Nigeria: Tens of thousands suffer from armed conflict and other violence

By International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

GENEVA, Switzerland, February 6, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Conflict-affected people in Nigeria are struggling to meet basic needs. The ICRC, in cooperation with the Nigerian Red Cross Society, has brought aid to around 40,000 displaced and otherwise vulnerable people. It has also been granted greater access to places of detention.

"Violence, lack of security and growing anxiety over recent months have resulted in tens of thousands of people fleeing the conflict in the north-east of the country," said Zoran Jovanovic, head of the ICRC delegation in Nigeria. "Thousands have been injured and hundreds have lost their lives." Displaced people have sought safe havens elsewhere in the country or in Niger, Cameroon or Chad.

"The availability of shelter, food, water, clothes and health services has worsened in that region," said Mr Jovanovic. As a direct consequence of the conflict, food prices have increased and shortages have arisen, especially along the borders with neighbouring countries. "The tenuous security situation, combined with communication disruptions, has made it difficult for family members to maintain contact with one another – and also for aid to be delivered," he added.

Shelter materials and other essential supplies in the north-east

Since August 2013, more than 18,000 people affected by the conflict in Borno state, in the north-eastern part of the country, have received shelter materials, mosquito nets, blankets, hygiene items and household essentials distributed in cooperation with the Nigerian Red Cross. An estimated 45 per cent of the people receiving the aid were women, many of them widowed or elderly.

Nearly 250 women recently widowed by the conflict in Borno state are being given monthly food rations. "These women suddenly became the sole providers for their families. They will be provided with food for six months, during which they will be able to save some money so that they can start small business ventures," said Ruth Muriungi, the ICRC delegate in charge of the programme. An estimated 1,500 people in the Maiduguri and Jere areas are now eating more and better food because of the programme put in place with the help of Borno widows' associations. "Thanks to this, our family of six went from one meal a day to three," said Hadiza, one of the widows in Jere. "God willing, I'll soon be able to start selling food in the market."

Emergency assistance after intercommunal violence

Meanwhile, Kaduna, Plateau, Nassarawa and Benue states, in central Nigeria, have been regularly hit by intercommunal violence over access to land and other resources. Thousands of people have been displaced and hundreds injured or killed. In 2013, around 20,000 people suffering the effects of violence in Plateau and Kaduna states received food, shelter materials and kitchen and hygiene items distributed in cooperation with the Nigerian Red Cross. ICRC engineers worked on water sources and pipes to improve access to safe drinking water in the villages of Riyom and Wase and in five health-care facilities in the states. "Our building had not had running water for over 10 years," said Hajia Khadijat, who works in a clinic run by the Federation of Muslim Women's Associations of Nigeria. "We could not afford to pay the bills, and the plumbing deteriorated. With the new fittings and pipes, our taps are working again."

In the restive Niger Delta, in the south of the country, crime is on the rise and intercommunal clashes occur periodically. Owing to the worsening of the security situation in recent years, people in remote riverine areas have suffered in particular from increasingly difficult access to health care.

Progress visiting detainees

Since February 2013, in agreement with the Nigerian authorities, the ICRC has been visiting detainees in 15 police stations and six prisons all over the country. Repeated visits, the aim of which is to monitor the treatment and living conditions of detainees, have taken place in accordance with the ICRC's standard working procedures, which include discussions with the detaining authorities, access to all the premises and private talks with the detainees.

In January 2014, for the first time ever, ICRC staff visited detainees held under the responsibility of the Nigerian Army in the capital of Borno state. During the previous months, the ICRC had negotiated access to the detainees with the Nigerian authorities. "Findings of our visits to detention places are confidential and are shared exclusively with the authorities concerned," said Monique Crettol of the ICRC delegation in Nigeria.