posted on Sun 5 Mar 2017 11:23 PM
Dispatches from the Field: Visit to Maiduguri in Northeast Nigeria

On Sunday, following its meetings in Niamey, Niger, the Council delegation flew to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, Nigeria. Among the highlights during their half-day in Maiduguri were a visit to an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp, and a meeting with the state governor, Kassim Shettima.

Members’ first destination was Teachers Village IDP Camp, one of 75 camps in and around Maiduguri. According to figures provided by the UN humanitarian team to Council members, there are 781,000 IDPs in Maiduguri and Jere (a local government area bordering Maiduguri). Sixteen percent of the IDPs live in camps. The other 84 percent are in host communities. There are more than 1.5 million IDPs across Borno State.

At Teachers Village, Council members met with two groups of IDPs, as well as with women civil society organisations. Their first meeting was with a group of women living in the camp, who shared their stories from the conflict. One woman told members how Boko Haram had killed both her husband and 17-year old daughter. Another woman’s daughter had been abducted and was with Boko Haram for one-and-a-half years. Asked by Council members which of them had children abducted by the terrorist group, it seemed most women raised their hands. Many also raised their hands when asked if their husbands had been killed. Among their concerns were not getting enough food rations in the camps, their children not getting an education, and having no income, which had led to some women turning to prostitution.

Members also met a group of men who had fled their Lake Chad town and had been in the camp for about two years. The men said that this was the first visit they had received during this time. Like the women, they spoke about the lack of food rations and the poor quality of food, and expressed their frustration at not having any work.

At the meeting with women civil society organisations, representatives presented a number of issues affecting women. They elaborated on the issues of sexual exploitation and sexual violence, and emphasised the importance of psychosocial support for victims of the conflict.

During the day, members were able to learn more about the scale and challenges of the humanitarian crisis from the UN Humanitarian Country Team and representatives of non-governmental organisations. Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator Peter Lundberg told members that they were working to prevent a famine, and said that there is “a lot of movement” regarding IDPs. According to UN figures provided to the Council mission, 1.1 million IDPs have returned to their areas of origin since August 2015, but the number of displaced persons continues to increase with new displacements. During the meeting, concerns were raised about the use of armed escorts for the delivery of humanitarian aid and the need for unhindered access, especially for newly liberated areas. Seven-hundred thousand people in eight local government areas are estimated by the UN to be still inaccessible.

During the session, Lundberg explained the ways they have tried to integrate the work of the UN agencies and other international organisations. He noted, for example, that the nine humanitarian hubs being established across Borno State are not just for the UN system’s use but for all humanitarian actors.

Council members had the opportunity to learn more and ask questions about military operations in northeast Nigeria when they received a briefing from the Theatre Commander, Major General Lucky Irabor. Irabor told members that Boko Haram had been “decimated”, though “remnants” of the group remain, largely around Lake Chad. He noted the cooperation of Nigeria’s Operation Lafiya Dole, which he oversees, with the forces of other countries, either bilaterally or through the Multinational Joint Task Force. According to Irabor, the greatest challenges they face are from improvised explosive devices planted by Boko Haram, and from suicide bombers.

The general, alluding to the reports of human rights violations by Nigerian forces throughout the conflict, highlighted the code of conduct that soldiers must abide by, and disciplinary measures for those that do not do so. He also updated Council members regarding an investigation of a 17 January air strike on a displaced persons camp in Rann, Borno State, that killed more than 100 civilians. According to the investigation’s findings, the military had been given information that Boko Haram was in the area, triggering the strike. Although the strike on the camp was recognised to have been unacceptable, the group’s presence was demonstrated by a Boko Haram attack in Rann two days later. In response to some of the questions members asked about humanitarian access, Irabor said that the only time that humanitarian actors may not be able to go to some areas is when there may be ongoing military operations. He also said that the reason displaced persons have not yet returned to their former communities was because of the trauma that had been experienced, not because places are unsafe.

Meeting with Borno State Governor

At the end of the day, the Council delegation met with Borno State Governor Kashim Shettina. At the start of his remarks, he strongly criticised the focus of humanitarian support on IDPs in camps, as opposed to focusing on those in host communities, which make up the majority of displaced persons. Shettima outlined the destruction caused by Boko Haram, including over $9 billion in damage to northeast Nigeria, which included, inter alia, the destruction of over 963,000 homes in Borno State, comprising 30 percent of the housing stock, more than 500 primary schools and more than 200 health facilities.

Shettima emphasised that the conflict was a crisis of extreme poverty and a lack of jobs, and had “nothing to do with Islam”. He pointed out that northeast Nigeria and countries of the Lake Chad region, along with Darfur, are some of the poorest places on earth.

The governor told Council members that he believed the crisis presented an opportunity to re-engineer society in northeast Nigeria. He said that some of his main priorities are gender empowerment and education, and went on to describe policies and incentives to promote education. The governor highlighted the problem of the demographic boom in northern Nigeria, which would make Nigeria more populous than the US by 2050.

Shettima suggested that northeast Nigeria needed a Marshall Plan, and implored Council members to give the crisis the attention that it deserved. He suggested the focus should be on post-conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction since the insurgency was gradually coming to an end. He predicted that there would be peace in the next 9 to 10 months.

Several Council members posed questions, including on how to deal with stigmatisation and regarding cooperation with the UN humanitarian community. In his responses, Shettima said pyscho-social support was important, and he acknowledged the UN’s important role, but repeated his views on the need to provide more support for IDPs in host communities.