Nigeria: Safety for Aid Workers in Northeast

3 September 2019

The Nigerian military, especially since the coming into power of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, has spared no effort in their bid to rid the nation of the irritation the Boko Haram terrorists and their activities in the North east constitute. The decimation the President promised the group has been largely achieved. And like an animal in the last throes of death, the terrorists have resorted to picking soft targets just before they finally expire. The war against the insurgents has, without doubt, affected the peace and economic stability in the region and has left behind a huge humanitarian crisis that requires the services of aid workers.

Undaunted by this development, the federal government and the military are not relenting in their onslaught to wipe them out completely and restore normalcy to the embattled zone. The 10-year Boko Haram insurgency is harrowing indeed and that is why we are concerned about the ceaseless and deliberate attacks by this gang of murderers on healthcare facilities and frontline aid workers who are usually the first point of contacts in emergency situations.

We feel disheartened that these attacks are increasing in intensity even as the military try to contain them. Recently, there were attacks by Boko Haram terrorists on health facilities in Magumeri in Borno state. In Gubio, the clinic was burnt, the MCH unit was also burnt and even the staff houses were razed. Before these recent attacks on health facilities, we recall the kidnap and subsequent execution of 25-year-old International Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC) midwife, Saifura Ahmed as well as nurse, Hauwa Liman by Boko Haram.

In July, six aid workers serving with the International aid agency, Action against Hunger, were similarly kidnapped near the town of Damasak in Borno state. These attacks are to be expected from a terrorist group that is in disarray. They are also indications that there is need for improved security around health facilities and health workers.

This newspaper is of the opinion that these attacks on health facilities are intended to impede efforts to tackle outbreaks of diseases, vaccination programmes as well as emergency services to the people in the area who are daily exposed to war-related risks. According to statistics by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), over 37 aid workers have been confirmed killed following the decade-long activities of terror group, Boko Haram in Nigeria.

Recently, Public Services International (PSI) a global federation of unions which affiliates 684 trade unions from 152 countries representing over 30 million workers in social services and health care, raised concern over the safety of its members working in the region. The PSI said that it was disturbed that such attacks deprive the population of access to healthcare because facilities are closed, infrastructure is damaged, and NGOs and other providers have to withdraw their staff after attacks. The reaction of these agencies is to be understood on the basis of the realities they face as they carry on with their humanitarian services.

It is only proper that we condemn all attacks on health workers in conflict zones especially as they slow the process of providing care, treatment and comfort to the sick, injured and dying. They are cowardly and intended to give the impression that the group is still alive. It is from this perspective that we urge the government to put an end to these attacks.

In our view, it is not the job for the federal government alone. The international community and their leaders ought to act now so as to put these criminals out of business. The alternative is to create the impression that the government is succumbing to the Boko Haram blackmail. We want to believe that the people of the area have seen the last of these attacks as the authorities take action to prevent any more of them in the future. Without the activities of, particularly the aid workers, it would be painful to imagine what healthcare delivery in those areas will look like. The government must act in a manner to show appreciation for the sacrifices the aid workers are making and ensure their safety at all times in the course of their duty.

It is also important that the federal government did not allow itself to be distracted from the ultimate goal of wiping out these miscreants. Even more, it must intensify ongoing efforts to protect these workers who risk their lives for the public good.

We urge the security agencies to review their strategy with increased surveillance and prompt apprehension of suspects and their heinous plans before they carry them out.

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