YOLA, Nigeria — As fighting and violence intensify, many in northern Nigeria have been forced to flee their homes. The Boko Haram conflict has become one of Africa’s bloodiest ongoing conflicts and is turning settlements in northeast Nigeria into ghost towns. Towns that were once home to 100,000 people now have fewer than 1,000. This has resulted in a major humanitarian refugee crisis.
Adamawa is a state in northern Nigeria that has become the center of the Boko Haram’s violence. It is one of three Nigerian states to have declared a state of emergency due to the conflict. The American University of Nigeria is an American-style university located in Yola, the state capital, a safe-haven just outside of Boko Haram’s stronghold.
Yola is now home to 400,000 refugees, well more than the population of the town. Most of them are living with local families or in churches or mosques that have offered them shelter. The village of Bole, just outside the gates of the university, has provided shelter and planted new crops to feed refugees.
The American University of Nigeria has stepped up and plays a vital role in providing aid. It collects food and delivers it to shelters around the city and is currently the primary source of food for 270,000 internally displaced people, or IDPs. Many of its employees are also providing shelter, with some university delivery drivers housing up to fifty people.
The university is also aiming to provide education to some of the refugees, particularly to women. It is currently providing scholarships for twenty-one girls who were among the 276 abducted last April in Chibok. They managed to escape. Most of their peers were not so lucky and are still missing.
These young women were offered scholarships by a university employee, who ventured 150 miles north into the heart of the conflict along with the university’s director, Margee Ensign, to pick them up and drive them back to Yola. The girls and their families agreed to accept the offer despite Boko Haram’s threats to kill any family that continued sending their daughters to school.
The school originally set up a foundation and raised $50,000 to pay for a year of schooling to ten of the girls who escaped the abduction. The number increased to twenty-one when more parents asked to send their daughters to school, but the school had to turn the rest away due to lack of funds and resources. Since then it has been relying on private donations to the American University of Nigeria Foundation, or AUNF, to continue to educate and take care of the girls.
Lack of funding threatens the entire relief effort in Yola. The American University of Nigeria received $100,000 from USAID and $200,000 from the university’s founder to continue providing food, but with so many people to feed these funds are expected to dry up by the end of March. Other aid organizations are also struggling with funding, with Oxfam saying it does not expect its current funds to last past April.
Aid organizations are struggling to secure funds from donors as most people are unaware of the extent of the humanitarian crisis. In addition to the 400,000 refugees in Yola, it is estimated that 1.5 million people have been displaced by the conflict and are also in need of food and aid. With leaders planning to launch a new offensive against Boko Haram, this number is only expected to increase and Yola is anticipating a greater influx of refugees. But without more funding to provide for food and aid resources, there are fears that the town could become ravaged by widespread hunger and starvation.
– Matt Lesso