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Nigeria ‘worst’ humanitarian crisis, activists say

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (BP) — Boko Haram violence has created a multifaceted humanitarian crisis in Nigeria that the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative (21CWI) and former Congressman Frank R. Wolf describe as the “gravest” in the world.

The assessment is based on the 21CWI June report “Nigeria: Fractured and Forgotten” taken from onsite research conducted in 10 states in northern and middle Nigeria in 2016.

Malnutrition, the lack of educational opportunities for nearly a million children, and what the 21CWI described as perhaps the second-largest number of internally displaced persons in the world characterize the region, 21CWI wrote in its report.

“What is unfolding in northern and central Nigeria is one of the gravest current humanitarian crises in the world, with millions affected, thousands killed, insecurity rampant, children ravaged by malnutrition, one of the world’s highest populations of IDPs (internally displaced persons), schools closed, houses of worship destroyed and entire communities burned to the ground in scorched-earth attacks,” the report’s 40-page executive summary notes. “Moreover, the threat posed by Fulani militants in the Middle Belt is escalating into one of the most significant security concerns in West Africa.”

Statistics cited include nearly 14.8 million persons impacted in northeastern Nigeria, as many as 5 million to 7 million internally displaced persons, and 2,000 women and children abducted by Boko Haram.

Wolf, 21CWI distinguished senior fellow, and 21CWI president Randall Everett have appealed to President Barack Obama to appoint a special envoy to the region.

“Given that this is the world’s most neglected humanitarian crisis and one of the most significant security threats in West Africa, we believe what is needed is a Special Envoy for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region,” the June 23 letter reads, signed by Wolf and Everett.

“It is our firm belief that the United States and other Western nations have a vested interest in confronting one of the worst humanitarian crises of our day,” the two appealed to Obama.

“The appointment of a Special Envoy would send a strong signal and further strengthen American leadership,” they wrote. “We urge you and your Administration to act quickly and appoint a Special Envoy for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region.”

The letter cites June statistics from Doctors Without Borders, which reported an average of six children dying daily from malnutrition at a camp of 24,000 internally displaced victims in Bama, Borno, in May. On some days as many as 30 people die from hunger and illness, 21CWI said, quoting the medical aid group.

The camp in Bama housed 15,000 children and 8,000 adults, with many of the 800 children Doctors Without Borders screened suffering from malnutrition and 500 children already dead. In the past year, 1,233 graves had been filled near the camp.

Boko Haram, which has killed more than 15,000 in the past five years in its quest to establish strict sharia law in Nigeria, has displaced more Muslims than Christians, the 21CWI said in its report.

“More Muslims have been displaced than any other faith group due to the actions of Boko Haram,” 21CWI said. “Between 2000 and 2014, more than 13,000 [Christian] churches were abandoned, closed or destroyed in northern and central Nigeria.”

Christians face added persecutions, according to 21CWI, including employment discrimination, pricing discrimination in local markets, marginalization in market participation, confiscation of Christian property, eviction from homes and discrimination from Muslims.

While Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has asserted a “technical defeat” of Boko Haram, the terrorists are still a threat to the region, 21CWI wrote.

“Boko Haram and its culture of violence continues [sic], despite recent pronouncements to the contrary, throughout northeastern Nigeria. The acts of barbarity and the depths of suffering many have experienced are immense,” the report said. “Unfortunately, in many respects both the Nigerian government and the international community are failing to rise to meet this challenge.”

Fulani herdsmen, traditionally pastoralist nomads, are now using sophisticated weapons and employing a scorched-earth policy to displace or kill farmers and graze their lands, the report said, noting the use of supply helicopters, machine guns mounted on vehicles and AK47s.

The 21CWI report is based on a study the organization’s executive team conducted early this year onsite in 10 middle and northern Nigerian states, that included interviews with nearly 600 representatives of impacted communities and families; grassroots tribal and religious leaders, missionaries, nongovernmental organization leaders, activists, leaders from the Chibok Government Secondary School, national Christian denominational leaders, lawmakers and ambassadors. Published data and statistics on northeastern and middle Nigeria also were used in drafting the report.

Headquartered in Falls Church, Va., the 21CWI describes itself as a Christian human rights organization calling for religious freedom and working to mobilize and equip “partners to promote global protections and reforms through advocacy, capacity building and technology.”

Wolf authored the International Religious Freedom Act and legislation to create a U.S. State Department special envoy to advocate for religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia. He is the founder and co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.

The report recommends action from the U.S. and Nigeria governments, the United Nations, and denominations, churches, Christians and individuals worldwide.

The full report is available at standwithnigeria.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Nigeria-Report-Exec-Summary-1.pdf.