NOT until the reported abduction of over 200 young school girls from Chibok in Borno State, North-East Nigeria in April, 2014, the menace of the Boko Haram insurgency in Northern Nigeria never gained prominence in global discussion. The #BringBackOurGirls awareness campaign on the social media sparked an international outrage and pressure on the Nigerian government and the Western world to get their acts together to secure the release of the abducted school girls.
There had been reported cases of abduction in the North-East before the Chibok incidence, with several thousands of young boys and girls forcefully taken in their sleep from schools, homes and farms. In many cases, villages were sacked, police stations and posts overrun by these insurgents, leaving villagers to their fate. This was a common situation for years, and living inside the forests of Borno was far more safe for residents than their homes and villages.
Today, there are over two million internally displaced persons (mostly women and children) from the insurgency in North-East Nigeria and another 80,000 taking refuge in neighbouring Cameroon, according to figures from the Nigerian Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
The displacement of children from their homes is creating a huge problem for the region and the Nigerian government, and these children are no doubt “out-of-school.” Record shows that Northern Nigeria has the highest number of out of school children in Africa, and possibly tops the chart globally. Before the outbreak of the Boko-Haram insurgency, the Nigerian government, in association with diverse international organisations, had been stepping up campaigns and strategies to get out-of- school children back into classrooms.
The low literacy and numeracy rates are exacerbated by the number of children who are displaced, separated from families or orphaned; the large number of displaced teachers; and schools that have been destroyed or closed due to the violent extremism in the area, which targets the very education that is Nigeria’s best hope.
The government’s effort in arresting this huge humanitarian need, as well as fighting the war on insurgency simultaneously, cannot be rated successful without the inputs from good spirited Nigerians and international aid organisations providing relief materials for the displaced Nigerians.
The role of philanthropy in fighting the humanitarian crisis in North-East Nigeria is not negligible. The last administration of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated the Victims Support Fund Committee, with the primary responsibility of sourcing support funds both from public and private pockets for victims of the insurgency in the region. The committee was headed by Nigeria’s former Minister of Defence, General T.Y Danjuma (rtd).
Africa’s richest man and billionaire, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the Borno State born Alhaji Mohammed Indimi and Nigeria’s Former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar, amongst others have been in the forefront in tackling the humanitarian crisis in the North-East.
So far, Dangote has made donations and pledges worth over N3.2 billion ($16,076,384m) to the displaced Nigerians and, most recently, the delivery of 106 trucks of food and relief materials to IDPs’ camps across the region through the Dangote Foundation.
The Atiku Abubakar founded American University of Nigeria (AUN) in Yola, Adamawa State, is also making huge mark in addressing the humanitarian crisis. The AUN works in tandem with the Adamawa Peacemakers Initiative (API), which was formed in January 2012. It was a reasoned response to the increasing threats of violence and growing mutual suspicion in Nigeria’s North-East.
API has ongoing projects such as “The Peacemakers” television show, the annually celebrated Peace Day, the “Peace Through Sports” tournament, Peace Lecture Series, IT training and literacy programmes, and the Grand Alliance for Adamawa, through which it fosters peace through education, empowerment and community development, alongside AUN. This partnership unites academic leaders of the university and religious and community leaders of API in the pursuit of peace and reconciliation.
Recently, the API launched the Insurgency Intervention Fund, a one billion naira contributory fundraising programme that is designed to assist in rehabilitating IDPs in violence-prone Adamawa State. This fund would be raised in tranches of N200 million over a 12-month period, and will seek to reach out to various individuals, local and foreign organisations.
So far, the AUN-API team feeds and houses over 300,000 IDPs in Adamawa State, and according to available statistics, the team has supplied food, medicines and relief materials to over 163,500 households through local religious and community-based organisations in the state in December 2015.
The AUN President, Dr. Margee Ensign, who chairs the API, claims that the organisation has initiated numerous programmes in the community to benefit both indigenes and IDPs.
“We have the all-year-long ‘Peace Through Sports’ programme, two major income-generating projects for community women, and a new literacy program christened ‘Technology Enhanced Learning for All.’”
In addressing pressing issues of education amongst displaced children in Adamawa, the AUN is partnering with local religious and community leaders to establish a programme for vulnerable Nigerian youths, christened the “Feed and Read” programme. This offers a low-cost, highly scalable and replicable plan to address the situation. According to Ensign, “carefully targeted, modest amounts of assistance and practical intervention, make it possible to put the brakes on the accelerating suffering. Within six months, our goal is to get all of the participants to be able to read and do basic arithmetic, addition, subtraction, division and multiplication of two digit numbers.”
In Yola, North-East Nigeria, there are hopes for displaced and out of school children, even as government is vamping up efforts to return displaced persons back to their towns and villages.
No doubt, it remains a struggle between humanity and inhumanity.
- Okagbare writes from Kristiansand, Norway.