Nigerian government lifts suspension of two aid groups in northeast

People sit on a hill facing an IDP (Internally Displaced People) camp as they wait for cellphone calls while herders return with their livestock from the outskirts of Pulka before curfew starts on August 1, 2018. - As the presidential race heats up ahead of February polls, the Nigerian government and officials of Borno state, the epicentre of the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency, are encouraging and facilitating the "return" of tens of thousands of people. As he campaigns for a second term in office, the incumbent president is working to show that he has delivered on his pledge to defeat the Islamists. But the reality is that people are being sent back to camps across Borno state while Boko Haram is still launching devastating attacks against military and civilian targets. Pulka is a garrison town built on a model becoming increasingly common across Nigeria's remote northeast region: a devastated town turned into a military base so soldiers can protect satellite camps and humanitarian agencies can distribute aid. (Photo by Stefan HEUNIS / AFP) (Photo credit should read STEFAN HEUNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

It was a sigh of relief for vulnerable people in the north-eastern Nigeria when the government announced a temporary lifting of a suspension of the operations of two aid groups, Mercy Corps and Action against Hunger, in the country.

The army forced both groups to close some of their offices in September, accusing Action Against Hunger of aiding terrorist groups and alleging that a large amount of money in a car found in north-eastern Borno state belonged to Mercy Corps.

Mercy Corps country director Darius Radcliffe issued a statement on Thursday welcoming the government’s decision, announced on Wednesday evening, and saying the group would resume work as quickly as possible.

“After nearly five weeks without support, the vulnerable populations that we serve cannot afford to wait any longer.”

Action Against Hunger did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But it has previously rejected the accusation of “aiding and abetting” a terrorist organization – an allusion to an Islamist insurgency in the northeast.

Humanitarian Affairs Minister Sadiya Umar Farouq told a news conference in the north-eastern city of Maiduguri that the concerns raised by the army would “continue to receive attention and scrutiny”, and that the government would take new steps to vet and monitor all humanitarian groups working in the region.

The minister said, the measures will include requiring non-governmental organizations to register and be vetted by the government before they can start work, and to submit monthly reports that include the amount and source of their fund-raising and the number of people they assist.

New rules will also dictate where NGOs purchase fuel and other “sensitive” items and how they can transfer cash.

The United Nations has described the situation in Nigeria’s northeast as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, estimating that 7.1 million people need assistance.