Humanitarian group accuses Nigerian military of hampering aid efforts

Tighter restrictions imposed by the authorities on aid groups operating in northeast Nigeria’s conflict zone are “stifling” efforts to tackle the humanitarian crisis, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

Families displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency line up for food being distributed by International Medical Corps in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state on January 29, 2018 in Maiduguri, Nigeria. © Photo by International Medical Corps/Margaret Traub via Getty Images

Military and civilian authorities last year stiffened official controls over organizations operating in the region, in a clampdown the rights group said made transporting staff and aid more difficult.

“Undue restrictions are intensifying the suffering of vulnerable people in dire need of life-saving assistance,” Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

The measures come as humanitarian organizations face growing dangers from Islamist groups in northeast Nigeria, with 12 aid workers killed in 2019.

The United Nations has said there are an estimated 1.2 million people in the region “who cannot be reached by the humanitarian community”, a 30% increase in 2018.

The stiffer demands by the authorities followed a surge in attacks by jihadists who have waged a decade-long uprising that has killed more than 36 000 people.

Human Rights Watch said the tighter requirements include “lengthy processes” to get authorization for transporting personnel, cash and aid as well as mandating military escorts in some areas and limiting fuel supplies.

“Aid workers said that the amount of control the Nigerian military now has over their activities prevents them from reaching millions of people and causes safety concerns as other parties to the conflict may view aid groups as taking the government’s side,” the rights groups said.

Nigeria’s military has long viewed aid organizations operating in the northeast with suspicion.