1. Is Nigeria “polio-free?”

Not yet. Global health organizations have not documented a case of polio in Nigeria–one of three nations that have never fully eradicated polio–since July 24, 2014. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) will not declare Nigeria “polio-free” until the West African nation reaches a full year with no new cases.

2. Is it probable that polio will permanently be eradicated in Nigeria?

That depends on whom you ask. On one hand, polio eradication in Nigeria has almost been successful, and recent media coverage seems hopeful that no new cases will appear in the twenty-some days before the WHO’s approval. Eradication of polio on the entire contiguous continent of Africa also seems plausible, as officials declared in June 2015 that the outbreaks in Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia and Kenya are no longer health threats. This could mean that worldwide efforts to eradicate polio from Africa have improved since the outbreaks began in 2013.

However, some health officials warn that the world should not be too quick to celebrate. Hamid Jafari, the polio chief at the WHO, warned that the virus is very difficult to detect.

“We are not yet certain that the wild polio virus is gone from the African continent,” said Jafari, “there are areas in the African region in the northeast of Nigeria, Lake Chad, the north of Cameroon where the situation is uncertain security-wise. We may have undetected transmission of polio virus there.”

3. Why is polio so difficult to detect in Nigeria?

There are a variety of health and political concerns that have made the nation difficult to vaccinate since the early 2000s. From the medical perspective, people often spread the virus without showing any symptoms. Only one in 200 polio cases causes paralysis.

In short, the fact that health officials have not reported any cases does not mean that people in Nigeria are not infected.

Additionally, some areas in Nigeria–like the locations that Jafari referenced above–are near impossible for vaccination teams to reach because of the control of Islamic militant groups. Boko Haram, one of the most “lethal and resilient” jihadist groups in the history of Nigeria, has repeatedly denounced efforts to eradicate polio, claiming that vaccinations are a ploy by the West to sterilize Muslim children.

4. Is religious opposition to vaccinations in Nigeria the source of the problem?

Not really. Boko Haram’s skepticism and violence toward polio vaccination campaigns is based more on its opposition to Western culture than the specific religious beliefs of Islam. Boko Haram is a loose translation of “Western education is forbidden.” Present in Nigeria since 2002 and active in military operations since 2009, Boko Haram is a group of roughly 9,000 men (according to CIA estimates) that seeks to establish the Islamic State in Nigeria by purging the nation of Western influence.

Analysts say that governmental effort to reduce Nigeria’s chronic poverty and construct an education system that is inclusive of local Muslims is the only way to eliminate the threat of Boko Haram. However, the violent actions of jihadist groups against vaccination campaigns are not representative of the entire Islamic community in Nigeria.

Although resistant to vaccination efforts initially, Muslim leaders were actively involved and very influential in vaccination campaigns in the years before 2012, often citing moral principles as justification.

“We don’t care if it’s something that will affect you and your family alone. But [if] you don’t comply with us, you allow your child to go—he’s going to spread it to 200 other innocent children around the vicinity,” said Nigeria’s top-ranking Muslim and the “polio point man” for the region of Kano, Wada Mohamed Aliyu.

5. What outside assistance do foreign organizations provide to Nigeria?

National and local municipalities and organizations in Nigeria play a role in polio detection and prevention as well as immunization, but many global actors have greatly contributed to efforts in order to eradicate the virus. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), spearheaded by the World Health Organization, Rotary International, UNICEF, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, have worked with Nigerian groups to lower the global incidence of polio by 99% since 1988. The GPEI and its associated organizations have not only financially funded eradication efforts but have also actively been strategic partners that have provided technical and political support to Nigeria. Gavi, the vaccine alliance, has also been a major player in facilitating the implementation of inactive polio vaccines, which work in tandem with oral polio vaccines to secure a polio-free world.

Paulina Menichiello

Sources: NPR 1, NPR 2 , BBC, NPR 3, NPR 4, Polio Eradication
Photo: Monitor Healthcare

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

The “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign drew international attention after terrorist group Boko Haram abducted 276 Nigerian girls in April. After six months, the effort is no longer a trending hashtag on Twitter, the international outrage has cooled, and not one girl had been rescued. At least that was the case until October 17, when Nigeria’s military reportedly reached a deal with Boko Haram, signalling a possible release.

Of the abducted, 57 escaped as they were being taken or shortly after. The whereabouts of the rest remain unknown. Nigerians continued to echo what was once a global cry, with daily protests in the Nigerian capital, calling for their return home.

The tragedy may spark positive changes for schoolgirls in Nigeria. After the abduction, thousands of Nigerian schoolgirls stopped attending class out of fear. In response, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, along with Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, spearheaded reform in their Safe Schools Initiative.

The plan seeks to provide better protection for students and implement better communication between Nigerian schools. The initiative has already raised $25 million from donor support. Activists hope that this will lead to broader school reform in Nigeria, especially for female students.

In the meantime, Newsweek’s African correspondent Alex Perry remains skeptical that all girls will be safely returned. “All intelligence suggests that the girls are no longer in one group–some were married off and some dispersed around the country,” he said. “It would be miraculous if they got them all back together again.”

Boko Haram abducted the girls to be used as ransom for detained fighters. The group, whose name roughly translates to “western education is forbidden,” has worked to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria over the last five years. Despite the damage inflicted upon the Nigerian community, the group reportedly only has about one thousand members across four African countries.

President Jonathan refused the exchange with the terrorist organization, and was accused by activists of remaining silent on the situation. The specifics of the most recent negotiations remain unclear.

Ellie Sennett

Sources: Al Jazeera, Reuters, Newsweek, Huffington Post
Photo: PRI

Nigeria’s militant Islamic group, Boko Haram, has created havoc in Africa’s most populous country. The militia, whose name translates to “Western education is sin,” has kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls in the village of Chibok and has threatened to sell them as child brides. Their primary objective is to create an Islamic state that would forbid Muslims to abide by or be influenced by Western culture. Thus, schools have served as a common battlefield. Additionally, battles have occurred in churches, police stations and all those opposed to the ideas of the militants. Without a proper education, these girls will continue to suffer the consequences of extreme poverty and related health risks.

Similarly in Afghanistan, the Taliban imposed strict restrictions on women during their rule from the late 1990s to 2001. They banned women from studying in schools, working outside the homes and took away most of their behavioral and personal freedom due to an extreme interpretation of the Koran. Women were pressured into adhering to their traditional roles, being forced to stay at home to take care of the children and the house. The Taliban also was opposed to Western influence, and it banned music, movies, cosmetics and brightly colored clothing, creating laws to punish those who did not wear the proper clothing, such as the burqa, for women.

In both situations, women’s rights have been and still are on the road to being taken away. Boko Haram has been accused of having communications with and training from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic Maghreb. This is also true for the Taliban, who have had immense support and imported fighters from Al-Qaeda. Both groups want to see a change in government and have Shari’a law implemented in their respective countries.

In a divided country of Christians and Muslims, Nigeria has faced many problems, despite the abundance of oil and natural resources that exist in the country. The militia mainly blames the modern and secular government for bad governance and underdevelopment. In Afghanistan, the Taliban rose after the invasion of the Soviet Union to bring back stability into the country and instill rule of law in place of corruption. The strict restrictions on women were an effect of Shari’a law.

Without education for women, the countries’ development will be hindered and the population’s health will dramatically decrease. Afghanistan already has one of the lowest Human Development Indexes in the world and suffers from a complete lack of healthcare providers and facilities. Unfortunately, both Afghanistan and Nigeria face severe challenges and a future that does not seem as bright as it could be.

Leeda Jewayni

Sources: CNN, CFR 1, CFR 2
Photo: The Star

Boko Haram Seizing Nigeria State - The Borgen Project
The Islamic Extremist group Boko Haram is closing in on the northeast capital Maiduguri of the Borno state in Nigeria, residents said on September 5.

After Boko Haram has terrorized and seized towns along the way, the group now has almost complete control of Nigeria’s north-east corner. The extremists attacked Bama, the second-largest city in Borno and just over 70 kilometers to Maiduguri, on Monday and have been on a rampage ever since.

The Guardian reported that bodies litter the streets of Bama and said there have been reports that Boko Haram, though having mercy on women and children, killed any man they found and kidnapped some teenage boys.

Soldiers have told that “they are outnumber and outgunned by Boko Haram.”

Soldiers have been having their families evacuate Maiduguri and an estimated 600 soldiers have fled to neighboring Cameroon for refuge.

An estimated 1.5 million Nigerians have been affected by Boko Haram making its way to Maiduguri, aid and human rights workers said.

Boko Haram was founded in 2002, launching military operations in 2009. The Islamic Extremist group was initially focused on rejecting western education. Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language.

The group’s aim is to overthrow the government and make a purely Islamic state. In 2009, Boko Haram began attacking police stations and various government buildings in Maiduguri, leading to shoot-outs and group followers fleeing the city.

In 2013, the Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the three states that had the largest support for Boko Haram- Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. In the same year, the United States declared Boko Haram a terrorist group.

Boko Haram came under the international spotlight when more than 200 school girls were taken by the group; the whereabouts of most are still unknown.

— Kori Withers

Sources: BBC 1, BBC 2, The Guardian, Amnesty International
Photo: Stratfor

anti-human trafficking
The issue of human trafficking has become a keynote subject over the past few decades. Terrorist organizations, like Boko Haram, frequent the news for the trafficking of children. In response, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a package of anti-human trafficking bills to combat the prominence of this tragedy.

A prior package of bills was also passed in May 2014 as a reaction to the Boko Haram incident. In April, the Islamic Jihadist group kidnapped 276 female students from a government-sponsored school in northeast Nigeria. As of July, the group still has over 200 of the girls, and has made a video which reveals the group’s intention is to sell them.

While human trafficking occurs on a smaller-scale as a domestic phenomenon, it most notably occurs in Africa, Asia and Central America. According to estimates, there are 27 million people living in modern-day slavery – whether it be through forced labor or sex trafficking. Children and women are most often targeted, with roughly two million children exploited by the global sex trade.

The bills passed in the House, however, will cover an array of different implementations that battle human trafficking both domestically and internationally. One part of the package, H.R. 4449, will require new standards of training for diplomatic officials – including ambassadors, embassy officers and mission chiefs. The aim of this program will be to have an increased awareness of the issue among leaders abroad.

More extensive training will also be provided to officials who are part of the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and the Transportation Security Authority (TSA). This training will include the best methods to identify and prevent human trafficking in situations where it may be unbeknownst to border officials.

Another bill, H.R. 5135, will require an official report to be published by an inter-agency task force designed to combat human trafficking. The report will detail and update the best strategies to prevent children from falling victim to trafficking.

By raising awareness of the issue, Congress aims to gradually have an impact and hopes to see human trafficking statistics dwindle over coming years.

As the issue of human trafficking is not a partisan one, politicians on both sides of the spectrum hope and expect to see these anti-human trafficking bills passed through Senate quickly.

Conner Goldstein

Sources: CNN World, Human Trafficking Statistics, HS Today
Photo: Mizzouwire

instability facing nigeria
On July 24, 2014 an estimated 82 people were killed in a northern Nigerian city due to the blast of two bombs. The source of the bombs leads to the Islamist terrorist group in the area, Boko Haram.

Nigerian forces are currently at war with the terrorist group, and there is heavy speculation that the suicide bombs were a ploy to distract their attention from the war zone to a heavily populated area a few hundred miles away.

Both events seem to be targeting influential political figures in Nigeria. The first target was “Muslim cleric, Sheik Dahiru Bauchi, who has repeatedly condemned terrorism as un-Islamic,” according to the Wall Street Journal. He coincidentally missed the attack by minutes, leaving civilians as the only victims of the first bomb.

The second target was “Mohammadu Buhari, the ex-military dictator who remains the country’s top opposition leader.” With both attacks at the intended targets turning into failures, the only victims were helpless civilians who got caught in the crossfire.

This is not Boko Haram’s first attempt to create havoc in Nigerian cities, as they have bombed myriad other areas while trying to gain control of certain war-torn areas.

Nigeria’s financial stability is questionable at best, but the attacks have forced the President into pouring money the country may not have into military efforts in order to protect and police the country. It’s reported that over $1 billion have gone into the military fund as a result of these attacks.

Nigeria is acknowledging the public: “We call on Nigerian authorities to fully investigate these attacks,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement. “We urge all Nigerians to avoid reprisals and continue to practice the interfaith cooperation that violent extremists seek to undermine.”

It’s hugely important to acknowledge that the terrorist group behind these bombings are the same people that have kidnapped over 200 young girls, drawing international attention to the Nigerian political stage. The ruthlessness of their actions demonstrates the fact that little will stop them before they reach their goals of control of the nation.

Attacks on civilians are another of the many actions Boko Haram has taken to make its point clear, their brutality is unmatched in the area and the terrorists have little trouble demonstrating it at any given time.

The instability facing Nigeria is nearing its peak and it is beginning to look like there is a high chance that these attacks will manifest into a full out war within the nation, with unknown risks on the line. Nigeria has few resources to aid them, causing the strength of the country to waver in the eyes of civilians.

– Elena Lopez

Sources: Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press
Photo: Associated Press

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist who in 2012 survived gunshots during a Taliban assassination attempt, met with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to urge him to meet with the parents of recently kidnapped schoolgirls.

Since the age of 11, Malala has advocated for girls’ education, which led to the Taliban issuing a death threat against her. When they tried to assassinate her in 2012 — when she was just 15 years old — they failed.

As a result, Malala dedicated her life to activism, spreading a message on the importance of education and urging political leaders to help young women in need.

Malala therefore felt deeply concerned about the 276 girls abducted from a secondary school by Boko Haram in Chibok, a region of northeast Nigeria. The girls were abducted on April 14, and 219 of them are still missing.

In a recent video, Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, announced that he would only release the girls if the Nigerian government released imprisoned Boko Haram fighters. In the video, Shekau also greeted Al Qaeda and other prominent terrorist leaders across the Middle East, and denounced democracy and all forms of Western education.

He ended the video by firing an AK-47 rifle into the air in a show of violence.

“Nigerians are saying ‘bring back our girls’ and we are telling [President Jonathan] to bring back our arrested warriors, our army,” Shekau said.

Malala spent July 14, a date designated international “Malala Day” by the United Nations, visiting with the Nigerian President, urging him to do everything in his power to free the girls captured by the Boko Haram militant group.

“As we celebrate Malala Day on July 14, I have both hope and heartbreak,” Malala said. “I did not think that, just one year after my U.N. speech, more than 200 girls would be kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram simply for wanting to go to school. These girls are my sisters.”

During Malala’s meeting, President Jonathan agreed to meet with the parents of the abducted schoolgirls. He also promised scholarships to all of them once they were released.

“The president has expressed his solidarity with those girls and his sadness,” Malala said. “He has assured that these girls will come back home safely.”

She went on to say that the president is currently considering the safest option to bring them home.

Malala cited over 66 million girls lacking access to education worldwide. She blames the lack of education on the large numbers of child brides in her home country of Pakistan. She feels that if young women are allowed to go to school and given more opportunities, they will not so readily relinquish their youth and freedom.

“I know education is what separates a girl who is trapped in a cycle of poverty, fear, and violence from one with a chance at a better future,” Malala said.

In recent weeks, Nigerian officials have hinted at progress in planning a rescue mission for the captured girls. But, according to a recent statement released by President Jonathan, the Nigerian government refuses to make any negotiations with Boko Haram.

Some feel this may be a dangerous tactic, since Shekau has openly taken credit for at least two recent bombings of Nigerian cities.

No matter what the Nigerian government plans to do, Malala has hope that everything will work out for the captive girls.

“We raise our voices so that those without a voice can be heard. We pledge not to forget the voiceless. Not to get tired of calling for the creation of a world that we want to live in,” Malala wrote. “Not to lose hope, and not to stop caring.”

Paige Fraizer

Sources:, LA Times, Liberty Voice, The International News, Washington Post
Photo: CCTV

Boko Haram thrives on poverty
While the terrorist group Boko Haram has numbers, weapons and a mission to fight for, their best advocate for success is the poverty in Nigeria.

In 2013, Boko Haram managed to kill 40 students in Yobe State, despite the fact that there was a federal government-imposed state of emergency in the area. Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan, a senator from Yobe state, said this on the issue:

“This is an insurgency that doesn’t know any limits or bounds. But I think while we are fighting insurgency in that part of the country, I believe that Yobe and Borno particularly need to have more resources from the federal government to also fight poverty. If we are targeting insurgency, we must also be battling the source of the insurgency, and it has been established by people across this country and even people from beyond that poverty is in the mix of this crisis. And there I believe that the federal needs to come up with a special financial package for Yobe State and Borno State too.”

The poverty throughout the country not only helps Boko Haram with going against security, but it also aids their recruitment process. J. Peter Pham, an expert on Boko Haram at the Atlantic Council, speaks about how the group takes advantage of the desperation some Nigerians are going through. Essentially, Boko Haram thrives on poverty.

“What Boko Haram does is goes around with pennies, and they’ll hire these young boys for a penny or two to watch Nigerian military movements or carry messages around for them, it’s an example of how poverty makes for an easy operational climate.”

When each region of Nigeria is mapped out showing the percentage of those who are poor and those who are in absolute poverty, there is a correlation between the poorest areas and the areas with the highest presence of Boko Haram. The North-East, North-West and North-Central regions of Nigeria have the highest percentage of those living on less than $1 a day, and are also the areas most strongly affected by Boko Haram.

The International Crisis Group wrote in a report on Boko Haram in April that many of the youth in Nigeria are lacking in education and employable skills, and are therefore easy to recruit by anti-state and militia groups.

Former assistant secretary of state for African affairs Johnnie Carson told a house subcommittee in July 2012 that “Boko Haram thrives because of social and economic problems in the North.”

One worry many people have is that the Nigerian government is concerning themselves too much with their public appearance after all of the violence rather than curbing the violence itself. The administration under President Goodluck Jonathan recently hired a lawyer to help improve their image abroad.

There are possible solutions to minimizing the violence throughout Nigeria. Creating a well-structured poverty alleviation program, outside of any political motives, would be a strong start.

This would require more effort focused on Universal Basic Education programs, which would include qualified teachers and mid-day lunch. The educational improvements should continue with more vocational schools where graduates can receive grants to practice their vocations.

Overall, the best way to curb the success of Boko Haram is to eliminate the source they thrive on: poverty. With some work put into the education of the youth, Nigeria will be able to thrive in a safer, more educated country.

Courtney Prentice

Sources: Voice of America,, takepart, Iosrjournals
Photo: Front Page Mag