Amidst the levels of insecurity facing the country for over a decade, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), has clarified that its role in Nigeria does not involve taking part in the negotiation process between the federal government, its military and the insurgents neither does it take any side of the party, maintaining that its mandate is to bring succour to civilians in conflict.
The Communications Coordinator, ICRC Nigeria, Vincent Pouget, who spoke with PRNigeria, made these clarifications while clarifying on the processes that led to the release of some kidnapped Chibok and Dapchi girls in Borno and Yobe states respectively by the Boko Haram terrorists as well as the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP).
Mr Pouget said there was a lot of misunderstanding over the role ICRC played as the organisation was perceived to have taken part in the negotiation for the release of over a hundred students of Government Girls Technical College Dapchi and Government Girls Secondary School (GSS) Chibok.
He stated that the ICRC only provided logistics in terms of transportation after negotiations had been concluded. He also said the ICRC is independent and neutral.
He said: “Let me explain to you our role, both parties agreed on the release of the girls on their own without us being involved. The ICRC was not at all part of the negotiation process. It was when they agreed for the release that they asked ICRC to provide logistics like the transport to go from one place to another that’s only what we provided.
“We have a bit problem with perception in the North-East because people thought that we have a specific connection (with insurgents), they thought we were involved in the negotiation, that’s not the case.
“We do not support any fighting parties at all, the misconception that we got is that people thought we were involved in the negotiation, but that’s not our mandate, we only support civilians affected by the situation,” he stressed.
Mr Pouget explained that the aim of the ICRC is to alleviate and prevent the suffering of civilians in armed violence, be it a situation of armed conflicts like the one in the North East or other situations of violence such as in the North Central, or South-South such as communal clashes.
“So, in the North East, in particular, our aim is to provide succour for a civilian population that is being affected by the violence. One of our core mandates is to provide medical care,” he noted.
On the achievements of the ICRC, Mr Pouget said in 2019 alone, it provided more than 745,000 people with either food items or food assistance in other ways and improved access to water for over 500,000 people including household and those living in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps.
He also noted that one of ICRC’s core mandate is to provide medical care and it has provided more than 506,000 consultations in Primary Health Care centres where more than 22,000 children have been born.
“Also, to highlight that in Maiduguri we have a surgical team at the state specialist hospital and in 2019, they treated over 7,700 patients. Providing surgical and medical care for civilians affected is only one area of focus for the ICRC. But, we are trying to address other needs in terms of water, shelter, food as much as we can.
“When it comes to access to water, shelter, in Maiduguri we have supported the rehabilitation of the Almajiri Water Treatment Plant that is providing water for the time being to over 90,000 people, household residents and IDPs in camps. This is being done with the Ministry of Water Resources in charge of the sustainability of the project.
“For people who have been displaced, in Monguno, Damboa, and Maiduguri, we built temporary shelters for over 34,000 people,” Mr Pouget explained.
The coordinator pointed out that the ICRC’s initiatives are not necessarily aimed at making people dependent on humanitarian assistance, but its target is also to build the resilience of people so that they can live independent of humanitarian aid.
“We want people to build again their resilience, that is why during the same period in 2019, we have supported over 548,000 people with productive imports, seeds, tools to support their agricultural activities and at the same time others were supported with the treatment of their animals; cattle, goats, and sheep, so that their livestock could be maintaining good health,” he added.
Mr Pouget, however, regrets that access to civilians is one of the biggest challenge the ICRC is facing, because of the dynamic nature of insecurity. He also said they are sometimes constrained to render help if there is no adequate security presence in order not to endanger the already suffering civilians.
On the treatment of insurgents, Mr Pouget restated the provisions of the international humanitarian law, stressing “A wounded is wounded and it should be taken care by any party. That’s part of the law of war that is respected and applied to all situations of conflict including the one faced in the North East.”
Speaking further, the Red Cross Communications Coordinator commended PRNigeria as a reliable and credible source for news and information especially on defence, security and conflict issues in Nigeria.
To this end, he assured of closer collaboration and cooperation between the ICRC and PRNigeria in the area of media and public relations as it relates to the thematic areas of focus in conflict and humanitarian crises.
He said: “PRNigeria focuses on key security, defence and intelligence agencies working to manage information from these agencies for positive reportage. The medium publishes reliable and credible stories and statements.
“Why PRNigeria is of great importance to us is because it focuses on military operations and where the military is active we also visit the detainees and attended to the wounded. Your medium is credible and one of the key sources we use. We use many sources but with your media being a specialist in this area is key to us.”