Around 1.2 million Nigerians currently live in areas controlled by the Boko Haram jihadist organization, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Nigeria warned this week.
Humanitarian aid workers cannot safely access these areas, and civilians living there run significant risk of falling prey to the group.
Speaking at the international civil-security summit in Maiduguri on Friday, Nigeria’s most senior U.N. official, Edward Kallon, warned that there is “continuously shrinking humanitarian space” in the northeastern states, which Boko Haram controls, and warned that the conditions faced by civilians do “not give room for fiction.”
“As of this year, two more local government areas have become out-of-reach for the humanitarian community,” said Kallon.
“While we strive to improve the quality of services to people we reach, there are now an estimated 1.2 million people who cannot be reached by the humanitarian community and represent an estimated 50 percent increase in geographic space and a 30 percent increase in numbers of people in comparison to last year,” he continued.
Kallon went on to stress the urgent need for improved civil-military relationship in the ongoing war against Islamist organizations, which has taken tens of thousands of lives since it began in 2009 and left around seven million in need of humanitarian assistance.
“Over the past ten years, over 35,000 people have lost their lives in this crisis,” he said. “About 14,000 were civilians, but many others were members of the Armed Forces of Nigeria.”
He praised the Nigerian military for its part in fighting Boko Haram, despite its years of falsely claiming Boko Haram has been defeated and, on one occasion, bombing a refugee camp hosting Boko Haram victims.
“The Nigerian Armed Forces in the northeast have been a critical component in ensuring a safe and secure environment to enable humanitarian and development partners to carry out their work,” he said. “Armed conflicts may not be preventable, but there are rules that apply, and they have limits.”
He also lamented that aid workers have increasingly become the target of violence by Boko Haram and other militias.
“The crisis has also had a heavy toll on aid workers and the past year has marked a turning point in our response,” he said. “Ten aid workers, all Nigerians, have died as a result of violence perpetrated by Boko Haram and other non-state armed groups in the past 18 months. Six of our colleagues are still held hostage.”
Kallon concluded by declaring that the crisis “deserves our sustained attention and renewed commitment,” calling for more support from the local and international support for humanitarian aid workers.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has made several deceptive statements about Boko Haram’s strength, including claims that the military had defeated the organization so they would no longer carry out “conventional attacks” against security forces or civilians.
The organization has staged multiple resurgences over recent years including dozens of attacks, kidnappings, and other egregious crimes. In July this year, the organization carried out an attack on a funeral ceremony in northeastern Nigeria that left 65 people dead. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, the group’s activities have already displaced more than 250,000 people in northeast Nigeria.