Humanitarian Day: Unspeakable Plight Of Nigerian Aid Workers

Humanitarian Day: Unspeakable Plight Of Nigerian Aid Workers
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By Lois Effiong

Despite being called the giant of Africa, Nigeria is ranked top in terms of insurgency and internally displaced persons that have been an outcry attracting financial aid and humanitarian services from national and international organizations.

Amid rendering humanitarian services to civilians that continue to endure a conflict that has led to widespread forced displacement and violations of international humanitarian and human right laws, aid workers are being tracked and frustrated by forces opposing peaceful co-existence in the nation.

Some of them have lost their lives in rendering this aid.

According to Nigeria Displaced Tracking Matrix, DTM, six most affected Northeastern states of Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Taraba and Yobe experience heightened hostilities and increased insecurity which has led to waves of mass displacement and continue to impact humanitarian operations.

Due to this, an estimated 823,000 people remain inaccessible to humanitarian actors who have been working in support of the Nigerian Government to robustly scale up to the needed response. This conflict continues to uproot lives of thousands, especially women and children, abducted and exposed to sexual violence, trafficking, and other forms of gender-based violence, yet underreported.

Northeastern Nigeria has become the uninhabitable region in the country due to series of insurgency and environmental crisis; welfare aid workers still render Humanitarian services alongside relief item aids such as food, medical services, shelter, education, water, and sanitation.

These workers operate in the front-line charged with the responsibility of saving the lives of IDPs, reducing their suffering, and facilitating the effective distribution of aid materials.

According to research, there are only 2,000 indigenous and 500 international aid workers providing humanitarian services in worst affected states in Nigeria.

However, it is becoming increasingly dangerous to provide humanitarian assistance in Nigeria given the rise in death of aid workers.

Over the years, recorded death of aid workers keep increasing, shrinking them back to their shell. In a single Boko Haram attack in March 2018, three humanitarian workers were killed and three sustained injuries, which was first publicly acknowledged aid workers casualty since insurgency began in 2009 and led to the evacuation of 40 aid workers and the temporary suspension of humanitarian deliveries in Rann, Borno State.

There are still cases of humanitarian workers kidnapped for ransom due to poor security conditions, deterring aid workers from providing assistance in many conflicted parts of North East Nigeria. On account of security issues, three Local Government Areas have been identified completely inaccessible, while 26 LGAs in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states are identified as partially accessible.

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In an exclusive interview with AljazirahNigeria, humanitarian aid worker in an internally displaced camp in Borno state, name withheld, said that lack of humanitarian aid workers in internally displaced camps, has made job execution very challenging, as many hands are needed on deck.

He said: “The number of humanitarian workers in Nigeria is low when compared with the over 7.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Few aid workers provide humanitarian services in Borno state leading to overwhelming work load.”

The reward for humanitarian assistance is not reciprocal to the effort and energy exerted by humanitarian workers who risk their lives in insecure regions of the country. A global survey carried out by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNCFR, indicates that 72 per cent of its aid workers lack reciprocity between effort and potential rewards.

However, the exposure of humanitarian workers to traumatic events and neglect of mental issues in the country is a problem facing humanitarian workers in Nigeria.

Due to the dearth of mental health facilities, humanitarian workers do not receive adequate care for their mental health. This is leading to a considerable neglect of mental health issues in Nigeria, with limited centers across states.

In a response to questions asked by AljazirahNigeria correspondent on the health status of aid workers, given the hazards associated with their line of work, Doctor Nelson Ojo, Lapsy Health Centre, Nasarawa state, had this to say: “Humanitarian workers are at risk of mental health issues given the hazard associated with their line of work.

Executed aid workers

Humanitarian workers relative to the general population are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, secondary traumatic stress, burnout, and alcohol misuse. This is due to exposure to traumatic events while administering humanitarian assistance amid contact with victims of conflict as well as an effort-reward imbalance.”

In the wake of insurgency attacks in Nigeria, aid workers have been on the frontlines of violent attacks in their bid to render humanitarian services to the victims said Mr Oswald Rinkat, a member of Mercy Corps, an organization that make sure 100,000 people have enough food to eat monthly.

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He said: “The situation of aid workers in Nigeria is as bad as those of the victims of violence, which have prompted some of my colleagues to voluntarily withdraw from their jobs.”

“Even with heavy military presence, Rinkat continued, an average aid worker feels largely unprotected because of unpredictability of the activities of insurgents as acknowledged by the Nigerian Army in June.”

According to a report by the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs in Nigeria earlier last month, restricted humanitarian access to victims of violent attacks in form of military activities, road closures among others impeding factors are rendering the delivery of aid assistants difficult for humanitarian workers.

The report read partly: “A volatile and unpredictable situation for civilians triggering significant population displacements particularly throughout Borno state, and impeding humanitarian access. Tens of thousands civilians are left without adequate access to humanitarian assistant.”

Given the precarious situation in the region bordering Cameroon, Chad and Niger, the aid workers in many areas use military escorts and stay on or by bases.

To prevent the current humanitarian emergency from claiming more lives, prolonging the conflict and fuelling longer term insecurity in conflicted regions, Nigerian government must match its military campaign against Boko Haram with strong commitment to addressing the immediate humanitarian needs and longer-term development and reconstruction assistance to rebuild the north east. That includes granting access to and facilitating independent local and international reporting and assessments. This is necessary for an independent analysis of outstanding relief requirements.

In an exclusive interview with AljazirahNigeria, retired Major General Eddy Edward of the Nigerian Army, speaks on mutual conversion and the need for security agencies in Nigeria to fight Boko haram. This will improve the welfare of victims and humanitarian aid workers.

He said: “there should be mutual conversion between federal government and journalist to access the situation and curb out preferred solutions. The president of Nigeria should pay special attention to the governance of aid. Reports of the embezzlement and diversion of food and other aids need to be properly investigated and officials found to have stolen or mismanaged aid must be sanctioned. For example, the report of the Borno state House Verification Committee into allegations of aid diversion, which should be completed soon, should be made public and quickly and openly acted upon.”

“The security sector in Nigeria should be empowered with arms, properly trained and oriented to be able to tackle insecurity issues in the society.”

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However, International partners must drastically increase their humanitarian response by releasing all funds pledged to the UN and other humanitarian agencies for the emergency. They must lend greater support to the Nigerian government, preferably in a high-level forum that includes the military, UN agencies, international NGOs, as well as local civil society and NGOs. This forum should provide a platform for all actors to share knowledge, including their assessments of the gravity of the humanitarian situation and areas of greatest needs as well as clarify guiding principles and improve working relations.

“The Buhari administration for its part needs to be far more proactive. A clarification of its assistance framework is pressing, and senior officials need to make clear that they regard the unfolding humanitarian crisis as a first-order priority. The government should accelerate the implementation of its response, for instance in disbursing the 12 billion naira (about $41 million) which it announced, in May 2016, would be used to rebuild the north east and also in implementing the programs of the Victims Support Fund” activist said.

Humanitarian aid worker, name withheld in an interview with AljazirahNigeria said: “Periodic visits by senior leaders, including President Buhari himself, to the camps and major communities hosting IDPs are essential to begin breaking down the suspicion faced by the newly displaced, and to affirm to them, as well as to state and government officials, that as Nigerian citizens and victims of the insurgency should not be left without food or medical assistance. Governor Shettima’s visits are welcome moves, he should make more and his fellow governors should follow his example. Without a visible and genuine commitment to providing the humanitarian support needed in these areas, insecurity will persist – and could become worse – and peace will remain far out of reach.”

As world celebrates humanitarian day, aid workers who have risked their lives in performing humanitarian services to victims of violence and environmental crisis should be recognized. The plight of welfare workers should be addressed, towards making the environment enabling for better productivity and economic value in the society.


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