Reuters has described the displacement of 2.3 million in the Lake Chad Basin as “the most neglected crisis of 2016.” Simon Brooks, head of International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)’s delegation in Cameroon, states that the region “has suffered from decades of chronic neglect” and that if left in the current condition the lives of many may get increasingly worse.
The principal cause of this situation is the Boko Haram militant group, which over the last seven years has wreaked havoc in the Lake Chad region. The group mostly targets and resides in northeastern Nigeria, but nearby parts of Niger, Chad, and Cameroon are also affected. Mohammed Yusuf, the late founder of the group, established the organization to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state. Boko Haram promulgates an abstract interpretation of Islam that prohibits Muslims from taking part in any political or social activity associated with Western society. Boko Haram, which means, “western education is forbidden” in the region’s Hausa language, is responsible for the bombing of mosques, churches, military barracks, and the UN headquarters in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, as well as assassinations, the burning and looting of schools, forceful recruitment, and the mass abduction of children.
The Nigerian government claimed to have defeated Boko Haram in 2009, when it seized the group’s headquarters and killed Mohammad Yusuf. However, Boko Haram subsequently regrouped under a new leader, Abubakar Shekau and intensified its insurgence. The US designated the group as a terrorist group in 2013, and in May of that year, Nigeria declared a state of emergency in three states directly affected by the group: Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa. In April 2014, the group abducted 200 schoolgirls in Borno, and began holding onto territory rather than merely attacking and then retreating. However, by March 2015, Boko Haram had lost all the towns under its control and was forced by the Nigerian military to retreat in the Sambisa forest.
On October 16, 2015, The African Union (AU) and member countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the operationalization and sustenance of a Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) established by the LCBC Member States and Benin to neutralize Boko Haram. Despite several victories for the Nigerian government, some analysts warn against underestimating the strength of Boko Haram. While many of the group’s members have been killed and their weapons seized, they have existed longer than other militant groups, and the region’s chronic poverty and poor education systems leave it susceptible to Boko Haram’s recruitment strategies.
The conflict has left seven million people struggling for food security; the destruction of hundreds of schools has left three million children without education. Young girls are forced into “early marriages” and many women are forced to resort to prostitution to provide for their children. Amidst these dire circumstances, Boko Haram has geographically cut off one million people from access to humanitarian aid.
Nigeria has sought foreign assistance, calling for 1.5 billion US dollars for food, medicine, homes, and schools in 2017. Of the forty countries gathered at the Oslo Humanitarian Conference on Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin in February 2017, fourteen pledged funds for relief efforts: $458 million for 2017 and an additional $214 million for 2018. However, Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director of the World Food Program, voiced that the “protracted crisis plaguing the Lake Chad region countries of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon can no longer be addressed with emergency funding alone.” The U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres announced that humanitarian and development groups would work closely to alleviate short term suffering while looking for long-term stability. The emergency director for World Vision’s West Africa region, Yves Habumugisha stated, “Only ‘integrated and quick impact implementation’ of these funds can promote social cohesion as well as recovery and violence prevention, which will enable people to resettle and also reduce further overuse of scarce natural resources”.
Nigeria’s constitution prescribes the right of citizens to life, dignity, personal liberty, and freedom from torture, degrading treatment, slavery and forced labor. Nigeria has also ratified The Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Nigeria under article 28 of the CRC, must make education available to all children. Under article 16 of the CEDAW, Nigeria must ensure that women have “the same right freely to choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent”. The country’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, has stated several times that one of his top priorities is defeating Boko Haram. Furthermore, Nigeria is obligated under the above international conventions to protect its people from the range of human rights violations committed by Boko Haram.