NANTUCKET, Massachusetts — According to Save the Children, about 2.3 million children, 700,000 of whom are younger than 5 years old, are suffering from hunger in the northeastern region of Nigeria. The increased presence of Boko Haram, a terrorist group originating in Nigeria and branching into the surrounding countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, has created a conflict in the region. The instability, violence and displacement of the population have led to the staggering inflation of food prices, with many Nigerians now struggling to continue to feed their children. Essentially, the presence of Boko Haram in Nigeria has created a conflict that is starving a nation.
Boko Haram’s Presence in Nigeria
Boko Haram began as a terrorist organization in Northeast Nigeria, but it has morphed into the greater Islamic State West Africa Province or ISWAP. The insurgency group believes it is “forbidden for Muslims to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society.” The group also asserts that the members of the Nigerian government are non-believers, “regardless of whether the president is Muslim or not.” Boko Haram forbids Western-style education and Western clothes, among other strict rules.
In Nigeria, as in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, Boko Haram attacks have often involved kidnapping school children and women, destroying villages and recruiting men and young boys into the group. On top of the violence and fear the group causes, chronic, widespread poverty also follows in Boko Haram’s wake. Children are often the primary victims, forced to leave school and reaching the brink of starvation. Out of 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014, as of 2021, more than 100 girls are still missing.
Consequences of the Insurgency
Many Nigerian children, numbering in the tens of millions, have been forced to leave school. This has created an education gap in a generation that has already had to live through “a decade of suffering, violence and humanitarian crisis,” says Shannon Ward, acting country director of Save the Children Nigeria on its website. Parents have pulled their children out of school so that children can beg or work in order to economically support their family, with the extreme shortage of food across the country only increasing.
The instability resulting from Boko Haram’s presence, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, have all greatly influenced the worst food deprivation seen in several years. Forced to leave their villages and homes due to fear of violence, children go without a safe place to live, lacking education and nourishment. Boko Haram targets farms, forcing farmers to abandon their land in order to avoid conflict or conscription.
The conflict in Nigeria disproportionately affects women and girls. Ward says, “Children, girls and women are more vulnerable at times of attack and displacement.” Due to “overcrowding, family separation, a lack of basic social services and desperate measures people take just to survive,” such as resorting to child marriage, children and females are at risk of various forms of violence and abuse. The chances of continuing the cycle of poverty are high, as once a child drops out of school, it is unlikely that the child will ever resume their education.
Actions and Aid
Save the Children was among the first to respond to the Nigerian food crisis. Among other efforts, Save the Children is “providing food assistance and protection services to more than 320,000 children and families” regularly. However, the organization believes that more action is necessary.
Action Against Hunger also understands that the large-scale poverty and starvation in Nigeria has to do with heavily armed insurgent groups contributing to the conflict that is starving a nation. Nigerian children are deprived of clean water, education, food and healthcare, all of which contribute to a higher risk of illness and increased instances of child trafficking, sexual abuse and forced marriages. The organization’s goal is to fight “the root causes of hunger by addressing production, access and income” issues through emergency, recovery and resilience programming. In 2020, Action Against Hunger helped more than 226,000 people through food and livelihood initiatives.
There is hope as organizations fight to safeguard the well-being of citizens across Nigeria.
– Grace Manning