UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Abuja August 23 to 24, his first to Nigeria since the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari. The secretary general commemorated the fourth anniversary of the terrorist attack on the UN building in Abuja that killed some twenty UN employees and others. He also marked the 500 day anniversary of the Boko Haram kidnapping of more than 200 Chibok schools girls. As expected, the secretary general praised Nigeria for the conduct of the 2015 elections and the democratic transfer of power. According to the media, in his conversation with President Buhari, the secretary general affirmed his support for Nigeria’s struggle against terrorism stressed the need for education, especially for women and girls, and then emphasized the humanitarian challenges in northern Nigeria.
In the past, Nigeria has been reluctant to ask for outside help in responding to humanitarian challenges. That appears to be changing. Just as President Buhari has supported a multi-national approach to Boko Haram, so long as Nigeria leads the effort on Nigerian territory, the Nigerian president is indicating an openness to international humanitarian assistance for the 1.5 million internally displaced persons in Nigeria’s northeast. In his public statement following his meeting with the secretary general, Buhari said that he hoped the secretary general would report to the UN what Nigeria is doing “so that Nigeria can be helped.”
Nigeria’s opening up comes not a moment too soon, as Boko Haram depredations continue. Shortly before the secretary general’s arrival in Nigeria, Boko Haram tried to kill the chief of army staff. The magnitude of the humanitarian challenges in the northeast would appear to be beyond what any developing nation can meet alone. An international effort will be required, in which the UN is bound to play a major role.