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Famine Boko Haram, FG cooking a disaster in the North

What the country is dealing with now is a full blown man-made disaster that's going to take a lot of smart decisions to undo.

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The United Nations says nearly two million people are on the brink of famine in northeast Nigeria play

The United Nations says nearly two million people are on the brink of famine in northeast Nigeria

(AFP/File)

When the Boko Haram insurgency turned up the heat in the northern region of the country in 2009, it was bad news for a lot of obvious reasons.

The relentless destruction of lives and properties aside, it also exposed the dire incapability of the Goodluck Jonathan administration to properly contain a really bad situation.

President Muhammadu Buhari's government came in and restored order for a while but through those eight years, human casualties was a constant.

The insurgency has resulted in over 20,000 deaths, and displaced over two million people scattered across refugee camps all over the region.

Even more worrying is the disturbing indication that millions more are at risk of dying an even slower, more painful death.

Women wait for food distribution in the town of Banki in northeastern Nigeria in April 2017 as conflict and the risk of famine heighten play

Women wait for food distribution in the town of Banki in northeastern Nigeria in April 2017 as conflict and the risk of famine heighten

(AFP/File)

 

Earlier this year, the United Nations declared famine in parts of war-torn South Sudan, and projected that 20 million people across four African countries are at risk of being affected by an imminent famine crisis.

What these four countries (Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria) have in common is internal conflict.

South Sudan has plunged into war since 2013 after a clash between President Salva Kiir of the Dinka ethnic group and Vice President Riek Machar of the Nuer group turned into an ethnic conflict that has divided the country and claimed the lives of many.

In Somalia, terrorist group Al-Shabaab reportedly controls 10% of the country's territories.

The civil war in Yemen, that's chiefly between the government and the Houthis rebel group, has attracted opposing participation from Iran and Saudi Arabia.

More than 20 million people are at risk of famine in Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia, where this malnourished child was being weighed by an aid worker play

More than 20 million people are at risk of famine in Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia, where this malnourished child was being weighed by an aid worker

(AFP/File)

Nigeria has, of course, been dealing with its own Boko Haram problem, which has over the course of the past eight years, become one of the deadliest terrorist groups in the world.

Over the years, the Nigerian government has unwittingly combined efforts with the terrorist group to create a disastrous famine crisis in the north to worsen the situation.

It took a combination of connected actions from both parties, but the northern part of the country is at risk because of them.

Boko Haram's contribution to the crisis

In its bid to establish a caliphate in the country, Boko Haram, armed with imprudent violence that shocked many, trod all over the northeast with a campaign of destruction.

Shekau's mother says he was an almajiri boy before joining Boko Haram play

Boko Haram's shadowy leader, Abubakar Shekau

(Reader)

 

Their rampage suppressed economic activities in those areas, steadily destroying agricultural production and causing food insecurity.

They went about the place, rashly decimating the agricultural economy of the north that was regarded as the country's agricultural capital.

At the height of their powers, some of the injudicious decisions the group made included destroying farmlands, looting food, and stealing cattle from the common folk.

There have been reports that the terrorist group even went to the trouble of planting land mines in farmlands to deter people.

Over these tortuous years, many harvest seasons passed in Borno with nothing to show in the markets which were also favourite attack spots for the terrorists to bomb.

This was the beginning of the food crisis in the north as it was incredibly dangerous to attempt to grow food.

As a result of this, prices of food were unsurprisingly jacked up to what most people couldn't afford.

In unfortunate circumstances such as this, local and/or foreign humanitarian aid is something victims always have to desperately depend upon.

When non-governmental organisations started sending food aid and other relief materials to victims in piling refugee camps in the affected areas, Boko Haram, on cue, started to attack and raid the supplies for their sustenance.

Malnourished boy at an IDP camp in Borno play

Malnourished boy at an IDP camp in Borno

(Sky News)

ALSO READ: Africa is the worst place for children

Federal Government's culpability in the famine crisis

There's no real fool proof guide on how to effectively snuff out a full blown insurgency, but lukewarm reactions to it in its early years did not help.

Former President Jonathan's actions against Boko Haram in the early years of the group's rampage bordered on recklessly unbothered.

This was mostly because, according to many, his administration believed it was a politically orchestrated gambit by opposition forces to frustrate his governance and turn the country against him.

If it was indeed planned by opposition forces, it worked because he was voted out of office in the 2015 presidential elections and replaced by President Buhari partly due to the Boko Haram problem.

I will make sure PDP returns to power in 2019 – GEJ play

Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan waves to the crowd as he leaves the office during the inauguration of President Mohammadu Buhari at the Eagles Square in Abuja, on May 29, 2015

(AFP/File)

 

One month after his inauguration in 2015, Buhari relocated the military's Anti-Insurgency Command and Control Centre in Abuja to Maiduguri.

This set the tone for the president's subsequent aggressive military campaign against the sect that had already decimated the northeast.

In December 2016, the president declared the scourge of the group as finally over after the military sacked Sambisa Forest, Boko Haram's main stronghold.

Several successful attacks in recent months suggest that the president was wrong.

Despite significantly curtailing the operations of Boko Haram, Buhari's sustained aggressive military operations came with the side effect of further repressing the region's economic life, making it even more difficult to grow food.

The army closed markets because they were easy targets for terrorists to attack.

Soldiers also, quite understandably, blocked food supplies to areas that were heavy with Boko Haram presence, punishing them and, unfortunately, the civilian victims trapped there with them.

Food became a weapon the military deployed (or didn't) to fight the insurgency, a very common tactic.

Children gather next to a truck after a food truck arrives at Bakkasi Internally displaced peoples camp Maiduguri, Nigeria November 30, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde play Children gather next to a truck after a food truck arrives at Bakkasi Internally displaced peoples camp Maiduguri, Nigeria November 30, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

 

It's hard to blame Buhari or his administration for the ugly consequence of their tactics because it was left with virtually no other choice than to respond with adequate military response.

However, despite the marked difference between the approach of Jonathan and Buhari's governments, one problem persisted: administrative arrogance.

To maintain the appearance of a stable flourishing nation foreign investors can be comfortable in, Jonathan inadvertently swept Boko Haram under the carpet, delaying relevant agencies from responding to the crisis in time.

To paint a picture of tremendous success against the group, Buhari's government suppressed the true extent of the damage that was still going on in the north.

Efforts of the media to gain unfettered access, to be able to adequately report the full scope of the malaise ravaging the region, were frustrated.

The government's stranglehold on humanitarian and media access to the region has invited accusations of negligence in light of their uncompromising stance that downplayed the scale of the damage.

This resulted in the United Nations neglecting to declare a 'Level 3 Emergency' in time despite that the rate of severe acute malnutrition was already 19% in 2016; 16% more than it needed to have been to declare an emergency.

A child suffering from malnutrition in an IDP camp in Borno play

A child suffering from malnutrition in an IDP camp in Borno

(Today)

 

After a UN revelation last year claimed that millions could die of starvation in 2017, the presidency responded by referring to the projection as unnecessary hype.

An official statement said, "We are concerned about the blatant attempts to whip up a nonexistent fear of mass starvation by some aid agencies, a type of hype that does not provide solution to the situation on the ground but more to do with calculations for operations financing locally and abroad.

"In a recent instance, one arm of the United Nations screamed that 100,000 people will die due to starvation next year.  A different group says a million will die.

"If you say that 1 million people will die or 7 million will go hungry - are they really accurately taking cognisance of the entire situation? Our sense is that there is no need for hype.

"The hype, especially that which suggests that the government is doing nothing is, therefore, uncharitable and unnecessary."

Damage assessment

What the country is dealing with now, because of the mismanagement of a very bad situation, is a full blown man-made disaster that's going to take a lot of smart decisions to undo.

To solve the famine across the four countries, the UN is soliciting $4.4 billion for emergency relief funding. Only a fraction of that has been donated.

Nearly two million people are on the brink of famine in northeast Nigeria but there are not enough funds to feed them play

Nearly two million people are on the brink of famine in northeast Nigeria but there are not enough funds to feed them

(AFP/File)

 

Last month, in what appears to be a significant show of intent to avert the impending famine crisis, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo launched a quarterly Special Relief Intervention plan that will largely cover provision and distribution of food grains in the region, especially for internally displaced people.

While this may represent a major turnaround, provision of relief aid to IDPs has been dogged by a series of high profile cases of mismanagement by officials that have largely gone unpunished by the government.

This considerably tames expectations about the intervention scheme because at the end of the day, this is still Nigeria. Those who know, know.

It is hoped that the government somehow muscles its way into solving a crisis that it could have avoided with a few choice changes.

If it doesn't, a few thousand people to millions in the north will have to live with a monster that its government helped to create.

Or die by it.

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