By Karan Kochhar
Nigeria is in the midst of unrelenting problems. An insurgency by Boko Haram has caused more than 2 million people to flee their homes and seek refuge in aid camps. What was known as food scarcity a few years ago has turned into a full-scale famine. Citizens of North-East Nigeria, the area most affected by the insurgency, continue to face appalling poverty and malnutrition. The crisis does not seem to abate, despite efforts of the Nigerian Government and international aid agencies.
While the nation has been reeling due to severe food shortages and low nutrition levels for the past decade, international agencies have only recently come to terms with the grim situation in Nigeria. Though international aid has come to the rescue, rampant corruption in the country has led to large parts of the food aid being stolen.
Violence is the prime cause of the famine
Boko Haram, a radical Islamic group, has created a sense of insecurity in the north-eastern region of the country. Through a series of bombings, killings and abductions, the group has caused the displacement of millions of people. People living in the states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe have traditionally worked at plantations, growing staple food items such as millets, cowpeas and rice. However, in the wake of the violence created by Boko Haram, the farmers have fled, leaving the plantation land vacant. The agricultural infrastructure has been destroyed as these vast areas of land went on to serve as battlefields against the government forces.
Although government forces have won some areas back, farmers are still not willing to return to the land for the planting season. They are apprehensive because of the proliferation of landmines and improvised explosive devices. Further, without any financial support from the government, any farmer would face extreme difficulties in developing the infrastructure required for plantation. Diminished agricultural output has inevitably contributed to the food shortages in Nigeria.
Food aid: A rare necessity
The people who were able to escape the brutalities of Boko Haram are being forced to seek refuge in overcrowded camps located in the safety net of urban centres. Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, has seen its population double due to the influx of refugees. While the number of Internally Displaced People (IDP) in the camps has increased, food supplies have remained scant. This is due to an agricultural sector weakened by poor rainfall and a virtually diminished agricultural production from the North.
All this also comes at a time when nutrition levels in Nigeria are plummeting, with 10% of the children in camps facing acute malnutrition. More than 7 million people in states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe (out of which more than 50% are children), are in dire of need of humanitarian assistance.
Recognising the deteriorating situation, humanitarian agencies and world leaders met in Oslo this February to discuss the ongoing food crisis. Studies show that almost a billion dollars are required to combat the famine in Nigeria and at the end of the conference, delegates pledged $672 million in aid. This is a significant step towards tackling an issue that has long been neglected by the world.
Corruption and distribution problems
According to a statement by the acting President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, out of every 100 trucks carrying essential food grains for the victims, 50 were not delivered. He referred to it as a case of “diversion of relief material” although it is being interpreted as theft. In a similar incident last week, the Nigerian Court sentenced two government employees for selling food earmarked for IDPs in the open market. The goods were stolen by local officials and offered as gifts to politicians for Ramadan.
In view of such cases of corruption, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the federal agency responsible for distribution of aid, has come under the scanner for graft. Kashim Shettima, the Governor of Borno, accused aid agencies of profiteering from aid meant for people fleeing from Boko Haram. Explicitly denying any allegations of corruption, NEMA officials stated that while the onus of distributing aid was on NEMA, actual physical distribution was carried out by SEMA (State Emergency Management Agency).
Distribution of food aid is in utter chaos in Nigeria, with different groups deflecting criticism. The Federal-aid agency blames the state agencies for inefficiency and corruption, while the National Government accuses UNICEF of mismanaging distribution of food aid. In any case, strict monitoring of the distribution is imperative. The lack of seriousness on the issue displayed by the different agencies portrays a bleak future for the country if this trend continues.
Funds from the Oslo meeting should garner enough eyes from the international community to monitor the distribution of food grains. On the part of the Nigerian Government, beefing up the security is paramount. While the case of missing trucks of food is still under investigation, one possibility is that terrorist cells could have attacked the convoy carrying the aid and seized it.
The government forces have been successful in their offence and were able to capture some of the areas held by Boko Haram, which is a significant step towards dealing with the crisis. However, for the situation to improve, the government must focus on the rehabilitation of farmers. This is necessary if Nigeria aims to reduce food shortages. Financial assistance has to be provided to redevelop the violence-stricken agriculture sector.
Featured Image Credits: Flickr
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