Nigerian state restricts food aid despite crisis
The governor of northeast Nigeria’s Borno state has banned food and aid distributions to tens of thousands of people who were displaced by conflict, a move condemned Thursday by humanitarian workers.
The region, affected by a 12-year-old jihadist insurgency, has 2.4 million people living in food crisis “or worse”, according to the UN, which projects the number will rise to 3.5 million next year.
In a letter seen by AFP, Borno’s governor Babagana Umara Zulum has written to “all humanitarian and development partners” to spell out the ban.
“No partner organization, either local, national or international, shall henceforth be allowed to embark on distribution of food and non-food items in any of our newly resettled communities across the state,” says the letter dated Monday.
The measure has a potential impact on large numbers of people who had previously lived in camps for internally displaced people (IDPs).
They left the camps under a government policy launched in 2018 to encourage “voluntary return, resettlement and reintegration.”
Many were moved by the government into fortified garrison towns in their districts of origin.
NGO workers say food insecurity in these resettled areas is high, and hunger will worsen as a result of the ban.
The governor’s spokesman, Isa Gusau, confirmed to AFP by email that the letter was authentic.
The goal, the governor said, is “to (wean) people off humanitarian food distribution and instead replace (it) with empowering people and giving them dignity to buy their own food and determine their future.”
Aid workers in Nigeria who help to provide assistance to more than eight million people in need told AFP they were worried about the measure.
How many people are affected by the ban is unclear, but NGO-provided data says at least 86,000 people have so far left camps in Maiduguri alone.
The measure does not affect food distribution in the IDP camps, the governor’s letter said.
But in areas where people have resettled, “access to land is unknown and from now to the next harvest, we are wondering how they will survive,” said a senior international NGO official who requested anonymity.
“Sending back people into food-insecure areas and cutting them off from any assistance contradicts the Kampala convention,” the official added.
The Kampala convention is the world’s only international treaty that binds governments to provide legal protection to IDPs.
“Food security and nutrition indicators across Borno state remain a major source of concern,” said Camilla Corradin, spokeswoman for the Nigeria INGO Forum in Nigeria, which includes dozens of international charities such as the International Rescue Committee and the Norwegian Refugee Council.
“We call on all actors to ensure that, while self-reliance can be developed, food and other relevant humanitarian assistance can continue to reach those in need,” Corradin added.
If access to life-saving support is not sufficiently scaled up, the UN warned in October, another 13,551 people are anticipated to experience “catastrophe-like conditions.”
Making matters worse, humanitarian workers have restricted their movements after being directly targeted by insurgents.
The Islamic-state West Africa Province group has taken over its rival Boko Haram and continues to launch deadly attacks across the state.
Last week, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said that “the operating environment in northeast Nigeria is increasingly volatile”.
“Non-state armed groups have scaled up ambushes on military convoys, use of explosive devices, indirect fire (mortars and rockets), and attacks on garrison towns.”
NGOs have previously warned that some of the areas where IDPs are resettling are not entirely safe.
Earlier this year, AFP met with displaced people in Maiduguri who had returned home only to flee again due to fresh violence.
The government has insisted that IDPs are only returned to secure areas.
Despite widespread concerns, Zulum plans to close at least 50 percent of camps in Borno state by next year and all camps by 2026.
In Maiduguri, five more camps that host more than 140,000 people are schedule to close by the end of the month.