Nigeria to lift ban on aid groups in northeast soon
United Nations humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock said Friday that Nigeria has promised to lift a ban on two international aid groups working in the restive northeast in the “next few days”.
The army closed down the offices of Action Against Hunger (ACF) and Mercy Corps in northeast Nigeria in September, sparking fears it could worsen the humanitarian crisis caused by the Boko Haram insurgency.
The military accused Paris-based ACF of “aiding and abetting terrorists and their atrocities” by supplying food and drugs to the jihadist fighters.
Lowcock said after meeting local officials and military chiefs in the conflict zone that he had “received assurances from the relevant authorities that the suspension of the activities of Mercy Corps and Action Against Hunger announced in September will be lifted in the next few days”.
“That should allow an immediate resumption of life-saving assistance to nearly 400,000 people who have been without food and other essential help for the last month,” he said in a statement.
The decade-long conflict in northeast Nigeria has killed an estimated 35,000 people, spilt into neighbouring countries and forced millions from their homes.
Lowcock said renewed violence this year has displaced 140,000 people and that over three million people are food insecure as farmers have been unable to plant crops.
The army’s closure of ACF and Mercy Corps offices was the latest flashpoint in the tense relations between aid organisations and the military.
Officials have accused charities of working with jihadists before.
Lowcock said the government was planning to bring together key players, including the UN and aid groups, in the next fortnight and welcomed any moves to “enhance dialogue”.
Nigeria’s military is struggling to contain the uprising that has seen Boko Haram split into several rival groups.
A faction aligned to the Islamic State group has intensified bloody attacks against the military since mid-2018.
The army has adopted a new strategy of pulling back troops from forward bases into so-called “super camps” in a bid to stem the losses, but residents complain it leaves swathes of the region unprotected.