Nigeria: Prioritizing a humanitarian response

Now that Nigeria’s 2019 general elections have concluded, President Mohammadu Buhari’s government will need to evaluate its policy priorities for the coming years. The country continues to face enormous humanitarian challenges that will require an urgent response from the Nigerian government and the international community.

As of January, about 1.95 million people have been displaced from their homes in Nigeria. Since then, even more people have been displaced as a result of electoral violence. Many of the displaced lack sufficient food, water and health care.

But due to the security situation in northeast Nigeria, many humanitarian agencies are unable to access people who are in need. They withdrew after Boko Haram attacked Rann, a town in northeast Nigeria, in December and January. The deadly attacks destroyed makeshift shelters, markets and livelihoods. Recently about 30,000 Nigerian refugees in Cameroun were forcefully returned to Rann despite the ongoing insecurity there.

Nigeria’s government has been putting its resources into a militarized response, spending about $1 billion for the purchase of warplanes, ammunitions and military equipment, while relying heavily on the international community for humanitarian assistance.

Unfortunately, the militarized approach continues to make the situation worse. It has increased food insecurity, forced displacement and human rights abuses. In contrast, a holistic humanitarian approach would cost less and would help communities to build resilience and be better prepared to withstand future violence and disasters.

In 2018 the United States obligated $32 million in humanitarian assistance to Nigeria. This amount is not able to meet the increasing humanitarian needs. On March 11, President Trump proposed a steep 24 percent cut to global foreign assistance funding in his Fiscal Year 2020 budget request. This includes life-saving humanitarian assistance, poverty-focused development programs, and peacebuilding programs.

These programs respond to the needs of millions of people suffering from disease, hunger, displacement and violence, in many of the same countries where Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) works. In Nigeria, for example, MCC supports Women and Youth Empowerment for Advancement and Health Initiative (WYEAHI). The initiative responds to the needs of Christian and Muslim widows and female orphans in the northeastern State of Adamawa to help them rebuild their lives.

MCC also supports humanitarian relief efforts by Emergency Preparedness Response Teams in Plateau and Adamawa States, as well as peace education through the formation of peace clubs in schools to reduce prejudice and build trust.

You can help support these efforts by giving to MCC. In addition, please ask your members of Congress to support foreign assistance programs. As James 2:14-17 reminds us, good works complement our faith in God.


Charles Kwuelum is a legislative associate for international affairs in the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office. Story originally published on March 29, 2019. Reprinted with permission from Peace Signs

Photo: Hajiya Binta, a local Emergency Preparedness and Response Team (EPRT) member in the Bukuru community of Jos, Nigeria, presents at a meeting in March 2018. Local EPRT teams, a collaboration between MCC and JDPC (Justice Development and Peace CARITAS) seek to build and promote sustainable peace, resulting in the reduction of election violence, community conflict and emergencies/crises in Plateau State creating a culture of harmony and acceptance among secondary school age children throughout Plateau State. MCC Photo/Allan Reesor-McDowell

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