The United Nations (UN) recently released a frightening report on the 12-year-old insurgency in the North East and linked it with deaths of about 324,000 children under five, mostly from disease and hunger in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states. It predicted that the figure might hit 1.1 million in 2030. The UN also disclosed that for every day of conflict, about 170 children under-five are lost with the possibility of the figure rising up to 240 daily in 2030.
This is a far cry from an earlier estimate, which put the number of people killed in the crisis at about 35,000 and two million displaced from their homes. In the new report titled: “Assessing the impact of conflict on development in North East Nigeria,” the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said: “The full human cost of war is much greater.
We estimate that more than 90 per cent of the nearly 350,000 conflict-attributable deaths through 2020, about 324,000 are of children younger than five.” The study added that critical aspects of progress and development, including Gross Domestic Product (GDP), poverty, malnutrition, infant mortality, education, water availability and sanitation, may not return to pre-conflict levels even by 2030.
This prediction is worrisome. Since its commencement in 2009, the insurgency has dismantled the health and food systems of the North East region, leading to indirect deaths from disease and hunger outnumbering those from direct causes. More than 1.8 million Nigerians are estimated to have been displaced in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno states since the war, with Borno mostly bearing the brunt. At the height of the insurgency, many schools were closed, classrooms and equipment destroyed.
In Borno State alone, 16 out of 38 hospitals were known to have been destroyed or looted, and 214 primary health care centres shut, as at last year. The conflict contributes significantly to the push in the population movement which adds pressure on the delivery of humanitarian services in terms of shelter, health and nutrition, provision of food and access to water, education and sanitation. It also accounts for the incessant farmers-herders clashes in the North Central and Southern states. At the same period, 1.8 million students were reportedly out-of-school, further escalating the previously staggering figure of 13.5 million Nigerian children suffering that fate.
The damning report on the war in the North East by the UN is discomforting. The death toll is worrisome. We urge that efforts should be made to curtail the ongoing carnage in the region. There is no doubt that children and women are the most vulnerable in conflict situations. Apart from the trauma such displacements inflict on children; it renders their future bleak, with some growing up and carrying along anger against the society that has abandoned them. Many children with such awful experiences end up becoming willing recruits for terrorism and other violent crimes.
The solution is for the Federal Government to assume its constitutional responsibility of protecting lives and properties of Nigerians in the North East and other troubled spots in the country. We say this because the primary responsibility of government is the protection of life and property of all citizens. There is no reason for the insurgency in the North East to have lasted this while.
Sabotage, poor motivation of service personnel and inadequate equipment may have been responsible for the long period the war has lasted. We advise that soldiers and other security operatives involved in the war be adequately mobilised to do their job effectively. There is also great need for enhanced intelligence gathering and sharing among security agencies.
A country with a bleak future for its children is already doomed. Efforts should be made to ensure that displaced children are given new lease of life. Those of school age in the streets and Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camps should be rehabilitated and brought back to school. Aside from housing the displaced North East indigenes in IDP camps, government should initiate some programmes, which should take care of them and make them self-reliant.
We decry the loss of children in the North East, the rising cost of insurgency in the region and call on the government to evolve new strategies to make the war winnable. The war has lasted too long and should be brought to a successful end. Multi-dimensional strategies, including carrot-and-stick approach, can also be applied in dealing with the insurgents.
Given the human waste and other costs arising from the crisis, all hands should be on the deck to bring peace in the troubled North East region.