Actor, producer and Oxfam ambassador, Djimon Hounsou, visited the Northeast last week to witness first-hand the effects of the crises and he painted a very gory picture of the dire situation of what’s going on.
“I met with the displaced families, mostly you see a lot of women without their husbands,” he told The Guardian Nigeria. “Their husbands are missing… [they] were killed during the conflict or captured afterwards. That’s pretty tragic. So many kids [are] out on the streets, lacking food, lacking clean drinking water.”
The two-time Academy award nominee who was born in Benin, spoke of his desire to “Shine a light on the issue to world communities.”“I’m a son of the continent [so] it’s my inherent obligation to care for my own people,” he said. “I also came upon an amazing quote which said: ‘We should all be ashamed to die unless we have made some major contribution to human society.’ I’m looking to make a social impact here.”
Oxfam, who have been assisting the region since 2014, have observed the evolution of the situation in the Northeast. Although there has been progress made, things remain “fluid”. The army has reclaimed territory from Boko Haram but there are still areas under the group’s control, resulting in an unknown number of people who are trapped.
“We don’t know how many there are, we don’t know how hungry they are, we don’t know anything about their situation,” said Kathryn Achilles, Humanitarian Campaign Manager at Oxfam. “The security situation also remains very fluid and quite unpredictable,” Achilles continued. “So even in Maiduguri now we are seeing attempted or actual suicide attacks, a lot of the time horrifically carried out by young children.”
“We need to be mindful of the fact that just because people have fled from Boko Haram, it doesn’t mean they’re safe.”
As for the staggeringly high estimates of those in need, Achilles said that she suspects the true number of those in need is “slightly higher.”
“In any humanitarian crisis you never really have precise numbers,” she said. “It’s a very difficult process especially when you’re working in a place like north-east Nigeria where we don’t have access to everyone that might need our support.”
“Debates about whether numbers are true or not can risk delaying our response, and the slower we are to respond the more people can get sick or people die,” she continued.
Raising awareness and galvanising the international community are key in mounting an adequate response to the crisis according to Achilles. “This is one of the biggest crises in Africa and yet you talk to people in Nigeria and the rest of the world and it’s barely known,” she said. “It’s barely a blip on the international agenda.”
While the government continues to make progress made she said there’s more that can be done. “We need the government to be doing much more in terms of strengthening humanitarian coordination, to really work with us to identify where there are gaps and meet those needs,” she said.
The most pressing need however is food. The UN estimates more than 4.4 million people are in urgent need of food assistance. They predict 400,000 children in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe will suffer severe acute malnutrition over the next year if urgent measures aren’t taken.“We need to get enough food into north-east Nigeria to meet the needs,” she said. These people are going to need food assistance of some sort for probably the next year.
Government intervention and NGO action aside, ordinary Nigerians also have a pivotal role to play. “It’s very important for the Nigerian people to remember that this is happening to Nigerians,” she said. “Ordinary Nigerians [need to] reach out to the government and demand of them the type of response they’d want if it was happening to them, to their families, their communities, what would they want the government to do?”