The Boko Haram effect on development in Nigeria

Nigerian refugees who fled to Cameroon to escape the attacks by Boko Haram in the northeastern part of the country. These attacks have affected development efforts in the region. Photo by: D. Mbaoirem / UNHCR

The recent Boko Haram attack in the town of Baga in northeastern Nigeria has led to a disruption of aid efforts in and around the area. And because of the volatile situation, emergency humanitarian support is constrained.

According to Nick Westcott, managing director of the European External Action Service in Africa, the European Commission’s humanitarian arm, ECHO, is currently providing immediate short-term support in the form of food, water and health care to internally displaced people who were able to flee their homes in the January attack.

But most of the support, which is coursed through the donor’s implementing partners, is only reaching displaced people in government-controlled areas, such as around the state capital Maiduguri. Some of the EU’s local Nigerian partners are trying to get help in areas under Boko Haram control, but Westcott cautions it’s not very safe at the moment.

EU staff members, numbering 50 to 60, in Abuja are advised not to visit projects in Baga until the donor, through a risk analysis, determines it’s safe to do so.

“When things are safe, we can visit them. But at the moment, it’s not very safe to go there,” he told Devex.

While the EU, according to Westcott, is not heavily invested in the state of Borno, he admits that there’s been major disruption in some of their aid programs in neighboring states like Kobe and Adamawa. Their work on primary health care, for example, is currently inactive as even doctors and nurses have fled, fearing for their lives.

Westcott says the EU has provided 10 million euros ($11.8 million) to support the country’s counterterrorism efforts, but is not deploying forces.

Development disrupted

The incident in Baga is just the latest in a string of terror attacks that Nigeria has had to deal with in a span of a year. In April 2014, Boko Haram undertook one of its worst offenses when it kidnapped close to 300 Nigerian girls from a boarding school in Chibok town, also in Borno state. That led to the launch of the #bringbackourgirls campaign; to this day, however, most of the girls have yet to be recovered.

In November, meanwhile, hundreds died in an attack in a mosque in Kano state, some two hours away from Borno.

Nuru Ahmad Muhammad, public relations officer for the Kano Network of NGOs, told Devex no other attacks have taken place in the state since, and nongovernmental organizations operating there are able to conduct their business safely.

But this is not to say that everything is going smoothly. In Kano — and essentially other northern states in the country — NGOs continue to experience some disruption in their workflow. Following the terrorist attacks, it’s become difficult to get full access in several areas as villagers have become suspicious. An aid worker wishing to go into such areas needs to secure a permit and identify his organization before being allowed entry.

NGO programs aimed at raising people’s awareness on certain issues and educating them about government policies by conducting public meetings have also become difficult to carry out as the public, as well as government officials, traditional rulers and religious leaders have become less interested in participating.

“They won’t come unless the place is highly secured,” Muhammad said.

The kidnapping of schoolgirls in Chibok has also led some parents to keep their girls away from school, fearing that the same may happen to them.

This is the reason why the Nigerian government — whether the current one or the incoming administration that will be voted into power in the February election — and the international community needs to take the issue of security more seriously or risk a reversal of development gains made in the north.

The EU, one of the biggest donors to Nigeria, has allocated 512 million euros for the African country until 2020 under its 11th European Development Fund, and Westcott said their attention during the period is focused on the north. EU priority sectors are in governance, health, nutrition and energy.

“Now obviously that will entail access to be able to do that, so responding to the crisis situation to try and enable law and order and government to be restored in the areas that are not secure at the moment,” Westcott argued.

The EU has spent more than 200 million euros over the past five years in establishing basic services, strengthening food resilience and creating jobs in Nigeria, according to the aid official. But now, there’s danger that successes in these sectors — at least in the affected areas — may be lost.

“What’s happening under Boko Haram is directly contrary to all our efforts. So on the aid front, certainly education is another specific target of theirs. And in terms of support for women and children, where Boko Haram is in control, there’s very little thing we can do, and that’s driving things backward,” he said.

Are you an aid professional working in northeastern Nigeria? Tell us your experience by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.