On Thursday, 1st March, 2018, the Islamic State affiliate in West Africa (ISWAP), also known as Boko Haram attacked and overran a heavily guarded military facility in the small town of Rann in Northern Borno state. The invading forces wreaked remarkable havoc, with scores of casualties on soldiers and international aid workers. Three persons, a nurse and two midwives, connected with the work of some international aid agencies in the Lake Chad region were kidnapped. The ISWA forces also carted away military hardwares, arms and ammunition from the military base. It is not certain the exact casualty figures to the army.
But a gory image of soldiers shot at close range, with hands tied behind their backs, days after the attack suggested that the terror group overran the facility. Also, a frantic audio recording by one of the kidnapped midwife confirmed the barbaric onslaught. Following this, UNICEF, one of the international aid agencies involved in health and crisis mitigation activities in the Lake Chad region released a statement on its website affirming that “one of these brave workers who lost their lives, and the nurse who is missing, were on the front line providing critical services supported by UNICEF.”
UNICEF’s statement did not disclose the identity of the kidnapped nurse who was working at its instance. She is Mrs. Alice Loksha Ngaddah, mother of two. Our enquiry further revealed that Mrs. Ngaddah’s aged mother died unexpectedly, two weeks ago as a result of trauma over her daughter’s kidnap by the terror group. Documents obtained by this reporter from ISWAP sources paint the picture of one working for and being paid by UNICEF, an impression that is at variance with the portrait quoted from UNICEF website.
Efforts to get the family members to respond to this reporter’s questions fell on deaf ears as no one in Ngaddah family was willing to talk openly. Nevertheless, neighbours close to the family and who have borne the trauma with them mentioned that UNICEF personnel were on the ground at the funeral of Mrs Ngaddah’s mother and frequently updated the family on its efforts to address the situation.
The other two victims, namely Hauwa Mohammed Liman and Saifura Husseini Ahmed have had members of their families claiming that they had been engaged through a contract by the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, arguing that it was at the instance of the Committee that Liman and Ahmed were at the location of the kidnap. Two of Miss Liman’s colleagues in Maiduguri, also working as field health workers spoke with this reporter, highlighting a presumed dichotomy between the privileges generously enjoyed by the expatriate personnel as against the short end of the sticks that local staff are left with. “We’re disturbed because if this kidnap incidence affected any foreign staff, it will be all over the place while efforts are made for their release.”
Their sentiment underline the curious silence pervade the kidnap incidence both from the international aid agencies as well as from the Federal government. “We, the local staff takes far more risks because we are the only ones who can go to where our foreign colleagues cannot dare,” argued Liman’s colleagues. A diplomat with a UN agency in Abuja who will not be named laid the cards bare, “the only reason we are arguing whether or not those abducted were employed directly by UNICEF or ICRC is because they are not expatriates.”
Investigations reveal that the entire health care value chain in several states in the North East had been rendered bare without staffing and equipment, forcing an army of underpaid and unmotivated health personnel to seek out alternative offers. Accordingly, in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, many health workers either directly or through third party consultants secure jobs with international aid agencies or Non Governmental Organizations. Family members of Liman and Ahmed seemed surprised by suggestions that they were not ICRC staff. “We are under the impression that our daughter was employed and being paid by the ICRC. That’s the only reason why we allowed her to work on her own because the ICRC is a globally respected organization,” said sources in Liman’s family house.
Dr. Chidi Anselm Odinkalu, former chairman, National Human Rights Commission, when approached for insight stated: “I can’t speak generally, whatever I say is limited by the fact and context of the individual contractual agreement. Most of the major institutions in this situation are agents of entities that often have diplomatic immunity.
So there sub-contractors of say UNDP, UN Agencies to whom diplomatic cover extends to preclude them from direct legal responsibility and also because of their insurance limitations.” He pointed out that a lot of Nigerians under the circumstances whereby “economic duress puts the local staff at a disadvantage to negotiating for the best possible contract.”
Sources within ISWAP confirm that the health workers are alive and are in good condition, but are unwilling to link their release to any condition or time frame. ICRC official that this reporter contacted stated that “even though they were not employed by us, we at ICRC are concerned for the two midwives as they worked alongside us. We demanded that they be released immediately and unconditionally,” stated the ICRC’s communications coordinator in the region, Aleksandra Matijevic Mosimann. She further stated that given the sensitive nature of the situation and in the best interest of the kidnapped persons, they were not obligated to provide further details.
Written by Ahmad Salkida