The United Nations has called for a better protection of humanitarian and aid workers in the North East of Nigeria. The head of UN Office for Co-ordination and Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Nigeria, Mr. Peter Ekayu, on the occasion of the 2019 World’s Humanitarian Day, took a survey of the travails of aid workers and lamented that as many as 37 humanitarian workers were killed in the 10 years of Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria.
We join the UN OCHA chief in regretting such a huge loss of selfless men and women who, out of love for humanity, put themselves in harm’s way to ameliorate the living conditions of their fellow men and women who found themselves displaced from their homes through terrorist activities. We have no doubt that those who kill humanitarian workers must be made to face justice. The UN Humanitarian Co-coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, was emphatic that the constant insecurity for humanitarian workers in the North East region had prevented aid workers from accessing many communities. According to him, “these acts of violence affect the very individual families and communities we support and deprive vulnerable people of vital services. Around 7.1 million Nigerians in the region still need humanitarian assistance as a result of the violence.”
The more recent casualties include the two workers killed on the attack on Kajuru Castle, Kaduna, in which Faye Mooney, a British Communication and Learning expert with the non-governmental organisation (NGO), Mercy Corps, and Matthew Oguche, a Nigerian training assistant with the International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO), died when gunmen stormed the resort and also kidnapped three individuals. Four weeks ago, a video emerged of kidnapped aid workers in which a woman, who gave her name as ‘Grace,’ surrounded by five men believed to be her colleagues, were pleading for their lives and begging the Nigerian government and the international community to intervene and secure their release. These were clearly the six humanitarian workers of Action Against Hunger (NGO) whose convoy was attacked on July 19 on their way to Damasak in Borno State. In that incident, one of the drivers was killed; one staff member, two drivers and three health workers were kidnapped. The kidnappers were later identified as the terrorists from the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), the splinter group from Boko Haram. And the video was a heart-breaking reminder of the murder of Hauwa Liman, the humanitarian midwife killed in October 2018 by ISWAP. It is still a riddle why Boko Haram and its branch the ISWAP have continued to kill and endanger the lives of humanitarian workers in the North East because the international community made aid workers literally untouchable. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the related Protocols I and II of 1977 forbid their being harmed under any circumstances. Their rights are spelt out in detail. They are free from any violence. They cannot be taken hostage or be subjected to humiliating or degrading punishment. But the conventions do not guarantee access to affected areas. In other words, they go into combat zones at their own risks. In 2003, the international community even went further when the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1502 giving even greater protection to humanitarian workers and treating attacks on them as war crimes. Thus Boko Haram and ISWAP leaders, and commanders, are bound to face the World Court someday unfailingly for war crimes.
In spite of the generous legal protections, we still urge the Federal Government to help protect these workers and if possible held secure the release of those kidnapped by the terrorists. These workers go where most people are afraid to go, do what others fear to do, venture into danger and brave fear and threats trying to help their fellow human beings. It is not a surprise, therefore, that the aid workers in the North East are so overworked because there are too few. Their total number is given as 2,500 (2, 000 Nigerians, 500 foreigners) and their compensations are said to be nothing to write home about. The net result is that it is not possible for them to reach most of the 7.7 million Nigerians who need their help. When we add the fact that there are three local government areas that are identified as completely inaccessible and 26 others in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states that are only partially accessible due to the security situation, it becomes clear why many Nigerians are under great pain in the North East.