A region under fire – not just from Boko Haram

Cowpea farmer in Kano, Nigeria. In northern Nigeria, state curfews, meant to quell violence, are having a devastating impact on the poor. Photo by: © Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

In northern Nigeria, the medicine may be worse than the disease. State curfews that keep people inside as protection from Boko Haram are having a devastating impact on the poor. In some states, curfews have been in place nearly a year, and a 24-hour curfew that lasted two weeks was recently lifted in Kano.

Boko Haram, a terrorist group influenced by but not affiliated with al-Qaida, has been blamed for hundreds of deaths this year following attacks on schools, markets, churches and other buildings. The number of attacks has risen over the past six months, as has the death toll.

The group claimed responsibility for suicide blasts at two police stations and a separate attack at the vice president’s home on July 30.

Displacement and death are the obvious results of such violence, but livelihoods are the other casualties of a fight that often puts civilians in the crossfire between local security forces and suspected militants.

Curfews have lasted more than a year in Yobe, Borno and Kano states. They are a response to a combination of Boko Haram violence and decades-old intercommunal violence made drastically worse now that terrorist attacks pit religious communities against one another in retaliatory violence.

The restrictions are affecting food production; many people don’t feel safe enough to farm. With most of the violence in the drier part of the country, disrupted food security programs and reduced crop yields could create a severe state of hunger within the year, according to Hussaini Abdu, Nigeria country director for ActionAid.

People are afraid to leave their homes since markets have been raided, people killed by the hundreds, and villages attacked at night. People are dying at home, unable to get to hospitals, and children have stopped attending school, Abdu told Devex.

“It’s sad that people are dying, it’s unfortunate that people are dying because of gunshots and terrorist attacks,” Abdu said. “But it’s ignoring the fact that some people are being killed silently, not by the guns, but by the economic situation being created by the crisis.”

Many in the region eat what they make that day, and have no savings. If they can’t go out, they can’t get food.

Those who do venture out may put their lives at risk. One woman told Abdu she was too afraid to farm after her neighbors were shot and killed, caught between insurgents and security forces.

The police and military response has been brutal and at times indiscriminate. In July, the Nigerian military raided and evacuated ten villages and sent people to internally displaced people’s camps while they hunted for suspects of earlier attacks, according to Abdu.

Northern Nigeria is chronically underdeveloped and contributes to Nigeria’s paradoxical position as one of the richest and poorest countries in Africa. By absolute numbers, the 100 million Nigerians living in poverty belie Nigeria’s resource-rich position as a top recipient of foreign direct investment. Some believe the rise of Boko Haram and its demands for an Islamic state were born in part of this underdevelopment and marginalization.

Aid organizations need to pay attention to these humanitarian and development issues and reduce the emphasis on the binary religious divisions played up in the media, said Abdu. The real issues in Northern Nigeria are poverty and exclusion.

Read more:

Read more development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

  • Jennnews21

    Jennifer Brookland

    Jennifer Brookland is a Devex global development reporter based in Washington, DC. She has worked as a humanitarian reporter for the United Nations and as an investigative journalist for News21. Jennifer holds a bachelor's in foreign service from Georgetown University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University and in international law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School. She also served for four years as an Air Force officer.