Today sees the leadership of Nigeria change hands. Despite fears over election violence, President Buhari will take office with unprecedented goodwill across the country – even from those who opposed him in the election two months ago.
The weekend will no doubt be marked by celebrations as a national holiday begins in the country. However the enormous job that the president now has on his hands is where much of the worlds’ attention will focus.
A terrifying crisis
Continuing violence and conflict in the north-east of the country is causing an humanitarian crisis that has already left 5.6 million people in need of help and driven over 1.4 million from their homes with 157,000 fleeing to neighbouring countries.
Frightened children and families are sheltering for safety in overcrowded camps or in villages and towns which are bursting at the seems. Too many children have witnessed friends, parents and family members being attacked or killed. And now, they have to worry about how they will feed themselves.
Millions facing food shortage
By July this year, as many as three million people will be unable to meet their basic food needs. Many families who were forced to flee their homes have now lost two planting season.
“We cannot farm here. We don’t have enough food.” Musa* tells me. He fled with his family when fighting broke out in his village over a year ago. His father was killed.
He and his siblings are now living with different communities across different states “We all got divided, because of the burden of taking care of just one person is enough. It would be too much for all seven.”
It’s been over a year since they were all together.
The generosity of others
Over 90% of the 1.4 million displaced people are not in camps, but living by the humanity and generosity of friends, families and strangers across the north-east.
“People pity us. That’s how we survive now.” Jummai*, mother of two, tells me. Jummai knows more than many about the brutality of the conflict.
She lost her three-year-old son last year when he became ill after they spent weeks hiding in the bush when their village was attacked.
Her main worry now that she and her husband can no longer provide for her and her young family as they live far from home. “My children are becoming emaciated. I am becoming emaciated.” She tells me “We still hear stories about fighting. We are still scared.”
Our teams in the north-east say that families are now making the difficult decision to return home to tend to their crops, risking the potential of further attacks rather than going hungry in the future. This is not a fair choice.
The world must not avert its gaze
With the overall humanitarian response in Nigeria only 25% funded, Save the Children is one of a handful of charities on the ground responding to the needs of people forced their homes and seeking sanctuary in other parts of the country. We are currently supporting families with vital food and sanitation assistance as well as child protection, but the needs are overwhelming.
Without support from donor, charities providing emergency humanitarian assistance will struggle to continue their programmes, let alone expand them to meet ever-increasing needs, and agencies keen to join the humanitarian response will simply be unable to do so.
So whilst the world looks on at the celebrations this weekend, the international community and the new government must not divert its gaze from the suffering that deepens in the northeast of the country.
*Names changed to protect identity