mental health in nigeriaThe West African country of Nigeria is home to about 200 million people. Of these, 20 to 30 percent suffer from a mental illness. The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks Nigeria 15th in the world for suicides. One of the biggest challenges facing mental health in Nigeria is the inadequate number of practitioners and clinics. The WHO estimates that less than 10 percent of those who need help have access to psychiatrists. Additionally, while the global average is nine mental health workers per 100,000 people, the ratio in Nigeria is one mental health worker for every one million people. This could partly be caused by the fact that only around 3.3 percent of the national health budget goes to mental health.

Despite the mental health crisis that is looming there are several organizations working to improve mental health in Nigeria.

4 Organizations Improving Mental Health in Nigeria

  1. Neem Foundation: This nonprofit, nongovernmental organization is doing important work in Borno State to help those who have suffered trauma as a result of attacks by the Boko Haram islamic militant group. In 2017 alone, the organization provided psychological services to over 7000 people in Borno. In order to reach their target of getting to 16,000 more clients by 2019, the foundation began a Counseling on Wheels program which has counselors use motorcycles or motor tricycles to take counseling services to people’s doorsteps. By doing this, they have managed to raise the number of their client reach 12,000 people so far. Besides providing mental health support to individuals, the Neem Foundation also offers training in counseling, trauma care and child-centered therapy.

  2. Mentally Aware Nigeria Initiative (MANI): Launched in June 2016, this Lagos-based nonprofit focuses on creating awareness on mental health and illnesses as well as helping its clients connect to mental health professionals. MANI has a suicide/distress hotline and is planning on launching a mobile app to connect mental health professionals to people in need of help. The organization promotes its advocacy campaigns online using channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and its website to draw attention to different mental health illnesses or other related topics each month. Since 2016, MANI has managed to expand its work to four Nigerian states and provide support to more than 5,000 people.

  3. She Writes Woman: This organization has made great strides since its inception in April 2016. The organization launched the first privately-held, 24-hour mental health line in July 2016 and in April 2018 added a helpline chat service that has received 6,000 messages to date. The organization also founded and curates Safe Place – a support group where women in Nigeria can meet, discuss mental health issues and get the help they need. So far, more than 800 women have benefitted. In partnership with Airtel Nigeria, they have grown and founded Safe Place Nigeria – a walk-in clinic where young people can seek mental health care.

  4. Love, Peace and Mental Health Foundation (LPM): Launched in 2012 in Lagos, LPM carries out advocacy and awareness campaigns to the youth in Nigeria. LPM also founded and curates Umbrella, a men’s-only support group which meets monthly. During the support group meetings, mental health professionals are on hand for observation and consultancy. The foundation also partners with various psychologists and consultants to provide free therapy sessions during these meetings. LPM also ran the #SAVE campaign in 2017 which encouraged creatives to embrace photography, music, art and fashion to raise awareness of mental health in Nigeria.

By creating awareness and challenging the misconceptions and stigma held by the public, these four organizations are helping create an environment in which those suffering from mental health illnesses do not need to isolate themselves or shy away from seeking help. Mental health in Nigeria is sure to improve because of these and other organizations and initiatives.

Sophia Wanyony
Photo: Flickr

Victims of Boko HaramSince 2002, the Islamic militant group, Boko Haram, has killed more than 27,000 people and displaced nearly two million from their homes in the northeast regions of Nigeria. For victims of Boko Haram, recovery will be a lifelong process. Although it has been estimated that nearly 4.5 million people remain food insecure since the insurgency, it is the psychological toll that remains most difficult to measure and treat. With the help of organizations such as the U.N., the Neem Foundation and Tender Arts Nigeria, victims of Boko Haram in refugee camps are offered much-needed psychological treatment, including art therapy and training on how to reintegrate into society.

The Role of Therapy in Combating Trauma

Many victims of Boko Haram are taken as children and forced to both witness and commit acts of unspeakable violence, even to members of their own families. Girls as young as 11 are forced to marry and undergo rape. These girls are frequently used as suicide bombers, while the boys are trained as soldiers. The victims of Boko Haram are indoctrinated and occasionally radicalized themselves. For this reason, they are often shamed or feared upon their return, being referred to as epidemics.

The Neem Foundation highlights the importance of therapy to help victims recover from psychological trauma. After being kidnapped, witnessing their villages being attacked and their loved ones being killed, many people suffer severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Children also frequently suffer from cognitive delays and a proclivity towards violent outbursts.

The Neem Foundation brings individual and group therapy to refugee camps, visiting the camps on motorized tricycles called kekes around the country. Terna Abege, a clinical psychologist with the Neem Foundation, uses various methods of therapy, including visualization techniques called “thought-stoppers” to help victims of PTSD deal with disturbing flashbacks. The Neem Foundation and other nonprofits, such as MANI, seek to fill the gap in mental health care in any way they can, including offering therapy to suicidal victims over Twitter and WhatsApp.

How Art Therapy is Used in Nigerian Refugee Camps

Art therapy is also being integrated in refugee camps to help people sort through their mental trauma. The use of drawing and painting, among other art forms, can divert attention from negative thoughts and help people communicate in alternative ways. Art therapy can also help victims preserve their broken cultures and identities and express feelings that they cannot put into words.

In an emergency school set up by UNICEF in Cameroon, children gather in groups to draw as a form of art therapy. The trauma is evident in the scenes of violence and bloodshed that seem to flow naturally from the reservoirs of their memories. Under Boko Haram, children are beaten for crying at the violence they witness and not allowed to play with toys or make noise. When they return, they are often desensitized to violence and either act out violently or withdraw entirely. The art therapy helps the children to express what they have been suppressing and helps therapists identify those in most need of treatment.

Since 2013, Tender Arts Nigeria, created by Kunle Adewale, has used art therapy to help children suffering from physical and mental illnesses and impairments, such as cancer, Down Syndrome and behavioral problems. Since the war with Boko Haram, Tender Arts has reached out to victims of violence and radicalization. They use art therapy to assist in deradicalization efforts and to heal those traumatized from the violence.

Like the Neem Foundation, Tender Arts believes its efforts are not only important avenues of healing but important in helping people avoid radicalization or other areas of crime. More than 10,000 victims have already benefited from the art therapy offered by Tender Arts Nigeria. Because Boko Haram preys on the poor, young and uneducated, Adewale believes that valuing the arts and education is the best way to fight Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden.”

The Importance of Greater Access to Mental Health Care in Nigeria

The Neem foundation highlights the importance of increasing the availability of psychological treatment for refugees in Nigeria. There is a major deficit in mental health care in Nigeria, with only one mental health facility available in the northeast and only one therapist per 375,000 people. The Neem Foundation is working to implement programs that will train more people to offer therapy. They now offer an intensive nine-month program in Maiduguri to train lay counselors who can work more immediately as therapists for the traumatized population.

Although the road to recovery is a long one for victims of Boko Haram’s violence, the Neem Foundation believes in the need to act quickly to prevent more severe mental illnesses from developing. They are working to spread awareness about mental health and want to gain more governmental support for the mental health crisis in the coming years. In the meantime, as more therapists become available throughout Nigeria, it is their hope that these victims can recover and start to live normal lives again.

– Christina Laucello
Photo: Flickr

Poverty and Terrorism in Africa

On March 22, the Trump administration repeated its assertion that ISIS had been defeated in Syria. For the past two decades, Americans have focused exclusively on the Middle East when it comes to strategic counter-terrorism efforts. Since September 11, the U.S. military has involved itself in the affairs of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and other countries in order to stamp out terrorism. However, poverty and terrorism in Africa are going unchecked.

These military campaigns and several other military operations took place during the contentious “War on Terror.” Now, nearly eighteen years after the attacks, the American public is ready to lessen its intervention in the Middle East. By announcing ISIS’ defeat and pulling the military out, the President is suggesting that the U.S.’s role in the Middle East is nearing its end.

Violent Extremists Organizations

Though leaders of terror groups, like Osama Bin Laden, can be stopped, ideologies on terrorism still hold critical importance. Professor Paul Holman of the University of Maine has been an expert and educator on terrorism and politics for nearly four decades. He did not agree that ISIS had been “defeated” in Syria. This comes down to the root of what terrorism actually is.

In correspondence with the Borgen Project, Professor Holman defines terrorism as “violence against innocent civilians for political reasons.” He notes that both governments and violent extremist organizations (VEOs), like ISIS, use terrorism to further their ideals. Though Syria is no longer under its control, ISIS is more than a national movement.

ISIS is not simply trying to seize and hold territory in Syria and Iraq. Instead, Holman notes, ISIS is a transnational movement based upon extreme religious views, which exist in many other countries. Now that the United States military has weakened many VEOs in the Middle East, where do these organizations go next? Poverty and terrorism in Africa reveal the influence of these VEOs.

The Democratic Republic of Congo

In April, Congolese President Tshisekedi discussed the future of terrorist violence in Africa: “It is easy to see how the defeat of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq could lead to a situation where these groups are now going to come into Africa and take advantage of the pervasive poverty and also the situation of chaos that we have, for example, in Beni and Butembo, to set up their caliphate.” Beni and Butembo are northeastern cities in the DRC that have faced a substantial amount of violence.

No doubt, ISIS and other VEOs are capitalizing on the extreme poverty and the chaos of certain regions in Africa. In fact, on April 16, ISIS claimed its first attack on the DRC, killing eight soldiers. A statement made by Islamic State propagandists, to take responsibility for the attack, described Congo as the “Central Africa Province of the Caliphate.” Though these attacks by extremist groups in Africa are not new, American’s realization of their strengths seems to be.

Extemists Groups Gaining Power

As poverty and instability lead to upticks in violence by VEOs, regions in Africa are becoming more susceptible to extremist attacks. For the past ten years, Islamist militant groups have been gaining ground in Africa. In 2015, in the poverty-stricken region of northern Nigeria (the largest nation within Africa), Boko Haram became “the world’s deadliest terror group” while at the same time pledging allegiance to ISIS. Though several African militaries, with aid from France and other Western countries, decimated the land control of Boko Haram, the group still maintains a strong influence within Northern Africa.

With African militaries and other nations are fighting against its influence, Boko Haram focused on the Lake Chad region that borders Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Lake Chad is not only one of the poorest regions in the world but a region that remained largely ungoverned. In 2016, Boko Haram split into two, the new group being the Islamic State of West Africa. The Islamic State of West Africa is offering protection to locals from Boko Haram in exchange for economic reimbursement.

Other extremist groups are adopting the strategy of exploiting extreme poverty as well as profiting off of regional and tribal conflicts while diseases spread. According to the Global Hunger Index, some of the hungriest places on Earth are in Africa as are also some of the least peaceful countries. Northern and Central Africa have similar scores in hunger and peace rankings to those of Syria and Iraq where extremist groups have thrived in the past.

VEOs in Nigeria and Sudan

Professor Holman identified a few African nations that are of higher risk of violent attacks by extremist groups, such as Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya and Nigeria. “The country [Nigeria] is polarized between extreme wealth and extreme poverty, suffering from endemic corruption as well as ethnic rivalries and religious differences.” Libya has been in a civil war since the Ghadaffi regime was overthrown. Sudan has had political turmoil both before and after Bashir’s regime was ousted, and Somalia has a weak government.

It is clear that these terrorist groups thrive in poverty-stricken countries fraught with political strife. Therefore, it is essential that poverty and terrorism in Africa be combatted. Governments and organizations must ensure that the innocent civilians have the education, food, water and financial stability needed to secure themselves from violent extremist groups that prey on the poor and the weak. Foreign aid along with maintaining diplomatic relationships with governments from African nations will be a huge part of that. This fosters strong governments that are able to coordinate a defense from extremist groups.

– Kurt Thiele
Photo: Flickr

2018’s Worst Countries for Child Soldiers
Every year, the U.S. Department of State issues its Trafficking in Persons Report. This report gives an overview of each country’s progress against trafficking and what the United States is doing to eliminate human trafficking across the globe. One form of human trafficking is the use of child soldiers. Child soldiers are individuals under the age of 18 used for any military purpose, whether that be for acts of violence and killing, or even as cooks, messengers, spies or porters. Since 2016, over 18 different military conflicts around the world involved child soldiers.

The 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report includes a list of governments implicit in the use of child soldiers, and under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 (CSPA), the United States restricts military support for countries listed. This article will provide an overview of child recruitment and use in each country on the Child Soldiers Prevention Act List.

10 Countries That Use Child Soldiers

  1. Myanmar – Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, has a long history of using child soldiers in warfare. The highest rate of child recruitment took place from 1990 to 2005. However, in 2012, the country signed an Action Plan with the U.N. to end the use of child soldiers. Since then, 849 children and young adults have been released. Though Myanmar has a long way to go to completely eradicate child soldiers in the country, the government is working to align tribal groups and the Tatmadaw with the U.N.’s Action Plan.

  2. The Democratic Republic of the Congo – The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) also signed an Action Plan with the U.N. in 2012 and the government has since stopped recruiting child soldiers into its military. Before 2012, children ages 8 to 16-years-old made up about 60 percent of the military. Now, the main problem with child recruitment in the DRC is girls who are used as “wives” and “escorts” for the soldiers. At least one-third of all child soldiers in the DRC are girls, though only 7 percent have been released since the signing of the Action Plan. In 2019, Child Soldiers International helped 245 of these girls go back to school, including Neema, who said, “if we could go to school, the community would be nicer to us, we would get some consideration, that would help a lot.” Organizations, such as the National Action Group, conduct outreach work to help child soldiers in the DRC appropriate back into their communities. With their support, child soldiers and military “wives” can avoid the stigmatization and persecution that comes with being a child soldier.

  3. Iran – Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, spoke out against the use of child soldiers in Iran, saying, “The use of child soldiers is a moral outrage that every civilized nation rejects while Iran celebrates it. Iran’s economy is increasingly devoted to funding Iranian repression at home and aggression abroad. Iranian big business and finance are funding the war crime of using child soldiers.” Her comments came in the midst of the United States’ political maneuvering against Iran’s use of child soldiers. The Iranian military, especially the Basij Resistance Force, has had a long history of using child soldiers. During the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the Basij used child soldiers to clear minefields ahead of the military. With the U.S. hard on their heels, Iranian rights activists hope that this will be a wake-up call and end the use of child soldiers in Iran.

  4. Iraq – In 2017, there were 109 confirmed cases of child soldier recruitment in Iraq, 59 of which were attributed to ISIL or ISIS. Children were used as suicide bombers, combatants, bomb manufactures and “wives” for soldiers. Many different military organizations in Iraq use “volunteer” child soldiers, but under international law, non-state armed groups cannot recruit children under 18 under any circumstances. Children’s Rights Director at Human Rights Watch, Zama Coursen-Neff, said, “The PKK [the Kurdistan Workers’ Party] should categorically denounce the recruitment and use of child soldiers, and commanders in affiliated armed groups should know that the recruitment and use of children under age 15 constitute war crimes. Boys and girls should be with their families and going to school, not used as means to military ends.” The U.N. is ready to provide support to the Iraqi government as they develop and implement reintegration services for children formally used as child soldiers.

  5. Mali – Stephane Dujarric, a U.N. spokesperson, proclaimed good news for a few child soldiers in Mali, saying, “Nine child combatants were handed over to the U.N. mission in Kidal this morning. The mission is… making arrangements for their care by child protection officials pending reunification with their family.” There were 159 documented cases of child soldier recruitment in 2017, but Mali is taking steps in the right direction. After signing an Action Plan with the U.N. in March of 2017, the military began screening their troops to identify children. However, the country failed to implement other aspects of the Action Plan. On Feb 1, 2018, Mali’s government endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, which protects the use of educational facilities in military training or conflict.

  6. Nigeria – Boko Haram is also a problem for child soldiers in Nigeria, accounting for 1,092 cases of child recruitment. However, this number has decreased by almost 50 percent in the past two years, due to the loss of territory by Boko Haram. In 2018, more than 900 children were freed from Boko Haram, some as young as 7-years-old. UNICEF spokesman, Christophe Boulierac, said, “This is a significant milestone in ending the recruitment and use of children, but many more children remain in the ranks of other armed groups in either combat or support roles. We call on all parties to stop recruiting children and let children be children.” Nigeria signed an Action Plan with the U.N. in September of 2017, and since then, more than 8,700 children have been rehabilitated back into their communities.

  7. Somalia – Warlord Al Shabaab is the biggest threat to child soldiers in Somalia, enlisting 70 percent of the 2,217 children recruited throughout the country. More than 50 percent of Al Shabaab’s army are children under the age of 18. Col. Bonny Bamwiseki, commander of Battle Group XXII of the Uganda contingent of the African Union Mission in Somalia, explained another problem of child soldiers: “Some of these boys are children of this struggle and so they become part of it.” With clan warfare and the threat of Al Shabaab all around them, many children “volunteer” to protect their families and their homes.

  8. South Sudan – South Sudan became the 168th country to sign a U.N. treaty to end the use of child soldiers.  On Sept 27, 2018, ambassadors from South Sudan met with U.N. officials to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC). In the past five years, more than 19,000 children have been recruited by armed groups in South Sudan, but now the government is working to demobilize all child soldiers throughout the country and offer support for their recovery. Progress will be slow and difficult, but the U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba noted, “Today, the Government of South Sudan is making an important promise to its children that they will take all possible measures to protect them from recruitment and use by both its armed forces and armed groups active in the country.”

  9. Syria – The number of child soldiers has been increasing yearly in Syria, now reaching 851 verified cases of recruitment and use of children in the military. While Syria has not worked with the U.N. to implement an Action Plan or OPAC, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria, issued a military order banning the recruitment of children under 18. This military order requires SDF officers to transfer children to educational facilities, end salary payments to children, hear and receive complaints of child recruitment, and take measures against soldiers who fail to obey these orders. Though the number of cases of child soldiers in Syria has increased, these measures will help prevent fight the use of child soldiers in 2019.

  10. Yemen – According to the U.N., the Yemen civil war is one of the worst humanitarian crisis, killing more than 85,000 children. The war left families destitute, and many send their children off to fight in exchange for money. Children make up between 20 and 40 percent of Yemen military units, and since 2015, there have been 2,369 verified cases of child recruitment. There are currently more than 6,000 suspected child soldiers across the country, and more than 20,000 children who are in need of rehabilitation after the war. While many Yemeni officials deny the use of child soldiers or call the reports “exaggerated,” the U.N. is working to give people knowledge of this “child’s war” and reduce the number of child soldiers in Yemen.

The 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report hopes to raise awareness of the use of child soldiers around the world, and encourage people to respond and make a change. The information is overwhelmingly negative, but there have been many positives since 2017. For example is that Sudan has been removed from the Child Soldiers Prevention Act List, as the U.S. Department of State believes that they have improved in regulating the use of child soldiers.

– Natalie Dell
Photo: Flickr


With increasing conflict in neighboring countries, Cameroon must find a way to safely house its refugees and find a solution to the increasing food shortage. Here are 10 facts about refugees in Cameroon:

  1. In July 2005, a law was created to reflect the Cameroonian tradition of taking in foreigners. This justified the migration of thousands of refugees into Cameroon, fleeing abuse and violence in their own countries. There are three categories for these: Central African refugees, Nigerian refugees, and internally displaced persons.
  2. Increasing violence in Nigeria and the Central African Republic by the insurgency Boko Haram threatens the refugees finding solace in Cameroon.
  3. Boko Haram started out as a Nigerian armed group but now operates to carry out attacks and kidnappings on refugees.
  4. In January, Cameroon faced a “refugee crisis.” They needed to continue helping refugees escape the terror of Boko Haram while protecting their own citizens. The terror has resulted in nearly 1.6 million displaced people in Cameroon, which could potentially increase to 2.7 million in the coming year.
  5. The U.N. estimated that Cameroon already has approximately half a million registered refugees, not including the 200,000 registered internally.
  6. With the huge influx of refugees in the past few months, the U.N. and the Cameroonian government are worried about an impending food shortage. To support everyone, refugees in Cameroon will need $310 million over the next three years.
  7. Cameroon’s refugee camp, Minawao, currently hosts 32,621 Nigerian refugees. This is an increase of 16,000 following recent clashes between the North Eastern Nigerian military and Boko Haram.
  8. As tensions increased on the border, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) discussed setting up a second refugee camp. Once the screening is complete, the camp will house nearly 66,000 refugees, of which 41,571 were verified by the UNHCR.
  9. Faced with a food shortage and increasing danger from Boko Haram, Cameroon began forcibly moving Nigerian refugees back home, around 2,600 people in total. Most of these refugees end up in camps for security reasons.
  10. To aid new refugees in Cameroon, UNICEF and its partners plan to help 58,000 children between five and six years old severely affected by acute malnutrition and 2,800 unaccompanied children. They also plan to provide approximately 145,000 children between ages 3-17 with quality formal or informal basic education in 2017.

Cameroon became a beacon of hope to neighboring countries. A beacon which now must rely on foreign aid to continue helping refugees and prevent a nationwide food shortage, while keeping its own citizens safe from the wrath of Boko Haram.

Amira Wynn

Photo: Flickr


Boko Haram, the dangerous Islamic extremist terrorist organization in Nigeria, has been severely attacking the country’s education system. If the attacks continue, the lasting negative legacy will be detrimental for Nigeria.

Boko Haram is based in Nigeria and a translation of the group’s name in Hausa is “Western education is forbidden.” Boko Haram’s impact on education has flipped the Nigerian educational system as a whole by stealing the education of the youth and attacking the system in every way possible. Boko Haram gained publicity when they kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from a secondary school in Chibok.

Girls as young as 11 have been employed as suicide bombers. Teachers have been targeted, resulting in 600 teachers being murdered and 19,000 teachers fleeing in fear. Other teachers have been threatened, injured or even kidnapped.

“I have been a teacher for 20 years now, but I’m always afraid to attend class,” Ahmadau Abba, a teacher at Jajiri Government Day School in Maiduguri explained. “Most of our colleagues have been killed or injured.”

Finding teachers who are willing to teach in the region has become a great struggle because of the dangerous repercussions. Boko Haram’s impact on education has been felt throughout the entirety of the Nigerian educational system.

Out of a total population of 160 million, about 10 million Nigerian youths are not in school, many of them girls. Instead of reading and learning, they are married off in their teens, while out-of-school boys are recruited into terrorist ranks.

By early 2016, an estimated 952,029 school-aged children have fled the violence, with little or no access to education.

The high displacement from the hands of Boko Haram has forced school-aged children to be placed in private homes and communities. In such communities, schools are made up of students of the same age congregating in large rooms or under trees for about three to four hours a day. However, these children do not have access to textbooks and their teachers must teach without any teaching aids.

In Borno, one of the devastated states, schools at all levels have been closed in 22 out of the 27 local government areas for a minimum of two years. With this gridlock on education, children are more vulnerable to becoming trapped in a cycle of poverty.

Boko Haram’s impact on education has impacted thousands of students by stealing what is rightfully theirs. For a nation that has the lowest school attendance nationwide, the attacks on the educational system have been severely damaging for Nigeria.

“Education is the foundation of society; without it, development is very difficult,” says Margee Ensign, the president of the American University of Nigeria. “I don’t think that many in the international community understand the dimension of the problems here in the northeast.”

Mary Waller

Photo: Flickr

Displaced-Mothers-to-be

For mothers-to-be, few things are scarier than not knowing where they will have their baby. During wars and conflicts like those in Yemen, Sudan and Nigeria, people flee and become refuges. Some of those leaving are pregnant women. Despite being displaced persons, they still need the same care during their pregnancies and deliveries; however, many times refugee camps are unsanitary and have few medical staff with limited supplies. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and USAID work together to bring proper medical care to pregnant refugee women in Nigeria who have fled from Boko Haram.

The goal is to provide safe, clean, dignifying births to mothers. USAID sent UNFPA birth kits from Deluxe Childbirth Services to be handed out to mothers and potential mothers. This ensures that no matter where a woman ends up giving birth, she will have with her the items necessary for a safe delivery. Included in the kit is a delivery mat, three infant diapers, antibacterial soap, methylated spirits, five pieces of gauze, cotton wool, an infant cord clamp, a scalpel and mucus extractor. USAID is also providing funding for training skilled delivery nurses in refugee camps and areas. Upon delivery, mothers receive baby packs with clothes and items that newborns need.

The goal of the packs is to provide the tools for doctors and nurses to deliver a baby in resource-limited areas as well as necessary sanitation items to prevent infection. Infections and lack of proper tools are the leading cause of maternal deaths in developing countries.

It is expected that there will be 60,000 births by displaced women in Nigeria alone this year. That means already limited resources will be taxed. The birth kits are a welcomed item in refugee camps because it means more women can have a safe and healthy delivery.

– Katherine Hewitt

Sources: Premium Times, news24
Photo: Premium Times

Boko_Haram’s_Threat
Nigeria has recently overtaken South Africa as the largest economy on its continent. In spite of its upward trajectory Nigeria still has much further to go. Boko Haram, an Islamist militant organization, has for years terrorized Nigerians by attacking officials, civilians and public institutions. Since 2009 Boko Haram has killed more than ten thousand people and displaced 1.5 million.

The organization was founded by Mohammed Yusef in 2002 in Maiduguri, in the northeastern state of Borno, to transform Nigeria into an Islamic state ruled through sharia law. Back then however, its goals did not include violent insurgency. Rather the group sought to galvanize Nigeria’s northern Muslim population against the alleged corruption in the southern government and to challenge the regional economic disparities between the Christian South and Muslim north.

When Boko Haram protested a motorbike helmet law in 2009 they became targets of armed police brutality which then sparked revolts in many of the Northern provinces. This led to military suppression of the protests, which killed 800 and led to the capture and eventual extrajudicial killing of Yusef and other sect leaders. From there, the violence began and the grouped splintered under its fragmented leadership.

Today, the elusive Abubaker Shekau leads Boko Haram’s insurgency against the Nigerian government in Borno. Shekau holds almost superhuman status; allegedly killed at least three times by the Nigerian military, videos of the enigmatic leader still continue to surface. According to The Council on Foreign Relations, “Nigerian officials and many experts are convinced that Shekau has become a brand adopted by leaders of different factions of Boko Haram, and that the men in the videos are actually look-alikes.”
Last year Shekau’s organization claimed responsibility for the kidnappings of 200 girls from a public secondary school in Chibok, Borno State, in north east Nigeria. Smaller attacks on other schools and universities preceded this tragedy and highlight one of Boko Haram’s most common targets: education. The name ‘Boko Haram’ roughly translates to ‘Western Education is Forbidden.’

Through strong arm tactics, Boko Haram has made education in northeastern Nigeria all but impossible. In the wake of the kidnappings, most secondary schools in Borno have closed. This move is particularly advantageous for Boko Haram. Closing schools leaves boys more vulnerable to its recruitment methods and perpetuates poverty. Likewise, out of school girls are more likely to be married as teens. In total, 10 million children out of a population of 160 million are not attending school. This figure represents the largest number of out of school children in the world.

However, Boko Haram is not entirely responsible for the dismal state of education. The Nigerian government has done little to improve its country’s education system. Although it is the largest economy on the continent, Nigeria spends less on education than almost every other African country. Common practice dictates that government spending on education should represent 6 percent of a country’s GDP and 20 percent of its budget. In comparison, Nigeria spends only 1.5 percent of its GDP and 6 percent of its budget on education. Despite meager spending, Nigeria’s budget could allow for three times its investment in education.

With nearly a third of the population between the ages of 10 and 24, a stronger spending in education could radically improve life in Nigeria. However, with schools closing throughout the country, the Nigeria must also focus on rooting out Boko Haram and providing better security for its students. If done in tandem, Nigeria will experience the undeniable benefits of an widespread effective education system.

Andrew Logan

Sources: Al Jazeera 1, Al Jazeera 2, The Brookings Institute, Council on Foreign Relations, The Economist, The Guardian
Photo: Flickr

suicide bomber
On November 10th, in the Northeastern Nigerian town of Potiskum, a suicide bomber killed around 46 students ranging from 10 to 20 years of age during a school assembly. The bomber was wearing a school uniform and entered the boys’ school in Yobe state unnoticed. Yobe’s state governor has shut down all public schools in the region and requested urgent action be taken by the Nigerian government.The suicide bomber was among the dead,  another 79 were severely wounded.

Police have suggested the terrorist organization Boko Haram is responsible for the attack. The militants have continuously targeted schools “during a deadly five-year insurgency” with the aim of establishing an Islamic state. Boko Haram, whose name translates to “Western education is sin”, believes that girls should not be able to go to school and boys should only receive an Islamic education.

The group has conducted a series of attacks and kidnappings, the most recent at the Government Science Secondary School. Boko Haram’s attack against the non-Quranic school was one of the worst attacks to date.

In Potiskum alone, Boko Haram has attacked roughly 10 schools, while another 5 schools in the surrounding parts of Yobe state have been targeted. However, the militant group rarely claims responsibility for individual attacks. Despite the large number of bombings against schools, there is still a huge lack of security for students.

The Nigerian military has not been deployed to safeguard school grounds in the North and the only protection at the Government Science Secondary School included a few local guards armed with sticks.

Citizens have been requested to report suspicious activities to security agencies. In addition, and in order to identify people with ill intent, people who rent property are asked to thoroughly check renters so criminals cannot hide in their midst.

Government officials have indicated to local communities that security is a collective responsibility, and that peace can only be achieved through collaboration with all interested parties.

Leeda Jewayni

Sources: BBC, The New York Times, Reuters
Photo: Daily Mail