EU states rap UN mission in Nigeria for failing to secure aid access

Children orphaned by the Boko Haram insurgency line up at the Special Orphans Learning Center initiated and managed by the Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) North-East Children's Trust in Maiduguri, Nigeria, 26 July 2018 [Stringer/EPA/EFE]

European states warned the United Nations that more than 800,000 people are cut off from aid and may be starving in northeast Nigeria, contradicting government assertions that a crisis has abated and rebuking the world body for failing to secure access.

Nigeria’s government has said this year that an emergency in the northeast caused by a decade-long conflict with Islamist fighters was easing, and efforts should shift from humanitarian relief to longer term development aid.

But in a letter to directors of emergency programs at UN and other aid agencies, the EU, Britain, France and Germany said the United Nations was failing to press home the urgency of a disaster which had put children at risk of starvation.

“We are very concerned about urgent and unmet humanitarian and protection needs in North-East Nigeria,” they wrote. The UN mission in Nigeria must push the government to allow “the rapid, unimpeded and unfettered humanitarian access to people in need of life-saving assistance.”

Nigeria’s government has said this year that an emergency in the northeast caused by a decade-long conflict with Islamist fighters was easing, and efforts should shift from humanitarian relief to longer term development aid.

But in a letter to directors of emergency programs at UN and other aid agencies, the EU, Britain, France and Germany said the United Nations was failing to press home the urgency of a disaster which had put children at risk of starvation.

“We are very concerned about urgent and unmet humanitarian and protection needs in North-East Nigeria,” they wrote. The UN mission in Nigeria must push the government to allow “the rapid, unimpeded and unfettered humanitarian access to people in need of life-saving assistance.”

Nigeria’s call for a change in emphasis in the northeast away from emergency aid and toward long-term development assistance fits a narrative long expressed by President Muhammadu Buhari that the conflict is waning.

Buhari won election in 2015 on a vow to defeat Boko Haram and restore stability and security to the northeast, and is now seeking a second-term campaigning on his government’s success in achieving it.

As part of that effort to portray the northeast as safer, thousands of people have been ordered back to dangerous areas that aid agencies say are inaccessible, and where the condition of hundreds of thousands of people is unknown.

A person familiar with the drafting of the letter said the countries that signed it were trying to express “a lack of confidence in UN leadership in Nigeria.”

“People are nearing starvation and there is little help for those being returned to inaccessible areas. And the humanitarian situation is escalating not getting better.”

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe