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The ‘largest crisis on the continent’ is happening in Nigeria, to Nigerians


* Actor, Djimon Honsou, visits Maiduguri to bring attention to urgent malnutrition crisis
* Oxfam calls for greater provision of emergency food assistance

The ongoing crisis in Northeast Nigeria has been described by the UN as “the largest crisis on the African continent.” According to Oxfam, there are currently 1.2 million internally displaced people in Nigeria, but the numbers of those in need of help is far greater. Oxfam revealed that across Adamawa, Borno and Gombe an estimated 8.5 million people would need assistance in 2017, including food, water and shelter. The UN estimates this will cost around $1 billion.

Actor, producer and Oxfam ambassador, Djimon Hounsou, visited the Northeast last week to witness first-hand the effects of the crises and he painted a very gory picture of the dire situation of what’s going on.

“I met with the displaced families, mostly you see a lot of women without their husbands,” he told The Guardian Nigeria. “Their husbands are missing… [they] were killed during the conflict or captured afterwards. That’s pretty tragic. So many kids [are] out on the streets, lacking food, lacking clean drinking water.”

The two-time Academy award nominee who was born in Benin, spoke of his desire to “Shine a light on the issue to world communities.”

“I’m a son of the continent [so] it’s my inherent obligation to care for my own people,” he said. “I also came upon an amazing quote which said: ‘We should all be ashamed to die unless we have made some major contribution to human society.’ I’m looking to make a social impact here.”

Oxfam, who have been assisting the region since 2014, have observed the evolution of the situation in the Northeast. Although there has been progress made, things remain “fluid”. The army has reclaimed territory from Boko Haram but there are still areas under the group’s control, resulting in an unknown number of people who are trapped.

“We don’t know how many there are, we don’t know how hungry they are, we don’t know anything about their situation,” said Kathryn Achilles, Humanitarian Campaign Manager at Oxfam. “The security situation also remains very fluid and quite unpredictable,” Achilles continued. “So even in Maiduguri now we are seeing attempted or actual suicide attacks, a lot of the time horrifically carried out by young children.”

“We need to be mindful of the fact that just because people have fled from Boko Haram, it doesn’t mean they’re safe.”

As for the staggeringly high estimates of those in need, Achilles said that she suspects the true number of those in need is “slightly higher.”

“In any humanitarian crisis you never really have precise numbers,” she said. “It’s a very difficult process especially when you’re working in a place like north-east Nigeria where we don’t have access to everyone that might need our support.”

“Debates about whether numbers are true or not can risk delaying our response, and the slower we are to respond the more people can get sick or people die,” she continued.

Raising awareness and galvanising the international community are key in mounting an adequate response to the crisis according to Achilles. “This is one of the biggest crises in Africa and yet you talk to people in Nigeria and the rest of the world and it’s barely known,” she said. “It’s barely a blip on the international agenda.”

While the government continues to make progress made she said there’s more that can be done. “We need the government to be doing much more in terms of strengthening humanitarian coordination, to really work with us to identify where there are gaps and meet those needs,” she said.

The most pressing need however is food. The UN estimates more than 4.4 million people are in urgent need of food assistance. They predict 400,000 children in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe will suffer severe acute malnutrition over the next year if urgent measures aren’t taken.

“We need to get enough food into north-east Nigeria to meet the needs,” she said. These people are going to need food assistance of some sort for probably the next year.

Government intervention and NGO action aside, ordinary Nigerians also have a pivotal role to play. “It’s very important for the Nigerian people to remember that this is happening to Nigerians,” she said. “Ordinary Nigerians [need to] reach out to the government and demand of them the type of response they’d want if it was happening to them, to their families, their communities, what would they want the government to do?”

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  • barriga bello

    Good enough!! I hope those who are expending funds for 2019 elections will read this article and put a fraction of their election budget to work for the IDPs. For example – Abubakar Atiku, Modu Sheriff, Markafi, and others. Like it, hate it or both.

  • Albert Corban

    Mr Uwazuiruki must come
    to terms with the fact that the argument for the existence of an independent
    state of Biafra has become progressively weakened, from the sixties, when the
    idea was first mooted, even Ojukwu agreed. Even if it is proven conclusively
    that the people in the geographical entity called Biafra are marginalized any
    more than the Edos or Ijews, even if it is proven that the people of Biafra
    suffer more discrimination and violence in the hands of security forces, it
    still would not justify the existence of an independent state of Biafra, any
    more than suggesting that because the people of Edo or Ijew, or other minority
    grounds, have suffered marginalization in the federal entity, they should be
    entitled to independent nation. I find as laughable Mr Uwazuiriki’s argument
    that Biafra has “qualified personnel, tax system, offices etc.” to sustain an
    independent nation, but so do the people of Edo, Ijew and Fulani, who could
    boast of excellent staff, beautifully designed flags, etc; this is the domino
    effect of the argument for the nation of Biafra. While I accept that the people
    of Biafra have suffered discrimination in the Federal entity, like minority
    groups in the country, the solution lies in a level playing field, through an
    effective law and order, starting with the indiscriminate prosecution of
    corruption, providing a sense of belonging to everyone regardless of their
    tribes or language, securing a sense of freedom and justice and fairness for
    all. In the unlikely event that Biafra succeeds, it means the end of Nigeria as
    an entity; if the people of Biafra remains, so will the entity called Nigeria; Biafra
    needs Nigeria and Nigeria needs Biafra; the slogan now should be “one for all,
    all for one”.