Nigeria’s Forgotten Conflict In The Era Of COVID-19

Earlier this week, militants abducted hundreds of people from Kukawa town, in Borno state, north-eastern Nigeria. More than 20 trucks stormed the area and attacked a nearby military base protecting the town whose residents had only recently returned from refugee camps 120 miles away. Sources told the AFP news agency that the armed fighters are affiliated with the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) which is a splinter group of Boko Haram.

Although this story has gone widely unreported, comments made echo concerns about long-term stability and security in the region. Extremism expert and analyst at the Tony Blair Institute, Bulama Bukarti, said that “this is a major setback to the government’s efforts to resettle internally displaced persons and refugees.” He then added that “the military keeps insisting that it is succeeding, but attacks like this demonstrate that much is left to be desired.” Local views, on the other hand, seemed more concerned with the wellbeing of the abductees, as a local chief stated that it was unsure “what they would do to them” though he “hoped they don’t harm them.” Other officials failed to comment on these events.

Nigeria has been battling insurgents and armed conflicts with jihadists for a decade now. These struggles have forced around two million people out of their homes, mainly residents of the northern part of Borno state. Many of these internally displaced people have had to move to displacement camps in Maiduguri where living standards and conditions are poor, and residents rely on international support from charities and NGOs. Local authorities have recently started encouraging people like the inhabitants of Kukawa town to return home, despite safety concerns being raised by international charities. The towns that have been recently repopulated were confined under military protection which, unfortunately, did not discourage militants from launching attacks.

As the world continues to grapple with the current pandemic, events such as this one or the Beirut explosion keep taking a backseat in the international scene. This is despite many vulnerable groups being penalised even further by the health crisis. The UN said last Friday that 10.6 million out of the 13 million people in the Nigerian states of Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe would need humanitarian assistance this year. Nevertheless, the economic crisis triggered by COVID-19 also impacted the funds of international organisations such as the WHO and the UN. This will, in turn, translate into less availability of resources to support people like the Kukawa town residents who have already been failed by the Nigerian government’s negligence.

The situation in northern Nigeria came under the spotlight during the Bring Back Our Girls campaign in 2014 which gained international attention thanks to the support of figures such as Michelle Obama. However, the conflict has been ongoing for a decade and millions of people have had similar experiences to those schoolgirls. As we all try to cope with the pandemic and its long-term effects, the plight of millions of people worldwide, from Nigeria to Yemen and even the U.K., is and always will be worthy of our attention and support.