A famine crisis that’s also a test for Nigeria

The world is only waking up to an acute food shortage in Nigeria, caused by the Boko Haram turmoil. Nigerians can also respond better, while raising their confidence in dealing with other woes.

AP Photo
A Nigerian mother feeds her child at a feeding center run by Doctors Without Borders in Maiduguri in the country's northeast.

Despite its oil wealth, Nigeria is struggling with three home-grown conflicts and, lately, a recession. Now this African giant is discovering another problem: a severe food shortage in its remote northeast affecting more than 3 million people, caused by turmoil from the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram. The United Nations, too, recently woke up to this need in Nigeria, with several wealthy countries pledging emergency aid last month.

Many of today’s humanitarian crises are caused by jihadist-related insurgencies, but Nigeria’s may be the most acute. At least 65,000 are living in famine-like conditions, according to UN officials. While the Nigerian military has had some success since 2015 in rolling back Boko Haram, many towns in the northeast remain isolated. And the militant group still commands a few thousand fighters, making it difficult for aid workers to know the exact scope of the need or to reach all villages.

An estimated 17,000 people have been killed in Nigeria since the Boko Haram rebellion broke out in 2009. Like the Islamic State in the Middle East, the group seeks a Muslim caliphate in West Africa. That aim has been much diminished by the military but, in the meantime, Nigeria must now deal with a potential famine.

The country already faces problems from widespread corruption to falling oil revenue. Its president, Muhammadu Buhari, promised change and a campaign against graft as he took office last year. He is widely seen as incorruptible and disciplined. Last month, he promised to drive hunger out of Nigeria but also recognized that his own efforts may not be enough to deal with all the woes. He launched an information campaign to remind citizens that much of the change in society will come from personal reform in values and habits.

“Before you ask ‘where is the change they promised us?’, you must first ask, ‘how far have I changed my ways?’ ” the president said. He ask people to behave better, such as in driving through traffic intersections, engaging with neighbors, and in handling relationships at work. He used a Twitter hashtag – #changebeginswithus – to name the campaign.

While the president can certainly do more as the national leader to solve big problems like the food crisis, his “change” campaign can build on a reform effort in the northeast that has helped young people resist the allure of Boko Haram. In a survey earlier this year, the global aid group Mercy Corps interviewed 26 young Muslims who had resisted Boko Haram’s recruitment efforts about the positive influences for their decision. A common answer was that local religious leaders were able to persuade them of Boko Haram’s false doctrine and corrupt ways. That finding, Mercy Corps stated, provides evidence of the role that religious leaders can play as peacebuilders.

As Nigeria and the world aid community rush to aid the hungry in the northeast, the country can use this crisis to improve its confidence in solving national problems. The president’s change-begins-with-us campaign is only a reminder of where that confidence lies.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to A famine crisis that’s also a test for Nigeria
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today