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The Spectator: Who will Protect Nigeria’s Northern Christians?

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Every week, there are more massacres, but nobody seems to mind — not even their own government

By Douglas Murray
Feburary 4, 2017

Children play around the only borehole in one of the hosting communities in Maiduguri in northeastern Nigeria on December 7, 2016. According to NGOs about 70-90% of internally displaced people are housed in hosting communities in and around Mauduguri. More than 2 million people have been displaced by Boko Haram-related violence in north-east Nigeria. / AFP / STEFAN HEUNIS        (Photo credit should read STEFAN HEUNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

More than 2 million people have been displaced by violence in Nigeria

Another day in northern Nigeria, another Christian village reeling from an attack by the Muslim Fulani herdsmen who used to be their neighbours — and who are now cleansing them from the area. The locals daren’t collect the freshest bodies. Some who tried earlier have already been killed, spotted by the waiting militia and hacked down or shot. The Fulani are watching everything closely from the surrounding mountains. Every week, their progress across the northern states of Plateau and Kaduna continues. Every week, more massacres — another village burned, its church razed, its inhabitants slaughtered, raped or chased away. A young woman, whose husband and two children have just been killed in front of her, tells me blankly, ‘Our parents told us about these people. But we lived in relative peace and we forgot what they said.’

For the outside world, what is happening to the Christians of northern Nigeria is both beyond our imagination and beneath our interest. These tribal-led villages, each with their own ‘paramount ruler’, were converted by missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries. But now these Christians — from the bishop down — sense that they have become unsympathetic figures, perhaps even an embarrassment, to the West. The international community pretends that this situation is a tit-for-tat problem, rather than a one-sided slaughter. Meanwhile, in Nigeria, the press fails to report or actively obscures the situation. Christians in the south of the country feel little solidarity with their co-religionists suffering from this Islamic revivalism and territorial conquest in the north. And worst of all, the plight of these people is of no interest to their own government. In fact, this ethnic and religious cleansing appears to be taking place with that government’s complicity or connivance.

Every village has a similar story. A few days before any attack, a military helicopter is spotted dropping arms and other supplies into the areas inhabited by the Fulani tribes. Then the attack comes. For reasons of Islamic doctrine, the militia often deliver a letter of warning. Then they come, at any time of night or day, not down the dirt tracks, but silently through the foliage. The Christian villagers, who are forbidden to carry arms (everyone is, in theory), have no way to defend themselves. With some exceptions, they also tend to believe what they were taught about turning the other cheek.

The village of Goska was attacked on Christmas Eve. In a temporary shelter nearby, a young man describes how he ran towards his home when he heard the attack start. There he found his mother lying dead on the floor. Uniformed Fulani militia were everywhere. He fled across the fields: ‘I ran and ran until I realised my feet could not carry me any longer.’ The first bullet that hit him passed through the sole of one foot; the second through the back of the other leg with that clean felt-tip mark Kalashnikov bullets make on entry. The exit wounds are less neat —the second exploded out through his right kneecap. On the ground, he realized why he could no longer run, but also that he was still alive. ‘My day was not over,’ he says, brushing his hand across his better leg.

Across the surviving Christian villages of the north, thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. In those villages and the IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps to which many have fled, you can see the same wounds from the same bullets. In the remote village of Sho, where the attacks have been going on since 2001, a girl of 12 — in her Sunday best — embarrassedly shows me the scars of the bullet which entered and exited her elbow recently while she played behind her house.

An eight-year-old girl balances on one foot to point out the bullet wound on the other, a hallmark of the snipers sitting in the hills around us. Villages have been persuaded to keep records of the attacks to show anyone who cares. One of the very few from outside who does — Britain’s own Baroness Cox — came here recently. Her vehicle was spotted by the Fulani, who came out hunting for her and only just missed their target. Because of attacks like this, almost nobody comes. Just one more reason why these atrocities do not attract the West’s attentions.

The task of chronicling the outrages continues nonetheless. Village leaders keep ring-binders of their dead. Some have photo-graph albums of what their villages have been through: old women set alight; young women raped and shot; babies hacked to death.

The Nigerian government, led by a Fulani president — Muhammadu Buhari — clearly does not wish to protect these people. Even more than under Buhari’s incompetent Christian predecessor, the army fails to perform its most basic duties. As you get into the more dangerous and remote areas, sullen young soldiers at army road blocks hustle you for cash at gunpoint.

A villager takes me to the bridge where the village leader and 13 others were recently gunned down in a Fulani ambush. Nigerian army troops watched the whole thing from their base a couple of hundred yards away — just as they did the destruction of another Christian village, the remains of which sit, burned out and silent, right opposite them. The army seems to have no interest in protecting the Christians, while the government in Abuja appears to care more about passing new laws on cattle-rustling than on protecting human lives. When challenged after a massacre, soldiers often claim that they didn’t receive any orders — or had been commanded not to intervene.

In a line that’s parroted by some NGOs, the government says that this is a land or agricultural dispute. Yet it is the Christian communities who are being systematically forced off it. If anybody wanted to find the culprits, they could find them living and farming on the land they have stolen. But such arrests never happen. The complicity between the army and the Fulani is obvious. Between Barakin-Ladi and Riyom — in sight of another army post — is a sacked Christian village which locals say now acts as a Fulani arms dump. The world’s indifference gives the Nigerian government the advantage in what looks like a quiet effort to rid northern Nigeria of its Christians.

The moment three years ago when Boko Haram abducted 300 Christian schoolgirls from the north-east and ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ briefly trended on Twitter was the closest this situation has come to catching the world’s attention. But the moment passed. Those girls are still missing and the story of Boko Haram has receded from the headlines. But similar atrocities go on all the time. At an IDP camp Deborah, 31, describes the 18 months she spent held captive by the group. When they burst into her village, the Islamists killed her husband and the rest of her family, forcibly converted her and ‘married’ her off to one of their 20-year-old fighters. He complained about her bad temper and argumentativeness, but he still raped her, producing the nine-month-old boy now suckling at her breast. A Christian pastor has urged her to love and cherish the boy as though he was her murdered husband.

The first time she escaped from Boko Haram, she was recaptured and lashed 80 times as punishment. At least she is now unafraid of death. ‘What sort of death would I be running from?’ she asks. ‘I have already died once.’ At night, she says, a military plane would sometimes appear over Boko Haram’s camp and drop off supplies. ‘Look what powerful friends we have,’ her husband would boast as he pointed to the lights in the sky above. Even if the Nigerian army does not support Boko Haram, elements of it certainly do. Whenever an actual operation against the group is planned, they are always tipped off by forces within the country’s security apparatus.

Nigerians have their own view as to what is really going on: a suspicion fuelled again as I leave one IDP camp at sunset and news comes in that another camp to the east has just been bombed by the Nigerian military, killing and maiming scores of people.

The army later apologises for this ‘error’.But the bigger picture is not about error. If the international community meant anything by its promises such as the UN’s ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrine, then what is happening could not go on. But the international community is uninterested. Governments like ours are uninterested. The world’s media is uninterested.

At morning service in the city of Jos, the congregation sing and pray using the 19th-century hymnals and prayer books by which their faith was delivered. When we reach the plea to ‘Deliver us from the hands of our enemies’, the closely packed room hums with the literalness of the words. The Christians of Nigeria are alone. Even if we do not care about this, we ought to know.

Original story at:
http://www.spectator.co.uk/2017/02/who-will-protect-nigerias-northern-christians/

 

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WorldWatch Monitor: Christians in Nigeria’s Jigawa State cry out as authorities begin church demolition

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Bulldozers reduced to rubble two churches, including the Lord Chosen Church, in Dutse, the capital of Jigawa State, on 11 January.

Jan.23, 2017

Anxiety is high among Christian communities in Nigeria’s northern state of Jigawa after authorities began demolishing church buildings in Dutse, the state capital. On 11 January, bulldozers, escorted by security forces, reduced to rubble the Redeem Christian Church of God and the Lord Chosen Church.

They arrived at the Redeem Church at about 10am, according to Rev. Yakubu Musa, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) for Jigawa.

The Executive Secretary of Urban Development and some key police officers were at the scene. The police blocked all the entrances to prevent church members from entering the premises. Those who tried to take pictures were chased away by police officers.

The bulldozers first removed the fence. They then demolished a small building inside the premises, before destroying the main church building.

At around 12 noon, they went to the second church, which was also completely demolished.

“It was a terrible experience, with so many Christians who witnessed the demolition crying,” said Rev. Musa. “I felt so bitter because we were in a situation where you have been cheated and you cannot talk.”

The authorities said they carried out the demolition because the church buildings had been built illegally. According to the Executive Secretary of Urban Development Board, Alhaji Garba Isa, the churches were built without obtaining permission as required by law. He also said notices were sent to them three times to discontinue the development of their buildings.

But Rev. Musa rejected the claims. He said there was no notice of demolition issued to the pastors of the two churches, or the leadership of CAN.

“They just came in unexpectedly and they demolished everything. Nobody was allowed to remove any valuables in the church buildings and other nearby properties,” he said.

Both churches had applied for official registration documents, he said, but the government had refused to grant them.

The Lord Chosen Church had been standing for 17 years and the Redeem Christian Church of God eight years. Moreover, all the churches in Dutse have papers proving ownership, which directly emanate from the original indigenous owners, who were given customary rights to use their land freely.

“I was very angry because there were two mosques in that same place, but none of these mosques were demolished,” said Rev. Musa. “There is also another building belonging to a Muslim person, which was marked for demolition, but they only concentrated on the church buildings because we are not many and we don’t have anyone in the government to speak for us.”

Widespread discrimination

Situated in northern Nigeria, Jigawa is among the 12 states which adopted Sharia in the 2000s. This has prompted growing intolerance, which has resulted in widespread discrimination against Christians in the majority-Muslim states.

Christians living in Sharia states say they are treated as second-class citizens and denied basic rights, such as access to education or certain jobs. Access to land and building permission are very restricted or denied. Land, school or health services belonging to churches are often confiscated by state authorities without any compensation.

“We feel we are equally citizens of this country and we have the rights to be allowed to practise our religion. But this demolition was done out of injustice and discrimination,” said Rev. Musa.

He said that for the last 10 years the governor of Jigawa had closed his door to Christians and rejected the chance to meet with the CAN leadership, despite numerous attempts.

“The authorities didn’t give us any attention. They didn’t invite us for meetings but on the other hand, the imam was always there,” he said.

“From all our 36 churches in Dutse, none of them has got building permission because they are not responding to our applications, though we have several copies of our applications seeking permission to build churches.

“They don’t permit it because they do not expect churches to be established there.”

Six more churches have been earmarked for demolition: The Deeper Life Bible Church; the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Ministry; the Methodist Church; the Presbyterian Church; the Redeem Church II and the Baptist Church.

Churches in Jigawa have witnessed significant growth and most have reached their capacities, while some are overcrowded.

For now the authorities have not set any plan for compensation or any other alternative. The two (demolished) churches will now hold their Sunday services and other weekly programmes in the open air.

In January 2015, a plan to demolish a church in neighbouring Katsina State sparked tensions in the town of Matazu.

The authorities issued a three-day notice of demolition to the church, which was over 99 years old and situated in the ECWA Church Headquarters Mission Compound, which also has a school and staff quarters.

The authorities said they were preparing to construct a road that would pass through the church compound. They also said the development of the site was carried out illegally.

But ECWA argued that the proposed road would only succeed in dividing the compound into two and that the compound leads to nowhere.

The President of Tarayyar Masihiyawan Nijeria, an advocacy group for Christians of Hausa and Kanuri origins, vowed to resist the action.

“It is pure religious persecution; the compound is owned by us and has been there for over 99 years,” said Gen. Ishaku Ahmed Dikko (Rtd). “The decision is a continuation of the marginalisation and persecution of Christians in the north.”

In the end, the government abandoned the plan to build the road and allowed the church to remain, following media coverage of the controversy.
Original story at:
https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/2017/01/4874256/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Christians+in+Nigeria+s+Jigawa+State+cry+out+as+authorities+begin+church+demolition&utm_campaign=Christians+in+Nigeria+s+Jigawa+State+cry+out+as+authorities+begin+church+demolition

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The Guardian: Boko Haram’s legacy of fear and ruin delays return of displaced Nigerians

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Aid workers in Borno state say displaced people living in camps have no plans to go back home despite government claims that insurgents have been defeated

Ben Quinn
19 January 2017

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An abandoned village between Mafa and Dikwa towns in Borno state

The homecoming of tens of thousand of Nigerians displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency has been prevented by enduring fear of the Islamists and reluctance to return to areas of the country’s north-east devastated by the campaign against the militants, according to aid workers.

The continued threat posed by Boko Haram was underlined on Monday when twin suicide bombings killed two people at a university in Maiduguri. The city is the provincial capital of Nigeria’s north-east Borno state, the epicentre of the group’s seven-year campaign to create a regional Islamic caliphate.

Nigerian military officials have trumpeted the end of the war on the jihadists, but an advance team from one major aid group said there was little sign that displaced people in two outlying areas of Borno state intended to return home.

“We had been led to expect – from talking to government officials and even some UN people – that there were going to be imminent mass returns, that the closure of the camps in the city of Maiduguri was coming, and that areas had been secured,” said Adrian Ouvry, a regional humanitarian adviser at Mercy Corps.

“Out of all the people we spoke to, not a single one said they were about to return, even though there is an urgent need to do so, to plant before the rains come in late May. There was no sense of any intent to return among the IDPs [internally displaced persons], and that surprised me.”

Last week, the head of the UN’s humanitarian arm emphasised the urgency of the crisis in a region gripped by severe hunger.

Ouvry, who visited Dikwa and Ngala, where nearly 100,000 displaced people are living in camps, said the towns seemed generally safe but that people felt trapped and unable to return home.

“It’s also causing a bottleneck because many of the IDPs who are in camps in Maiduguri can’t go back because the homes they would be going back to are destroyed, and even those they would be going back to are filled with IDPs from the surrounding areas,” he added.

Ouvry said the level of devastation in the countryside was shocking. “On either side of the main roads leading up to towns, every settlement had been burned out and cleared, in some cases by the Nigerian military because they wanted to secure the road and not have hiding places for Boko Haram ambushes.”

The head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said last Thursday that the crisis in the Lake Chad basin area, which is affecting Nigeria and parts of Cameroon, Chad and Niger, has grown in the past six months.

Addressing the UN security council, Stephen O’Brien said the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance, which stood at 9 million in July, had now risen to 10.7 million. This included 8.5 million people in north-east Nigeria and 1.6 million in north Cameroon.

Forecasts suggested the situation could get even worse, O’Brien warned. Global donors gave more than $238m (£194m) to the Lake Chad basin appeal in the second half of 2016, triple the amount contributed in the preceding six months, yet the UN still only raised 49% of its target.

Elsewhere, the UN and the government of Central African Republic last week launched a new response plan for the 2017-19 period to meet the basic needs of 2.2 million people in the country, where the UN said the security situation has “deteriorated markedly” in recent months. In a rare departure from its usual work, the aid group Médecins Sans Frontières said last week that it had distributed food to almost 10,500 people in seven different sites in the country’s north.

Original Story at:
https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/jan/19/boko-haram-legacy-fear-ruin-delays-return-displaced-nigerians

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Daily Post Nigeria: Southern Kaduna: Why some Nigerians believe Buhari behind killings – Onaiyekan

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By Wale Odunsi
22 January 2017

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The Metropolitan Catholic Archbishop of Abuja Archdiocese, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, has warned that the ongoing killing in South Kaduna is a dangerous sign Nigeria is ignoring.

He said it was unfortunate that some prominent Nigerians and government officials are insiting that the crises has no religious undertone when that is clearly what is happening.

“Immediately you play into a religious matter, nobody can intervene in any serious way and that is really a pity,” told Punch

“This is why the statement attributed to the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau, is generating ripples.

“He tried to say we should not give this any religious colouring but the fact is that there is now a religious colouring and that is what he must admit and tackle.

“Whether it is in Southern Kaduna or in Plateau State, all these conflicts are a continuation of the tribal wars of the last century and those tribal wars have some religious connotation.

“After all, they are called Jihad. We are in a situation now whereby, for historical reasons, any conflict in that area takes up a religious tone which is why it becomes very difficult to handle”.

On claim that over 800 lives have been lost in recent months, Onaiyekan said “The statement of the Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan was issued more than a month ago. This is a serious allegation.”

“It is clear (from), concrete statistics of damage done, lives lost, homes destroyed, people displaced and I am sure they have evidence of all these allegations.

“For the governor and indeed the President to still say everything is okay is dangerous because it means that it is okay that people are getting killed.

“For me, it is better, easier, and more effective if the president simply insists that no human being should be badly treated. Any Nigerian should have the right not to be killed

“I have no reason to doubt the statistics which my colleague has put together. I believe that he just did not sit back in his house and draw up those numbers. I believe in those numbers and I am very worried about them.

“He sent it to all the bishops in Nigeria and we are all in one way or the other reacting to it. What exactly can we do? There should be a meeting of people who are not just Christians or Muslims.

“We believe that if what is happening in Southern Kaduna is not stemmed, it can become very dangerous for the whole country.”

Speaking on the seeming silence of President Muhammadu Buhari, the cleric said he is the only one who can take responsibility because sincerity is in the heart.

“You know how difficult it is to get to Aso Villa, so it is possible for the President to sit there looking through all kinds of papers.

“There are a lot of issues to deal with in Nigeria: economic, climate change, diplomatic relations, Boko Haram and then somebody brings a file on Southern Kaduna and it depends on how the person who brings it presents it and it is possible that Mr. President can sit there and not know how bad the situation is.

“The President doesn’t send someone to the newsstand to buy newspapers. Somebody looks at the newspapers and brings him the items that he is supposed to pay attention to.

“There is no excuse for Mr. President to be kept in the dark about it and if I were Mr. President and I finally found out that all these things have been happening and I was not told, then all those who should have informed me would be fired immediately.

“They are destroying his work. I am saying this because it will be difficult for Mr President to know all these things and keep quiet. If he does, it means that he is happy with what is happening.

“Some are even suggesting that maybe he is behind it all, well if he does nothing, he cannot stop people from speculating that.”

Original story at:
http://dailypost.ng/2017/01/22/southern-kaduna-nigerians-believe-buhari-behind-killings-onaiyekan/

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New York Times: Malnutrition Wiping Out Children in Northern Nigeria, Aid Workers Say

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By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.
JAN. 23, 2017

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Women and their children at a feeding center run by M.S. F. in Nigeria in August.

Starvation in northern Nigeria’s Borno State is so bad that a whole slice of the population — children under 5 — appears to have died, aid agencies say.

As the Nigerian army has driven the terrorist group Boko Haram out of the area, about two million people have been displaced. Many are living in more than 100 refugee camps.

Doctors Without Borders, which has been in Borno State since 2014, reported in November that it was seeing hardly any children under age 5 at its clinics, hospitals and feeding centers.

“There are almost always small children buzzing around the camps,” Dr. Joanne Liu, the agency’s president, and Dr. Natalie Roberts, an emergency operations manager, wrote then.

“We saw only older brothers and sisters. No toddlers straddling their big sisters’ hips, no babies strapped to their mothers’ backs.”

Measles, diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria — all of which are worsened when starvation weakens immune systems — were taking a huge toll on infants and toddlers, they said.

Because the world’s attention has been focused on refugees in Syria and North Africa, less light has been shone on Nigeria’s humanitarian crisis.

While more food has begun to arrive, Dr. Roberts said in a recent interview, the flow was seriously slowed for months by a struggle between the Nigerian government and aid agencies.

In December, President Muhammadu Buhari accused United Nations agencies of exaggerating his country’s crisis in their appeal to donors for $1 billion. Two weeks ago, Borno’s governor, Kashim Shettima, said some aid groups were using his state as a “cash cow” and should leave.

Doctors Without Borders — widely known by its French name, Médecins Sans Frontières, or M.S.F. — normally provides only medical care, Dr. Roberts said. But the organization had been forced to distribute millet and palm oil, along with packets of peanut paste, because so many of the people it served were starving.

“Bureaucratic obstruction” by the government kept agencies like the World Food Program out for months, she said. “It’s an embarrassment to a big state like Nigeria to admit it has malnutrition,” Dr. Roberts added. “They don’t particularly enjoy outside interference.”

The situation grew so bad that M.S.F. had to change some of its protocols, she said. Instead of measuring the height and weight of malnourished children before admitting them to feeding centers, doctors started using just arm-circumference measurements to speed up the process.

And in remote villages where M.S.F. delivers food, staff members had to leave more than normal, she said. Usually, only a few days’ worth is given to families, because of the risk that large amounts will be stolen by any armed group nearby.

But because some roads are so dangerous that food can only move with army escorts or by helicopter, and because Boko Haram may send suicide bombers into any large gathering, M.S.F. does more unannounced “one shot” deliveries for safety’s sake, hoping the food will remain in the intended hands.

Original story at:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/23/health/malnutrition-nigeria-children.html

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BBC News: Freed Chibok girls reunited with their families for Christmas

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December 24, 2016

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More than 20 Nigerian “Chibok girls” who were released by the Islamist group Boko Haram in October have rejoined their families for Christmas.

It is the girls’ first return home since they were kidnapped from their school in Chibok in April 2014.

The young women were freed in October after Switzerland and the International Red Cross made a deal with Boko Haram.

Since then, the 21 girls have been held in a secret location for debriefing by the Nigerian government.

One of the girls, Asabe Goni, 22, told Reuters news agency it was a “miracle” that she was home again.

Helping her mother prepare for Christmas, she said she was excited to go to church on Christmas Day.

“I never knew that I would return (home),” she said simply. “I had given up hope of ever going home.”

Of the 276 students kidnapped, 197 are still reportedly missing, and negotiations for their release are under way.

Many of the Chibok girls were Christian, but were encouraged to convert to Islam and to marry their kidnappers during their time in captivity.

Ms Goni said some were whipped for refusing to marry, but otherwise they were well treated and fed, until food supplies recently ran short.

After the deal in October, the girls’ captors announced that any girl who wanted to be released should line up.

Ms Goni was ill and too exhausted to move as the others scrambled into formation – but she soon learned she would be among the lucky few to leave.

“I was surprised when they announced that my name was on the list,” she said.

Her joy was lessened, however, when she was forced to leave behind her cousin Margaret, with whom she had lived since childhood.

The young woman was interviewed at her family’s home in the northern city of Yola, surrounded by her father, stepmother, five siblings, and several neighbours.

“Some of the other girls left behind started crying,” Ms Goni said. “But the Boko Haram men consoled them, telling them that their turn to go home would come one day.”

Before the girls’ release, there had only been one confirmed release of a student kidnapped from Chibok.

On 24 December, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari said the army had driven Boko Haram’s militants from the last camp in their Sambisa forest stronghold.

“The terrorists are on the run and no longer have a place to hide,” Mr Buhari said in a statement.

The army has been engaged for the last few weeks in a major offensive in the forest, a huge former colonial game reserve in north-eastern Borno state.

There has been speculation that some of the Chibok girls are being held in the forest, after it was named by a small number of those who escaped.

Mr Buhari said that efforts to find the remaining girls were being intensified.

Original story at:
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-38427938

 

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BBC: Nigeria Boko Haram: 75,000 children ‘risk dying of hunger’

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The UN says that overall 400,000 children in Nigeria’s north-east urgently need humanitarian aid

Nov. 15, 2016

Some 75,000 children in north-eastern Nigeria risk dying of hunger in “the few months ahead”, the UN says.

UN humanitarian co-ordinator Peter Lundberg said that overall 14 million people needed humanitarian assistance in a region that was the former stronghold of Boko Haram militants.

He warned that the UN did not have enough funds to avert the crisis.
Boko Haram jihadists laid waste to the region before being pushed back by Nigerian forces in recent months.

“Currently our assessment is that 14 million people are identified as in need of humanitarian assistance” by 2017, Mr Lundberg said in Nigeria’s capital Abuja on Tuesday.

He added that this figure included some 400,000 children, and that 75,000 of them “are going to die in the few months ahead of us… if we don’t do something rapidly and seriously”.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and more than two million displaced since Boko Haram began its military operations in 2009 in the Borno state and other areas.

In July, the UN warned that almost a quarter of a million children in parts of Borno were suffering from severe malnutrition.

Boko Haram at a glance:

• Founded in 2002, initially focused on opposing Western-style education – Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language

• Launched military operations in 2009

• Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria, and hundreds abducted, including at least 200 schoolgirls

• Joined so-called Islamic State, now calls itself IS’s “West African province”

• Seized large area in north-east, where it declared caliphate

• Regional force has now retaken most territory

Original story at:
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-37991798

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BBC: Nigeria schoolgirl missing from Chibok ‘found with baby’

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Boko Haram uses the schoolgirls it holds in propaganda videos

One of the Chibok schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria has been found with a 10-month-old baby son, the military says.

The girl was discovered in Pulka in northern Borno state, spokesman Sani Usman said.

The announcement came nearly a month after another 21 Chibok girls were freed after negotiations with Boko Haram Islamist militants.

More than 270 schoolgirls were seized from the north-eastern town in April 2014, sparking international outrage.

Mr Usman said the latest girl to be found was discovered by soldiers screening escapees from Boko Haram’s base in the Sambisa forest.

Boko Haram has been fighting a long insurgency in its quest for an Islamic state in northern Nigeria. The conflict is estimated to have killed more than 30,000 people.

What lies ahead for freed Chibok girls?

Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of other people during its seven-year insurgency in northern Nigeria and many people have been made homeless.

The freeing of 21 girls in October came after talks mediated by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Swiss government.
Until then, there had only been one confirmed release of a student kidnapped from Chibok – a 19-year-old woman found by an army-backed vigilante group.

More than 50 managed to escape on the day they were captured.
Officials have promised to find the remaining 200 still being held.

Original story at:
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-37882614

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Washington Post: ‘A famine unlike any we have ever seen’

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As Nigeria battles Islamist terrorists, millions are at risk of starvation

By Kevin Sieff
Oct. 13, 2016

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A camp on the outskirts of Monguno, Nigeria, is seen on Sept. 27. The town of Monguno, which has 60,000 people, is hosting more than 140,000 internally displaced people.

BANKI, Nigeria — They survived Boko Haram. Now many of them are on the brink of starvation.

Across the northeastern corner of this country, more than 3 million people displaced and isolated by the militants are facing one of the world’s biggest humanitarian disasters. Every day, more children are dying because there isn’t enough food. Curable illnesses are killing others. Even polio has returned.

About a million and a half of the victims have fled the Islamist extremists and are living in makeshift camps, bombed-out buildings and host communities, receiving minimal supplies from international organizations. An additional 2 million people, according to the United Nations, are still inaccessible because of the Boko Haram fighters, who control their villages or patrol the surrounding areas. “We will see, I think, a famine unlike any we have ever seen anywhere,” unless immediate assistance is provided, said Toby Lanzer, the top U.N. official focused on humanitarian aid for the region.

The staggering hunger crisis created by the insurgents has been largely hidden from view, partly because it has been extremely dangerous for aid groups and journalists to visit the area. But institutional failures have exacerbated the situation: For over a year, the United Nations and humanitarian groups dramatically underestimated the size of the disaster, and the Nigerian government refused to acknowledge the huge number of people going hungry in Africa’s second-richest nation. Thousands of people have already died because of the inaction, aid experts say.

“It’s just a complete failure of the system,” said Natalie Roberts, an emergency program manager with Doctors Without Borders, an international aid group.

It took over a year for U.N. humanitarian teams to arrive in cities that were “liberated” from the rebels by the Nigerian military in a major offensive starting in early 2015. Until recently, the United Nations had only tiny staffs working in the northeast. The world body had deferred to Nigeria’s woefully unprepared government agencies to provide assistance, not realizing, U.N. officials said, the scale of the disaster.

Even now, the United Nations admits it is distributing food to only a fraction of those who need it. It says its mission in Borno state, the focus of the crisis, is dramatically underfunded. UNICEF warned recently that as many as 75,000 children will die in faminelike conditions in Borno and two adjacent states over the next year unless more assistance arrives.

The rising toll of the crisis is evident in such places as Banki, a city of about 15,000 near the Cameroonian border that was controlled by Boko Haram until a year ago. On a recent morning, four malnourished children writhed in beds in a clinic run by Doctors Without Borders.

One of them, Fana Ali, was 6 months old but weighed only 12 pounds, her skeletal frame convulsing with each breath. She wore a tiny, bright yellow dress and she had big brown eyes. A doctor fed her sugar water through a syringe. She locked her lips around it.

Less than an hour after she arrived at the clinic, health workers decided Fana needed to be evacuated to a hospital with electricity and more medicine. Xavier Henry, the local coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, called the Cameroonian military for an escort. This is still a war zone, and access to roads is largely dictated by the armed forces in the region.

But the request was rejected without explanation. Thirty minutes later, Fana died. She had malaria and severe acute malnutrition.

The baby’s aunt carried the body back to their two-room home. Fana’s mother, Adama Adam, wept, the tears streaking onto the blue headscarf wrapped under her chin. She was only 15, her skinny arms mostly hidden under flowing clothes.

“We never have enough food,” said Jeme Bukar, Adam’s cousin, who lives in the same house.

Male relatives washed Fana’s tiny body and placed it in a wheelbarrow. Then they picked up shovels and axes, walking toward the packed cemetery just outside the town.

“I tried to call for the escort,” said Henry, shaking his head, his voice cracking.

His last posting was in Yemen, where yet another hunger crisis was unfolding. But the desperation and the scale of the problem in Nigeria have leveled him.

“I’ve never seen anything this bad,” he said.

‘Progress was far too slow’

In 2014, after years of guerrilla attacks, Boko Haram fighters swept across Borno, forcibly recruiting young men to fight and detaining young women in what effectively became rape camps. The insurgents killed thousands of civilians. The rebels became notorious worldwide in 2014 for kidnapping nearly 300 schoolgirls, an atrocity that prompted the “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign. Less well-known was the insurgents’ destruction of the agricultural output of Borno, a Belgium-size state that was once a breadbasket for the region.

The Nigerian military, working with the armies of neighboring countries, launched an offensive in 2015 that reclaimed major cities across Borno. But Boko Haram fighters still moved freely throughout much of the vast countryside. Often, humanitarian workers say, it was too dangerous to send food to those areas, and it wasn’t even possible to learn the level of need in isolated cities. Only the military moved around much of the state.

Even as malnutrition rates soared, army commanders in this oil-rich country were reluctant to call for international assistance. They finally did so in June. Now aid trucks can move along some roads.
A Ni­ger­ian Defense Ministry spokesman, Brig. Gen. Rabe Abubakar, defended the performance, saying that security was the first priority of the armed forces.

“We had to get that right before we started providing for these people. Nobody predicted this kind of situation would exist,” he said.

But aid workers acknowledge that they only belatedly realized that the crisis had outstripped the government’s ability to respond.

“Progress was far too slow in jointly recognizing the enormity of the situation,” said Simon Taylor, the deputy head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Nigeria.

“Initially there was a sense that it could be handled by the state authorities,” said another U.N. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for diplomatic reasons. “It was only in April when we realized the magnitude, and the fact the government couldn’t handle this alone.”

When aid groups did start to get access to some cities in Borno this past summer, they were shocked by what they found. People were eating grass and locusts. The rates of severe acute malnutrition — a life-threatening lack of food — were among the highest in the world. About half of all children were malnourished. In August, two children were found paralyzed by polio after eradication campaigns were cut back because of insecurity. They were the first recorded polio cases in Africa in almost two years.

Yet even now, after the crisis has been acknowledged, many people in “accessible” areas where food aid is meant to be arriving are going hungry. In some cases, humanitarian groups say they are still trying to determine where the needs are.

“Every time I think I know how bad it is, we get more data and it’s worse,” said Arjan de Wagt, the head of nutrition at UNICEF in Nigeria.

In parts of Maiduguri, the relatively safe capital of Borno, where more than a million people fled and where aid groups have been working for two years, many are still dying of malnutrition. There is not enough food being distributed in enough places to sustain them. The mortality rate in some camps and informal settlements is five times what is considered an emergency, according to Doctors Without Borders.

“Each time we hear of these [gaps in aid] we try and verify and, if we can, begin a distribution,” said Mutinta Chimuka, the head of field operations for the World Food Program in northeastern Nigeria.

The government still does not publicly acknowledge how dangerous the state remains. Last month, President Muhammadu Buhari said in a speech that residents in Borno and neighboring Yobe and Adamawa states lived in relative safety. “Commuters can travel between cities, towns and villages without fear,” he said.

But in July, a U.N. convoy was attacked by Boko Haram gunmen outside the city of Bama, which is east of Maiduguri. The vehicles were armored and no one was injured.

In August, the United Nations sent two helicopters to Maiduguri, to fly humanitarian workers to reclaimed cities across Borno. Late last month, a Washington Post reporter and photographer traveled with aid workers to three newly accessible cities across the state.

But a huge portion of the state is still off-limits, too dangerous for the helicopters to land.

“You look out the window and you wonder: How bad are things down there? We just don’t know,” said Carmen Yip, an emergency health coordinator with the International Rescue Committee.

Barely surviving

The city of Gwoza, the former headquarters of Boko Haram, is still scarred by the years insurgents ran it. Hundreds of buildings are charred, missing roofs, crumbling from rocket-inflicted damage.

Now, the city is controlled by Nigerian forces. Days after they seized the town in March 2015, Gen. Chris Olukolade, a military spokesman, visited from the capital with a group of journalists, telling residents, “Everything you have gone through is very bad, but this is the end.”

But more than a year later, many of those living here are barely surviving.

Ramatu Musa, 22, and her extended family live in a bombed-out house near the center of the city. They fled from nearby Hambada village over a year ago, after Boko Haram fighters overran it.

They have enough food to eat only one meal a day, and Musa has struggled to feed her baby daughter.

“The breast isn’t bringing milk,” she said.

WPStoryPic2
Aissa Modu, 30, center, sits in a tent with her remaining children and others on Sept. 27 at a camp in Monguno, Nigeria. Modu arrived with her children one month earlier but lost her six-month-old child after she fell ill and died before medical aid arrived. Before the food distributions began, she was forced to beg in town for food and water.

In many cases across Borno, mothers are eating so little that they are unable to breast-feed — a major cause of child malnutrition. At a UNICEF clinic in Gwoza, one doctor reported seeing as many as 70 malnourished children a day.

“We need more food, oxygen, a blood bank, IVs, an ultrasound,” said Ernest Okoli, a doctor, standing outside his clinic in a former courthouse, where patients were being treated on the floor. “Should I go on?

Many of the hungry are hidden away in war-ravaged neighborhoods and haven’t been included in any rough population count. The United Nations estimates that there are about 36,000 displaced people in Gwoza. But the top military commander there put the figure at 80,000.

More are coming every day.

When they arrive here, escapees tell of villages under Boko Haram control, some of them taken recently.

“They destroyed everything,” said Alima Auza, 30, who escaped as her village of Bura Manga was attacked by insurgents last month.

The Nigerian military has formulated its own strategy to end the war: starve the enemy. It is now blocking all food, including from regional markets, from entering parts of Borno where Boko Haram might be lurking.

That has contributed to the possibility that hundreds of thousands of civilians held or isolated by insurgents could starve alongside fighters.

“We know when we get there, we are going to see some scenes that will disturb us greatly,” Taylor said.
Original story at:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/world/2016/10/13/they-survived-boko-haram-now-millions-in-nigeria-face-a-new-threat-starvation/

bobatkinsonWashington Post: ‘A famine unlike any we have ever seen’
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CNN: Boko Haram releases 21 Chibok girls to Nigerian government

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By Stephanie Busari, Faith Karimi and David McKenzie
October 13, 2016

 

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Boko Haram militants handed over 21 missing Chibok schoolgirls to Nigerian authorities Thursday morning as part of a deal brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss government, Nigeria’s government said.

The girls are being taken to the northeastern city of Maiduguri, where they will meet with the governor of Borno state, officials in the state said. The girls were not immediately named.

Some of the 21 released Chibok girls are shown Thursday in Banki, Nigeria, near the Cameroon border, in a photo obtained exclusively by CNN.

The 21 are said to be among the 276 girls that Boko Haram militants herded from bed in the middle of the night at a school in northern Nigeria in April 2014 — a kidnapping that spurred global outrage.

As many as 57 girls escaped almost immediately, but scores remain missing. Thursday’s release is the largest group believed freed since the girls were kidnapped two years ago.

Terms of Thursday’s deal were not immediately announced, but no jailed Boko Haram fighters were released in exchange for the girls, a source with direct knowledge of the release said on condition of anonymity.

Mallam Garba Shehu, spokesman for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, said on Twitter that the 21 released girls are now in the custody of the Department of State Services, the Nigerian domestic intelligence agency.

The agency chief has briefed the government, Shehu tweeted, and has said the girls need to rest “with all of them very tired coming out of the process before he hands them over to the Vice President.”

“The release of the girls … is the outcome of negotiations between the (Nigerian) administration and the Boko Haram brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government. The negotiations will continue,” Shehu tweeted.y Michelle Obama to support a #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

Original story at:
http://edition.cnn.com/2016/10/13/africa/nigeria-chibok-girls-released/index.html#pt0-684597

 

bobatkinsonCNN: Boko Haram releases 21 Chibok girls to Nigerian government
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