President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday said the reports by local and international humanitarian agencies detailing the high level of deprivation in the war-ravaged north-east Nigeria were exaggerated.
The president said the United Nations and other private humanitarian groups are deliberately hyping the level of the crisis for financial gains.
The reproach came two days after the United Nations warned that more than five million victims of Boko Haram face serious food shortages in the coming year.
“A projected 5.1 million people will face serious food shortages as the conflict and risk of unexploded improvised devices prevented farmers planting for the third year in a row, causing a major food crisis,” the U.N. Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator, Peter Lundberg, said in a statement Friday.
Mr. Lundberg’s alert followed a similar one issued by a sister agency, UNICEF, in September.
UNICEF, which focuses on humanitarian assistance for children and mothers, said more than two million people remained trapped in Boko Haram-controlled areas while about 400,000 children were at risk of acute malnutrition.
The agency said more than half of the children could die within 12 months unless urgent measures were taken by the concerned authorities.
But in a statement signed by his media aide, Garba Shehu, Mr. Buhari faulted the findings of the UN and also added some non-governmental organisations raising concerns about looming food crisis for the victims of the seven-year-long insurgency.
“We are concerned about the blatant attempts to whip up a non-existent fear of mass starvation by some aid agencies, a type of hype that does not provide a solution to the situation on the ground but more to do with calculations for operations financing locally and abroad,” the president said.
The president highlighted contradictions in some of the claims made by different humanitarian groups about the crisis.
“In a recent instance, one arm of the United Nations screamed that 100,000 people will die due to starvation next year. A different group says a million will die.”
“So while local and international humanitarian responders including the United Nations have done an immeasurable amount of effort filling in the gaps wherever they existed, it is not true as these reports have indicated that 100,000 or even a million people will die because the government is unable to provide care at the camps.
“This country has a responsible government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari, which is doing a lot to bring relief to the displaced people,” the statement said.
While acknowledging a decline in socio-economic activities of the people of north-east, Mr. Buhari said his administration is making efforts to resolve the crisis and improve the living conditions there.
“There can be no doubt that the effect of the Boko Haram terrorism and their occupation of communities and destruction of houses, infrastructure and means of livelihood has been manifested in the decline of socio-economic activities throughout the North-East.
“Arising from this, farming, pastoralism, trade, exchange of goods and services and social interaction among the people have negatively been impacted leading to the displacement of more than two million people, mostly women and children. Consequently, there is death, there is hunger and there is poor nutrition.
“The Nigerian government which has been making the most efforts in the entire endeavour will continue to work closely with the local and international response groups to overcome this humanitarian crisis. At this time when the focus is gradually shifting to towards rehabilitation, reconstruction, resettlement, recovery and the dignified return of IDPs back home, we can do with all the support out there in the donor community,” the statement said.
But in the interim, the president warned that humanitarian agencies should desist from continuing to blow the situation out of proportion for financial gratification.
“We do not, however, see the reason for the theories and hyperbolic claims being made ostensibly to draw donor support by some of the aid agencies.
“The situation on the ground, as it exists, provides sufficient motivation to all well-meaning donors to come and do a decent part.
“The hype, especially that which suggests that the government is doing nothing is, therefore, uncharitable and unnecessary,” Mr. Buhari said.