Nigeria’s Boko Haram/ISWAP crisis is in three instalments. On one side, there is the obvious menace of the terrorist group. Those who aid and abate their criminal activities are another. International non-governmental organizations (NGOs) complete the deadly triangle.
For nearly a dozen years, Boko Haram perpetrated violence across the North-East, aiming to rid the country of any form of “Western influence.” In the first six years, the terror strews across the country. The Federal Capital Territory received overdose with a deadly car bomb attack on the United Nations building in 2011 signalling intent. The horror worsened afterwards.
In December 2013, hundreds of the jihadists overran a Nigerian air force base in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri. Then four months later, the group gained particular notoriety for the abduction of an entire girls’ school in the town of Chibok. Over 20,000 persons were reportedly killed, hundreds of thousands displaced.
After reaching its peak in 2015, the number of casualties attributed to the group fell dramatically.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s victory ushered in this new phase, breaking the convention with a different approach and personnel. Led by Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. T.Y Buratai, the new Service Chiefs degraded the group’s territorial control, pushing them to the fringes of the Lake Chad Basin.
More recently, the COAS masterminded operations in the region that killed more than 1,000 insurgents. Audio messages released by Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram’s main faction in April suggest the group is indeed hard-pressed. In one of them he wept and prayed for protection from the “devilish” army as he urged his men to stand firm.
While Boko Haram appears weakened, batted and on the brink of surrendering, supposed humanitarian aid groups potentially pose another threat to the troops. And unlike its brutal approach on the radical jihadists, troops are handicapped.
For years, military authorities have allowed aid organizations operate outside of government-controlled areas, neglecting Terrorism Prevention Amendment Act, 2013, which criminalizes engagement with groups the government lists as a terrorist. Stakeholders believe the military’s initial soft stance allowed the NGOs to perpetrate evil.
The role of international NGOs in conflicts can not be overlooked, though. They save millions of lives, provide food, drinking water, and healthcare to those that need lifesaving assistance. Some, however, seem to bolster and encourage the carnage being perpetrated by insurgents and rebels.
In Nigeria, for instance, several reports have found many guilty of operating against all known international protocol, rendering humanitarian assistance to Boko Haram. They have been found to turn the crisis to a viable business venture, perpetrating acts that undermine the efforts of the military towards decimating the terrorist group. Some even act as spies, carrying out espionage activities.
Gudaji Kazaure, a federal lawmaker from Jigawa State first raised this alarm in 2018. He said, “The most important is for Mr President to be aware of those NGOs that are giving medication, support, food and others to the terrorists. If we don’t stop those NGOs that are going into Sambisa and meeting Boko Haram, we will not succeed in this war.”
It took almost a year for Kazaure’s entreaty to be taken seriously. The military began a major crackdown on foreign NGOs for “aiding and abetting terrorists”, supplying food and drugs. Two aid agencies, Action Against Hunger and Mercy Corps were suspended but pardoned merely one month later.
Ali Ndume, Chairmain Senator Committee on Army kicked, insisting that he has credible evidence that NGOs work with Boko Haram after returning from a trip to Maiduguri.
“Another area that the Senate will look into is the allegation that the various NGOs in that area are conniving with the insurgents – providing them information, logistics and so many things,” he said.
“I have been critical about this and people have told me to be careful but it has come out now that one or two of the so-called NGOs operating there are actually aiding and abetting and supporting the insurgents. But we will do an investigation and we will hear if we have the evidence.”
Since 2019, after a resurgence in fighting, government and military officials have also required aid organizations to undergo lengthy processes to obtain compulsory authorization for moving personnel, cash, and cargo-carrying relief materials in the northeast region. The military mandated using armed escorts on some routes, banned certain types of goods, and limited the amount of fuel the agencies can use in the field. Somehow, the can of worms remained.
Funding for Boko Haram
A damning report by the Centre for Africa Liberation and Socio-Economic Rights (CALSER) have found some INGOs to be responsible for funding Boko Haram. It revealed that while there is multiple evidence that suggests that funds from the coffers of these INGOs end up in the hands of the Boko Haram terrorist group, the majority do come in the country from the francophone countries in cash.
The military authorities have not been successful in tracking the inflow and disbursement of millions of dollars that have passed through the coffers of the INGOs. The discreet nature of their transactions has made matters worse.
Funds aside, INGOs have been accused of providing humanitarian support to Boko Haram terrorists in violation of international protocol and laws. They divert food and other relief items meant for the IDPs to the camp of the group. In most instances, some medical NGO has been reported to be providing medical services to injured terrorists, which goes against the provisions in the International Humanitarian Law in armed conflict situations.
Some locals in communities confessed that there are numerous instances where some INGOs move a truckload of food items and medical supplies and abandon them in the middle of nowhere and before dawn, these trucks and the items would disappear.
It was also stated that some INGOs move about with unmarked trucks which makes it difficult to track their identities. The reason for this it was gathered was to leave no trace behind for the military to trace.
Worst still, INGOs are believed to engage in the blackmail of the military. CALSER’s report and many others uncovered some foreign aid agencies engaged in propaganda on behalf of Boko Haram, especially when they come under heavy bombardment from the Nigerian troops.
The report also revealed that some foreign interest contracted some well-known INGOs in Nigeria to act as the intellectual arm of the Boko Haram group through the issuance of press statement and reports accusing the Nigerian Military of human rights abuses. These tactics are meant to cause a distraction when there seems to be intense pressure on the Boko Haram group.
It was also gathered that the bulk of the rape allegations made against the military in IDP camps were fabricated too by some INGOs who offer young girls and women monies to appear before the camera to make such allegations.
Several others are alleged to be actively involved in human trafficking and exploitation. There is a particular case of a French NGO that carries out documentaries in IDP camps depicting a picture of gloom as against the wishes of women and children and they consequently send these documentaries to donor organizations soliciting for funds.
That’s not all. INGOs are also notorious for other inimical acts that are dehumanizing to IDPs in their various camps. Some have been identified to be notorious for making locals go against their wishes to coercing them into making submissions and divulging information about their communities which ultimately ends up in the hands of the Boko Haram group to aid their operations.
To stand a fair chance of defeating this brutal group, the hard-power approach of the military must be supported by the Federal Government and effective legislation to eliminate the last arm of terror; the international NGOs. Else, the troops may remain in the same triangle.