MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — Aid agencies including UNICEF are profiting from funds meant to help refugees from Boko Haram’s Islamic uprising and should leave Nigeria, the governor of the country’s embattled northeastern state of Borno said.
The criticism follows Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s charges in December that the United Nations and private agencies are deliberately exaggerating a massive humanitarian crisis to boost funding.
For months, children and others have been dying of starvation in Borno, according to medical groups. The U.N. launched an appeal in December for $1 billion, warning that 5.1 million people face starvation and tens of thousands of children will die this year without critically needed aid.
“We have become a cash cow” with people profiting “from the agony of our people,” Gov. Kashim Shettima told legislators and journalists Tuesday night in Maiduguri, Borno’s capital. “People that are really ready to work are very much welcome here. But people that are here only to use us to make money may as well leave. We don’t need them, since they are only here to use us to make money.”
He said only eight of 126 registered agencies were doing “good work,” including the U.N. World Food Program and Population Fund, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Organization for Migration, the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Danish Refugee Council.
Shettima accused UNICEF of misusing funds by buying bullet-proof vehicles. Such a vehicle saved lives in July when Boko Haram attacked a military-escorted humanitarian convoy, wounding a UNICEF worker, two other aid workers and two soldiers.
“They will construct five toilets in Gwoza and fly in helicopters more than seven times to inspect the toilets,” Shettima said. While the government was focusing on resettling refugees and reconstruction, aid agencies are concentrating on refugee camps, he said. Aid agencies have warned against hasty resettling of refugees in towns and villages still vulnerable to attack by Boko Haram.
There was no immediate comment from any of the aid agencies on the allegations. Aid agencies have not commented in the past on such criticism, for fear of further antagonizing government officials and jeopardizing their work.
Tensions between the Nigerian government and aid agencies have increased, with agencies accusing the government of trying to hide the extent of the crisis and allegations that government agents and soldiers are stealing food aid.
Doctors Without Borders said last week that it has stepped outside its traditional medical role to distribute food because people are “in desperate need” and other organizations are not stepping up. Aid agencies have warned that the crisis is of near-famine proportions and that many more people could die in addition to the more than 20,000 killed in the seven-year Islamic uprising that has driven 2.6 million people from their homes and spread across Nigeria’s borders.