A 12-year-old conflict in northeast Nigeria has caused, directly and indirectly, the deaths of some 350,000 people, the vast majority of which are children below the age of five, the United Nations found in a new report.
The death toll, given by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in a new study on the war and its effect on livelihoods published on Thursday, is 10 times higher than previous estimates of about 35,000 based only on those killed in fighting in Nigeria since violence broke out.
The armed group Boko Haram launched an uprising in 2009 displacing more than two million from their homes and spawning one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with millions of people dependent on aid. The conflict shows little sign of ending.
Children younger than five account for some 324,000 deaths, more than nine out of 10 of those killed, with 170 dying every day, the UNDP said.
Of nearly 350,000 deaths from the conflict, it estimated 314,000 to have resulted from indirect causes.
Insecurity has led to declines in agricultural production and trade, reducing access to food and threatening the many households that depend on agriculture for their livelihood, the UN said.
Thousands of displaced people lack access to food, health facilities, shelter and clean water, with children more vulnerable, the report added.
“With another decade of conflict, that could grow to more than 1.1 million,” it said.
Nigeria’s Boko Haram group split into two in 2016 with its rival ISIL (ISIS)-allied faction ISWAP becoming the dominant threat. Despite ongoing military operations, the groups have continued to launch attacks, spreading violence to parts of neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
In the Lake Chad region, the UN said more than “3.2 million individuals are displaced, with 5.3 million food-insecure people at crisis and emergency levels”.
The situation is worse in Nigeria’s northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, it said.
“In northeast Nigeria alone, 13.1 million people live in areas affected by conflict, out of whom 8.7 million are in need of immediate assistance,” the UN said.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired general, is under pressure to end armed groups’ violence.
But the security forces appear overwhelmed as they battle other security challenges, including herder-farmer clashes in the centre of the country, kidnapping and banditry in the northwest and separatist agitations in the south.
In the northeast, armed groups have kidnapped dozens of aid workers, of whom many have been killed.
If you peer into the gutters of any big Nigerian city, a filthy sight awaits you: Floating cans, nylon water sachets, empty bottles and other waste materials discarded by humans, swept there by rain, gathering and clogging up the drain.
This is not only a Nigerian problem, it is a global challenge. The world continues to writhe under the burden of waste management. In 2019, the Global Material Footprint (the amount of raw material including fossil fuels, biomass and metal and non-metal ore, extracted to meet total consumption demand), according to the United Nations, was 85.9 billion tonnes – up from 73.2 billion tonnes 10 years before. Meanwhile, the world’s electronics waste – namely discarded smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices – grew by 38 percent in that same year.
Today, March 18, the world celebrates Global Recycling Day with the theme #RecyclingHeroes to draw attention to “the people, places and activities that showcase what an important role recycling plays in contributing to an environmentally stable planet and a greener future which will benefit all”.
In Nigeria, “wastepreneurs” are providing an answer to this by taking waste straight from the dump, transforming it and redefining its purpose. These innovators work with different materials – water sachets, scrap metal, bottles, plastic, tyres and more – with many of them learning on the job, how to manipulate these objects, to make “beauty out of ashes”. These entrepreneurs ask: “If you can recycle it, why waste it?”
Ade Dagunduro: ‘Not trash, but a thing of beauty’
Surrounded by art pieces in his gallery in Dugbe at the heart of Ibadan, Ade Dagunduro, 34, takes us through his creative journey. A graduate of Fine Art from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, his desire to push the boundaries of what he learned within the walls of a university spurred him to take up more training in painting and sculpture.
“School was more theoretical, less practical. When you get out of school and into the real world, you realise there is much more to learn,” he says.
Art has “changed his life”, he adds, and, now, he can help improve life a little for others by taking waste from the streets to make art.
Originally working with regular art materials such as paint, clay and wood, five years ago, Dagunduro decided to challenge himself by thinking beyond those.
“I wanted to see if I could actually think outside the box. I asked myself if I could be more creative,” he says. In his quest to do this, Dagunduro learned to manipulate waste materials like used tyres, which would otherwise be burned – a common cause of pollution in Nigeria.
His first work with waste in 2016 was an ox made out of a tyre, called The Challenge. These days, he also works with metal, ropes and plastic which he finds on the streets in his community. Sometimes, people bring materials to his studio.
“Our environment can now smile because we have people like us trying to ease off its burden by picking the waste off its shoulders. These days, you hardly find cartons, for instance, littering the streets. Humans are exhausting the forests. Now we need more paper, so we have to start recycling what we see on the street,” he says.
Dagunduro’s latest work, titled Torso, is a female form made from dismantled motorcycle chains – which he picked up from a motorcycle mechanic’s workshop – welded together.
“You first craft with clay, then you take the mould which has been constructed and cast it out with cement. After that, you allow it to dry and then ‘liberate’ it out of the clay. So now that it is out, the pattern is already printed on the mould, and you can begin welding the metal around it, which is done in batches. After that, you couple the metal pieces together.”
Dagunduro says this is then followed by cleaning and shining, to prevent rust and preserve the artwork.
The motorcycle chains that would have been thrown on a dump now stand as a sculpture, in the far-right corner of Ade Dag Art Gallery, waiting to be bought; “waiting to re-enter the world that discarded it, not as trash but as a thing of beauty,” he says.
Simon Ayafa has witnessed oil pollution in the Niger Delta region since he was 15. Now, at 35, he feels the region has been made uninhabitable by decades of oil spills.
“You to go the stream to fetch water and you get oil,” said Ayafa, who is a parishioner at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Bodo, a fishing village that has suffered from massive oil spills. “You go to the farm and the crops are damaged and cannot produce because of pollution. That is our fate here.”
A series of pipeline spills between 2008 and 2009 left the entire area flowing in oil. With support from Amnesty International, the community took legal action against Royal Dutch Shell. The case was settled out of court in 2015 for the equivalent of about $36.6 million, with part going to the community and the rest divided among the community’s residents.
Now a handful of farmers from two other communities, who stood up to the oil giant over spills that occurred between 2004 and 2007, has won another landmark case.
On Jan. 20, a Dutch court ruled that Shell’s Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) was liable for oil pollution in several farming and fishing communities in the Niger Delta region where many families are Catholic.
“This is a victory for the people and for a region which has been so badly affected by pollution,” said Fr. Paul Nsoka, a priest of the Portharcourt Diocese, which has over 1 million Catholics.
“The water, farmlands and other sources of livelihood of the people have been largely affected because of some cheap gains, and the government over the years has been paying lip-service to issues of pollution by multinational oil companies affecting its citizens,” he added.
Nsoka said that despite the cost and damage in the region, the ruling constituted “environmental justice.”
Besides holding the Nigerian subsidiary responsible, the Court of Appeals in The Hague ruled that Shell, which is based in Holland, had breached its “duty of care” in its operations abroad. It ordered the subsidiary to pay compensation to the farmers and begin cleanup of the polluted areas.
Now another lawsuit looms. On Feb. 12, the British Supreme Court ruled that a group of Nigerian farmers and fishermen can sue Shell in English courts, overturning lower court rulings that had blocked such suits.
The two villages covered by the Dutch court ruling, Oruma and Goi, in the Nigerian state of Rivers, have suffered for years from the environmental impact of the pollution. Shell claimed that the spills were caused by sabotage, but the court rejected that argument, saying the company had not provided enough evidence to support its claim.
A ruling in a third case involving an oil well in the village of Ikot Ada Udo is pending. In that case, the spill was caused by sabotage, but the court has not determined whether Shell can be held liable and has requested clarification about the extent of the pollution caused by the spill.
Details of the compensation in the cases of Oruma and Goi were not disclosed.
For the past 13 years, four Nigerian farmers who have become environmental activists from the region have been representing the affected communities and leading efforts to get justice for those affected by the pollution. With support from the nonprofit environmental group Friends of the Earth Netherlands, the four launched their lawsuit against Shell in 2008.
The four have sought compensation for damage and loss of livelihoods that they say they suffered from spills of crude oil from a well and pipelines. They demanded that Shell clean up the contamination more thoroughly and take measures to prevent a recurrence. The court also ordered Shell to build a better warning system in the affected villages to alert residents to possible leaks.
“Finally, there is some justice for the Nigerian people suffering the consequences of Shell’s oil,” Eric Dooh of Goi, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement from Friends of the Earth Netherlands. “It is a bittersweet victory, since two of the plaintiffs, including my father, did not live to see the end of this trial. But this verdict brings hope for the future of the people in the Niger Delta.”
In the same statement, Rachel Kennerley, climate campaign manager at Friends of the Earth Netherlands, called the court ruling “a fantastic victory.”
“For too long, companies like Shell have been shirking their responsibility for the impact of the dirty industry they push on communities around the world,” she said. “Thirteen years of fighting for justice has finally turned this around, and today’s judgment is a wakeup call for polluting companies and governments everywhere.”
She also called for the British government to end its investment in fossil fuel projects overseas “unless it wants to face legal challenges.”
Pollution from oil operations in the Niger Delta has been affecting local farmers since commercial production for export began in 1956. Contamination left multinational by oil companies and their subsidiaries — including U.S.-based Chevron Corp, Italy’s Agip and the Nigerian subsidiary of France’s Elf Aquitaine, now TotalFinaElf, as well as Shell — has fouled the waterways and destroyed farmlands of local communities that largely depend on fishing and small-scale farming and trading.
The decades of pollution have led to growing protests and the rise of militant groups opposing oil companies in the region. This has resulted in a series of abductions of foreign oil workers for ransom and bloody clashes with security forces. Indigenous communities, landless farmers, women, trade unions and fishers whose livelihood has been affected have often joined the protests.
The court ruling could mark a turning point. Catholics in the affected communities who spoke with EarthBeat welcomed the decision, but they said much must be done to clean up the pollution in the region.
Nnamdi Amaechi, who lives in Oruma, said residents often track oily residue into their homes after walking outdoors.
“This has been a natural injustice the people are facing, but with this [court ruling], the people will find some form of compensation to fall back on,” he said. “Our community has been rejoicing because of the outcomes.”
A U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) report commissioned by the Nigerian government found that pollution was deeper and more extensive than previously thought after an agency team examined more than 200 locations, surveyed 122 kilometers of pipeline rights-of-way, analyzed 4,000 soil and water samples, reviewed more than 5,000 medical records and held community meetings attended by more than 23,000 people.
The report, which took 14 months to complete and was released in August 2011, proposed a project that would involve cleaning up the contaminated water, wells, soil and mangrove swamps, and establishing a soil management center with hundreds of mini-centers that would treat contaminated soil, creating hundreds of jobs.
The report projected that a thorough cleanup would take 25 to 30 years and proposed that Shell and the Nigerian government share the cost, which was estimated at some $1 billion for the first five years.
In 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari announced that the government planned to begin the cleanup recommended by the UNEP report. Work was started that year in the village of Bodo, but progress has been slow. The agency overseeing the cleanup, the Hydrocarbon Pollution Restoration Project, says it has received only $180 million of the $1 billion supposedly earmarked for the cleanup.
Residents of the affected communities say they doubt that the government will ensure that the cleanup is completed. Questions have been raised about the qualifications of the coordinating agency’s subcontractors, and civil society groups have accused the agency of corruption and contract scams.
“Everyone thinks the government is not serious with this [clean-up] and only doing this for political gains,” Nsoka said. “It’s been about five years now since they started, and we are yet to see the impact.”
Meanwhile, oil pollution continues in the Niger Delta region, leaving much of the region uninhabitable. This has led to small-scale migration, as residents of affected communities have left their homes and livelihoods and moved to other areas with less impact.
“It will take a very long time before the region becomes the way it has been before oil exploration and, of course, pollution started taking place here,” Takai Dome, an environmental activist who has been following the court cases and developments in the region, told EarthBeat. “The impact will still be there and on the way people in affected communities lead their lives.”
Uyo, Nigeria — Three years after taking in 2-year-old Inimffon Uwamobong and her younger brother, Sr. Matylda Iyang finally heard from the mother who had abandoned them.
“Their mother came back and told me that she (Inimffon) and her younger sibling are witches, asking me to throw them out of the convent,” said Iyang, who oversees the Mother Charles Walker Children Home at the Handmaids of the Holy Child Jesus convent.
Such an accusation is not new to Iyang.
Since opening the home in 2007, Iyang has cared for dozens of malnourished and homeless children from the streets of Uyo; many of them had family who believed they were witches.
The Uwamobong siblings became well and were able to enroll in school, but Iyang and other social service providers are faced with similar needs.
Health care and social workers say parents, guardians and religious leaders brand children as witches for different reasons. Children subject to such accusations are often abused, abandoned, trafficked or even murdered, according to UNICEF and Human Rights Watch.
Throughout Africa, a witch is culturally understood to be the epitome of evil and the cause of misfortune, disease and death. Consequently, the witch is the most hated person in African society and subject to punishment, torture and even death.
There have been reports of children — labeled as witches — having had nails driven into their heads and being forced to drink cement, set on fire, scarred by acid, poisoned and even buried alive.
In Nigeria, some Christian pastors have incorporated African witchcraft beliefs into their brand of Christianity, resulting in a campaign of violence against young people in some locales.
Residents of the state Akwa Ibom — including members of the Ibibio, Annang and the Oro ethnic groups — believe in the religious existence of spirits and witches.
Fr. Dominic Akpankpa, executive director of the Catholic Institute of Justice and Peace in the Diocese of Uyo, said the existence of witchcraft is a metaphysical phenomenon from those who do not know anything about theology.
“If you claim that somebody is a witch, you would have to prove it,” he said. He added that most of those accused of being witches could be suffering from psychological complications and “it is our duty to help these people with counseling to come out of that situation.”
Witch profiling and abandonment of children are common on the streets of Akwa Ibom.
If a man remarries, Iyang said, the new wife may be intolerant of the child’s attitude after being married to the widower, and as such, will throw the child out of the house.
“To achieve this, she would accuse him or her of being a witch,” Iyang said. “That’s why you’d find many children in the streets and when you ask them, they will say it’s their stepmother who drove them out of the house.”
She said poverty and teenage pregnancy also can force children into the street as well.
Nigeria’s criminal code prohibits accusing, or even threatening to accuse, someone of being a witch. The Child Rights Act of 2003 makes it a criminal offense to subject any child to physical or emotional torture or submit them to any inhuman or degrading treatment.
Akwa Ibom officials have incorporated the Child Rights Act in an attempt to reduce child abuse. In addition, the state adopted a law in 2008 that makes witch profiling punishable by a prison term of up to 10 years.
Akpankpa said criminalizing injustices toward children was a step in the right direction.
“A lot of children were labeled witches and victimized. We used to have baby factories where young women are kept; they give birth and their babies are taken and sold out for monetary gains,” he told CNS.
“Human trafficking was very alarming. A lot of baby factories were discovered, and the babies and their mothers were saved while the perpetrators were brought to justice,” he added.
At the Mother Charles Walker Children Home, where most of the children are sheltered and sent to school on scholarship, Iyang demonstrates the Catholic Church’s commitment to protecting child rights. She said most of the malnourished youngsters the order receives are those who lost their mother during childbirth “and their families bring them to us for care.”
For contact tracing and reunification, Iyang formed a partnership with Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Welfare. The process begins with parental verification by gathering information about each child and their location prior to separation. With the information in hand, an investigator drives to the child’s home village to verify what has been learned.
The process involves community chiefs, elders and religious and traditional leaders to ensure that each child is properly integrated and accepted in the community. When that fails, a child will placed into the adoption protocol under government supervision.
Since opening the Mother Charles Walker Children Home in 2007, Iyang and the staff have cared for about 120 children. About 74 have been reunited with their families, she said.
“We have 46 now left with us,” she said, “hoping that their families will one day pick them up or they will have foster parents.”
More than 1,100 people have been killed in rural areas across several states of northern Nigeria amid an alarming escalation in attacks and abductions during the first half of the year, according to Amnesty International.
“The Nigerian authorities have left rural communities at the mercy of rampaging gunmen who have killed at least 1,126 people in the north of the country since January,” the London-rights group said in a new report on Monday, giving a figure until the end of June.
The killings, during attacks by “bandits” or armed cattle rustlers, and in clashes between herders and farming communities for access to land, have been recurrent for several years.
Amnesty said it had interviewed civilians in Kaduna, Katsina, Niger, Plateau, Sokoto, Taraba and Zamfara states, who reported living in fear of attacks and kidnappings.
The rights watchdog said villages in the south of Kaduna state were affected the most, with at least 366 people killed in multiple attacks by armed men since January.
“Terrifying attacks on rural communities in the north of Nigeria have been going on for years,” said Osai Ojigho, director of Amnesty International Nigeria.
“The ongoing failure of security forces to take sufficient steps to protect villagers from these predictable attacks is utterly shameful,” he added.
Amnesty blamed state authorities and the federal government for failing to protect the population.
Armed groups loot and set fire to villages and frequently kidnap people for ransom, apparently with no ideological motive. Many experts have recently warned against associating the attackers with armed groups active in the region.
President Muhammadu Buhari was elected in 2015 on a campaign promise to eradicate the armed group Boko Haram, which has killed tens of thousands since it launched an armed in northeast Nigeria in 2009.
Amnesty said most villagers complained of receiving little or no help from security officials, despite informing them prior or calling for help during attacks.
“During the attack, our leaders called and informed the soldiers that the attackers are in the village, so the soldiers did not waste time and they came but when they came and saw the type of ammunitions the attackers had they left,” a witness to an attack in Unguwan Magaji in southern of Kaduna was quoted as saying by Amnesty.
“The following morning so many soldiers came with their Hilux pick-up trucks to see the dead bodies.”
Ojigho decried reported abuse of civilians who asked for more official help and protection.
“In their response to these attacks, the Nigerian authorities have displayed gross incompetence and a total disregard for people’s lives,” he said. “Arresting people who dare to ask for help is a further blow.”
The escalating violence has forced many farmers and their families from their homes while thousands could not cultivate their farms during the 2020 rainy season because of fear of attacks or abduction, according to Amnesty.
It said that in Katsina state, at least 33,130 people were living in displacement camps, while others have headed to urban areas to stay with relatives.
The United Nations has said it is “utterly shocked and horrified” by the killing of five aid workers by unknown armed groups in northeastern Nigeria.
The statement late on Wednesday by Edward Kallon, UN humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, followed the release of a video showing the murder of the humanitarian workers who were kidnapped last month in Borno state.
The Nigerian government identified the victims as employees of the country’s State Emergency Management Agency as well as international aid organisations Action Against Hunger (ACF), International Rescue Committee and Rich International.
“They were committed humanitarians who devoted their lives to helping vulnerable people and communities in an area heavily affected by violence,” Kallon said.
The aid workers were abducted while travelling on a main route connecting the town of Monguno with Borno state capital, Maiduguri.
Kallon said he was troubled by the number of illegal checkpoints set up by non-state armed groups along the region’s main supply routes.
“These checkpoints disrupt the delivery of life-saving assistance and heighten the risks for civilians of being abducted, killed or injured, with aid workers increasingly being singled out.”
Northeast Nigeria has been ravaged by a decade-long armed campaign led by the armed group Boko Haram that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced about two million from their homes.
Last year, fighters from a Boko Haram splinter group, the Islamic State West Africa Province, abducted a group of six humanitarian workers – including a female ACF employee – in the region.
Five of the hostages were later executed and the ACF worker remains in captivity.
Aid groups provide a vital lifeline for some 7.9 million people in the region who the UN says are in need of urgent assistance.
Emmanuel Onyeahiolam, 30, a contractor, who is one of the beneficiaries of the We Are Together crowdfunding site speaks to Reuters during an interview in his home amid the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lagos, Nigeria April 23, 2020. Picture taken April 23, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja
LAGOS,(Reuters) – Tech startup founder Ebun Okubanjo watched with dismay as his home city of Lagos entered a coronavirus-containment lockdown, knowing well that millions of Nigerians on the margins could be left with nothing.
So he and his team used their expertise to create a crowdfunding site, “We Are Together”, to distribute cash to those in difficulty who apply for help.
Others in Nigeria’s flourishing tech sector have also put their skills to use to help cushion the economic fallout of the coronavirus.
“The reality is to tell people to stay home, and not work .. you have to give them something,” Okubanjo told Reuters.
Africa’s informal sector accounts for more than 85% of employment across the continent and has been largely bypassed by limited support measures from cash-strapped governments.
An African Union study warned that the pandemic puts some 20 million jobs at risk in Africa, with the continent’s economies projected to shrink this year.
While Nigeria said the lockdowns will begin to gradually ease from May 4, it is not yet clear who will be able to go back to work, and the economic impact will be lasting.
Okubajo said his site, and others like it, are effectively a DIY economic stimulus, allowing those with cash to prevent people from falling into destitution.
Emmanuel Onyeahiolam, 30, an electrical equipment contractor, got 10,000 naira ($27.78) from We Are Together.
He said he was abruptly unable to work when Lagos locked down, and his last client was not able to pay him immediately.
“It’s not too convenient for me to stay for a long time without working,” he said, adding that food costs had gone up fivefold. “It’s just scary.”
We Are Together raised more than 17 million naira ($47,222) and distributed it to 1,739 recipients.
Justin Irabor, a tech worker with Nigerian startup Eden Life Inc, founded “Angels Among Us” with a team of volunteer software engineers. The site matches donors directly with recipients, and has enabled more than 2 million naira in donations.
Both platforms are primarily online – a fact that puts them out of reach to the poorest Nigerians.
Both sites must also to an extent take applicants at their word, although Angels Among Us tries to vet its recipients and volunteers call to verify their stories. The site tries to use bank-issued biometric identification numbers to prevent graft.
We Are Together uses location technology to ensure that recipients are in the parts of the country under federally mandated lockdown, and not in wealthy parts of those states.
Okubanjo conceded the system is not perfect – and that some who do not need cash could get it. But it is a risk worth taking.
Monica Dongban-Mensem (centre) received training from authorities to qualify as a traffic officer
During her free time, Nigerian Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem controls traffic in the capital, Abuja, eight years after her son was killed in a hit-and-run accident.
On the day I met her she was clad in her blue traffic vest, feet spread apart, sweaty arms slicing the air at a frantic pace, as she directed cars in 38C (100F) heat fuelled by the idling cars.
Around her was the busy chaos of the Berger roundabout in the city’s central area.
The cars that were not moving were hunched on their front axles, horns blaring, impatiently waiting for her to say “go”.
She was clearly in charge.
“Many Nigerians are impatient and it shows in their driving,” Justice Dongban-Mensem told me.
She did not know who was responsible for her son’s death but wanted to tackle some of the poor driving she witnessed.
She started going to bus stations to speak to drivers about road safety in Nigeria.
What she found shocked her.
Most of the drivers had not received proper training and were not familiar with the traffic rules.
Such ignorance might have caused the death of her son and she was determined to change that.
The 62-year-old has set up a non-profit organisation named after her late son – Kwapda’as Road Safety Demand – to educate motorists about safety and she also plans to establish a driving school for potential commercial drivers, where they can receive training free-of-charge.
Not content with that, Justice Dongban-Mensem wanted to play a role in controlling the traffic herself. After weeks of training with the road safety commission she qualified as a traffic warden.
It was not until 2016, five years after the accident, that she felt able to visit the scene of her son’s death in the central Nigerian city of Jos.
“My mission was to find someone who could just tell me or describe to me how my son died.”
But once she got there, she was left terrified, sad and angry by the chaos she saw.
Computer lessons in Lagos. A national emergency response is needed to get all Nigeria’s children into quality schooling. Photograph: Cavan Images/Alamy
If you want a window on the condition of children in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, there is no better vantage point than the Katanga health centre in the impoverished northern state of Jigawa.
In a hut that passes for a nutrition clinic, a group of 25 women wait with their children. Tiny bodies bearing the hallmarks of acute malnutrition – distended stomachs and twig-thin limbs – are lifted into a weighing harness and their arms measured to check for signs of wasting. Ali, who has just reached his first birthday, weighs only 5kg – the average age of a two-month-old in the UK. His mother is 14.
Sitting under a tree in the forecourt, another severely malnourished child is gasping for breath. Nayo, who is seven months, has the telltale symptoms of severe pneumonia – a collapsed rib cage, deep cough and fever. He desperately needs antibiotics and medical oxygen. The clinic has neither. “I’m worried for his life, there is nowhere to go for help,” his mother tells me.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and a global energy-exporting superpower. It is endowed with vast natural resources. But the country is rooted near the foot of the World Bank’s global league table for human capital – a composite measure capturing the health, education and nutritional status of children.
Five years ago Nigeria’s leaders joined the rest of the world in embracing the 2030 sustainable development goals. They include targets to end preventable child and maternal deaths, eradicate malnutrition and give all children a quality education. Almost half of Nigeria’s 200 million population is under 15, and achieving these goals would catalyse the dynamic and inclusive growth needed to create jobs.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is either treading water or sinking like a stone on all the key 2030 indicators for child development. More than 800,000 children lose their lives each year, mainly to preventable diseases such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea. Over the past decade, the country’s share of global under-five deaths doubled – to 16% of the total – and continues to rise.
Malnutrition is endemic. Almost half of Nigeria’s children are stunted by nutritional deprivation, with devastating consequences for health and cognitive development. About 2 million face life-threatening malnutrition. Vaccination against killer diseases is critical for malnourished children. But millions of children in Nigeria have not been immunised.
More than 10 million children aged 5–14 years are out of school – more than in any other country – even though education is nominally free and compulsory. Most of those in school are getting a fifth-rate education after years of underinvestment. Children with eight years of schooling typically have learning skills equivalent to four years of primary education.
There are also deep fractures linked to inequalities in wealth, region and gender. Children born into the poorest 20% of families are eight times more likely to succumb to fatal illness. Young girls, especially those in the northern states, are far more likely to be forced into early marriage. Almost one in five girls are married by the age of 15, according to Unicef.
Nigeria’s child development crisis is a tragedy for the country. Over the next three decades the population will double, making Nigeria the world’s third most populous country. By 2050 almost one in every 10 children born in the world will be Nigerian. Sheer weight of numbers dictates that the fate of Nigeria’s children will shape the world’s development.
So what can be done to break the malaise?
First, Nigeria urgently needs to convert economic wealth into human capital, starting with investment in children. Current revenue collection levels are among the lowest in the world, holding back vital public spending in areas such as health and education. Changing this picture will require a broader and deeper tax base, with strengthened royalty collection from oil companies.
The federal government has passed some encouraging legislation on education and public health. But at 0.6% of GDP, Nigeria’s health spending is comparable to countries such as Yemen and Afghanistan. The result is clinics like the one in Jigawa, without trained health workers, medicines and vital equipment.
Second, a national emergency response is needed to get all children into quality schooling. Unlocking the potential of Nigeria’s children would transform the country.
That won’t be possible without a third component for change – a concerted drive to combat the deep inequalities facing girls and women. It is surely time for Nigeria’s politicians, as well religious and traditional leaders, to push for an end to child marriage – a practice that violates human rights, destroys opportunity and perpetuates poverty.
Police say the victims in Daura were subjected to “inhumane and degrading treatment”
The private Islamic boarding school in Daura, northern Nigeria, was not somewhere you would want a child to stay for more than a few minutes, let alone months or years.
The Koranic and Rehabilitation Centre was one of series of institutions raided over the past month where parents have been sending troublesome children and young men who may be addicted to drugs or have committed petty crimes. But the raids have revealed them to be more akin to “torture houses”, officials say.
The centre in Daura, President Muhammadu Buhari’s hometown, was made up of two main buildings, one clean and well-built where children were taught the Koran.
Across the road was the centre’s accommodation – a run-down single-storey compound, made up of five or six dark cells with barred windows and doors around a courtyard.
The air was stuffy and nauseating. Former students told us that up to 40 people were kept in chains in each 7-sq-m (75-sq-ft) cell.
Filthy clothes and bedding littered the floor. Those who lived there were often forced to urinate and defecate with their chains on – in the same place they ate and slept.
They would be regularly taken out for beatings or to be raped by the staff.
“It was hell on earth,” said Rabiu Umar, a former detainee at the centre.
Sixty-seven boys and men were freed from the facility. Police said there were 300 people on the school register, but many of them had escaped following a riot the previous weekend.
Over the past month about 600 people have been found to be living in such horrifying conditions: chained, starved and abused.
The first discovery was in late September in the Rigasa neighbourhood of Kaduna city in the north-west. Following a tip-off from a relative, the police found nearly 500 people, including children, detained in appalling conditions.
Videos showed rescued students looking dazed, their legs shackled and their bodies covered in blisters.
Some of them were pictured dangling from the ceiling. Others had their hands or feet chained to car wheel rims.
Hafsat Baba, Kaduna state’s commissioner of human services and social development, told the BBC at the time the authorities planned to identify all facilities of this type and close them down.
She added that they would prosecute the owners of centres “found to be torturing children or holding people in these kind of horrific situations”.
Ten days ago, for the first time women were also amongst those rescued – from another institution in Kaduna.
This is unusual, according to Ms Baba, who added that these institutions seldom admit both sexes.
As the raids continue and more details emerge, they have been met with public outrage, but these institutions were no secret.
Jaafar Jaafar, from online media platform the Daily Nigerian, says people who live there have always known.