The Boko Haram insurgency has been a major factor that has led to the convergence of numerous Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the state and the North-east of Nigeria in general. Of all the NGOs, the ones with the most visibility are the International Non-Governmental Organisations or INGOs. These are international organisations that responded to the nauseating and appalling humanitarian crisis in the North-east of Nigeria due to the insurgency. As a result of this problem, thousands of people were forced out of their homes to live in Internally Displaced Persons camp in the urban centres. The insurgency has led to the destruction of lives and livelihoods, increased vulnerability of people, especially women and children, absence of civil authorities in the affected areas and lack of access to basic services like food, water, sanitation, health and education.
The intervention of the INGOs became necessary because state governments and the federal government cannot fully shoulder the huge cost of intervention. INGOs all over the world target communities and societies where there are humanitarian challenges for the provision of succour and support to such communities. This is the situation in South Sudan, Yemen, Myanmar, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, among others. In all these places, INGOs provide basic services like food, security, medication, water, etc. They do so with the consent of the governments of host countries, who sometimes provide counterpart funding, security and infrastructure for the ease of operations by the INGOs.
Based on these salient and noble objectives, everyone would be happy with the operations of the INGOs in the communities. When you visit the IDPs camps and some of the affected communities, you are bound to encounter INGOs workers and volunteers providing food, shelter, medication and psycho-social support to affected persons. They do that at great risk of their lives and under very fluid security conditions. In most instances, the people respond to such services with joy and look forward to sessions with the INGOs.
INGOs in Borno state include International Rescue Committee (IRC), Danish Refugee Council (DRC), Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Alima, FHI 360, Action Against Hunger and Mercy Corps, among others. This is in addition to specialised UN agencies like UNICEF, UNDP, IOM, UN Women, etc.
However, the situation is not completely rosy in Borno state. Currently there are a lot of factors that are either inadvertently affecting the operations of the INGOs or may do so in the future, if steps are not taken to address them. First, there is a growing misrepresentation and wrong perception about the services being provided by the INGOs. These are services related to food security and healthcare services. Ordinary people in the streets, in camps and in their homes have the belief that the INGOs are out to spread family planning and discourage child birth. This is true as most of these INGOs have reproductive health sections that engage in a lot of campaigns and interventions to encourage family planning and child spacing. Contraceptives are provided free, in addition to condoms and implant devices that help people to plan their families and do child spacing. The catch, however, is that the INGOs do so because of their interpretation of the situation. Most of their programme planners see lack of family planning and child spacing as one of the factors that have contributed to maternal mortality, child morbidity and economic deprivation being experienced in the communities.
Well, as McLuhan stated in the 1970s, the medium is the message, therefore, because the INGOs are foreign and their heads are expatriates, people hold unto such perceptions. The most dangerous of all the misinformation being spread in the communities is that the INGOs are the ones making the insurgency fester because of some ulterior motives. Many people in Borno state, including some elite, believe that Boko Haram insurgency was deliberately introduced and sustained for several reasons- money, access to resources, attack against Islam and the spread of western agenda.
So what is the way out of this seemingly complex situation? First, government has to be sincere and dogged in ending the insurgency and taking the people back to their ancestral homes. So long as these people remain in the camps, such opinions will persist and it could lead to greater problems. Second, the INGOs need to be more transparent and inclusive in their programme design and implementation. People like processes that they are part of as they will likely feel that they own the process. Third, the INGOs need to engage the political and community leaders in a discussion as to why their recruitment process is highly tilted towards non-Muslim and non-Kanuri workers. The people need to be convinced that it is inadvertent and not deliberate.
Insurgency anywhere in the world takes time to end. But in the case of Borno, we are at the brink of a decade of conflict, killings, abductions, assassinations and destruction. Something needs to change soon. The Borno state government and the INGOs need to heed our clarion call – to service of the people and humanity in general.
Mallumbe writes from Department of Mass Communications, University of Maiduguri, Maiduguri, Borno state