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Statement by Mr. Edward Kallon, Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria: Joint press conference concluding the official visit of EU Commissioner for Crisis Management, Mr. Janez Lenarčič, 24 January 2020, Abuja, Nigeria

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Your Excellency, Honourable Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Ms Sadiya Umar Farouq,
Your Excellency, the EU Commissioner for Crisis Management, Mr Janez Lenarčič
Your Excellency, the Ambassador of the European Union in Nigeria, Mr Ketil Karlsen
Senior Officials and representative of the Government of Nigeria,
Esteemed members of the press,
Dear colleagues and partners,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am particularly honoured to have accompanied Commissioner Lenarčič on his first official visit outside Europe since he took office in November 2019. The fact that Nigeria is the first country he is visiting demonstrates the unwavering commitment of the European Union and the wider international community to the people and Government of Nigeria.

This mission especially comes at a critical time when the people of Borno State are facing increasing challenges. And today, we are here to send a joint message. We are extremely worried about the challenges faced by civilians and aid workers in the northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe.

In recent weeks, we have seen an upsurge in violent attacks from non-state armed groups and an increasing trend of illegal checkpoints on major supply and commercial routes directly targeting civilians, authorities and aid workers in Borno State. Over the past year, 180,000 civilians have been forced to leave everything behind in search of safety and basic services, some of them for the second or third time. Over 1.8 million people, across the three crisis-affected states – which is almost the equivalent of the entire population of Slovenia, the country Commissioner Lenarčič comes from - are still living in camps or hosted in other communities, who are themselves becoming extremely vulnerable.

People in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states, who had started to recover from the crisis, are hit once again by violence or confronted with the impossibility of reaching the resources they need to provide for their families. Thousands of people who had returned to their communities have been forced to move back to overcrowded camps for internally displaced people because they did not feel safe, could not access their land, resume fishing activities, or there were no more basic services in their areas of origin.

It is now a difficult time for all of us - the Government at federal and state levels in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe; the humanitarian community and most importantly millions of civilians – children, women and men who continue to bear the brunt of this 10-year conflict.

Civilians and those who are providing them with assistance are directly targeted while going about their day to day activities, including moving from town to town on major trade and commercial routes. Some are also targeted in the main towns, as we saw in Monguno two weeks ago and in Ngala just last weekend, when the UN humanitarian hub, which provides accommodation, offices and meeting facilities was directly targeted – in violation of international humanitarian law.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we are extremely worried that aid workers, who are mostly Nigerians working to deliver critical lifesaving humanitarian assistance to fellow compatriots, have increasingly become direct targets of attacks and abductions by non-state armed groups. In 2019 alone, 12 aid workers were deliberately and brutally murdered by non-state armed groups. And we must remember our fellow aid workers Grace Taku, who was abducted on 26 July 2019 and Alice Loksha, who was abducted on 1 March 2018. They are Nigerian women. They are sisters. They are daughters. They are still in captivity, and we must do our utmost to ensure their safe release and return to their families.

Our ability to provide humanitarian assistance to millions of people affected by the crisis will depend on a secure environment, for the civilians we are here to assist, as well as the safety of our aid workers, majority of whom are Nigerian.

Our ability to respond also depends on the trust we have in our respective actions towards our common goal of supporting the most vulnerable people in surviving and rebuilding their lives and their communities.

We are encouraged by the recent Civil-Security Cooperation workshop convened by the Honourable Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, and the proposed framework that will enable the necessary dialogue between humanitarian partners, civilian authorities and security agencies to ensure unimpeded and timely assistance to people in need.

At this critical time the visit of the EU Commissioner and this joint mission today is, before all, highly symbolic of our commitment to working together – the Government of Nigeria and key partners such as NEDC, NEMA, and SEMA, the UN, INGOs, civil society organizations and the donor community, – supporting the people in need in overcoming the challenges they face. Our collective efforts have saved the lives of many people. Together we were able to support over 5.6 million people with emergency assistance in 2019. To respond to rising needs, we now aim to reach 5.8 million people in 2020.

The current situation demands increased collaboration among all actors and stakeholders to prevent the crisis from spiraling to levels seen three years ago. Progress made in terms of resilience, recovery and joint humanitarian and development initiatives cannot be jeopardized.

Together, today, we call on all actors and stakeholders must strengthen their efforts to provide life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable people affected by the crisis, and do their utmost to guarantee the protection of civilians and aid workers, and safe, unconditional access to the people in need

Thank you.

For further information, please contact:
Eve SABBAGH, Head of Public Information, OCHA Nigeria, (+234) 9073430290, sabbaghe@un.org
Abiodun BANIRE, Public Information Officer, OCHA Nigeria, (+234) 7031718735, banire@un.org
OCHA press releases are available at unocha.org or reliefweb.int

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.