Nations Population Fund’s report in 2017. The deficiency of human capital development, lack of employment opportunities make the youthful population who still depend on government for basic services exposed to recruitment by extremists. Furthermore, with COVID-19 pandemic, many Non-Governmental Organisations providing humanitarian support would have pulled out on health safety, priority and funding issues. In other words, if the youths in the region do not get adequate support in the face of existing humanitarian crisis and the pandemic, they are likely to turn to the violent extremists for support in return for allegiance or membership.

On the security angle, COVID-19 may have affected military operations in the region. if this is so, chances are it will also affect non-state armed groups (NSAGS) who are predominantly youths helping to contain the jihadist violence. Besides, as COVID-19 guidelines slow most socio-economic activities, its consequences are severe on the exposed population. In a situation of non-engagement, the armed non-state armed groups may resort to becoming security threats to communities in the region for their survival.

In an interesting turn of events, the pandemic may also have positive outcomes in the region. First, for instance, in Nigeria, about 7.9 million people need urgent humanitarian support, due to the pandemic, both Federal and State governments are providing palliative measures to reach the most vulnerable population. Although the transparency of the process may be improbable, however, state responses have targeted the vulnerable population who may have been neglected before the pandemic.

The violent conflict in the region has created new roles for some population groups in the region particularly youths. According to a study conducted by Nextier SPD to assess community resilience of some communities in the northeast that is part of the Lake Chad Basin, the youths have taken up policing roles to protect their communities. Youths in some terror-impacted communities are assiduously performing security services. Such existing platforms and order could be utilised to enforce the COVID-19 guidelines. Troops of Lake Chad Basin countries are largely swamped by the conflict and also having to enforce measures to contain the coronavirus spread in their home countries. Youth organisations in the Lake Chad Basin whose roles have evolved are tremendous resources to complement the securitisation of the region in these times.

Certainly, the COVID-19 poses mixed outcomes for the burgeoning population of youths in the Lake Chad, these probable outcomes should stimulate youth-specific policy actions and programmes by governments of countries in the region. First, to put in measures that will cushion the impacts of the pandemic on the youths in the region. Second, provide technical support and funding to youth-based community platforms that are performing civic duties.